KANKAKEE — Kankakee voters overwhelmingly said it was time for a change in the city’s leadership as Republican Alderman Chris Curtis easily defeated first-term Democratic Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong.

Curtis, 52, a 6th Ward alderman for the past nine years, roared past Wells-Armstrong on Tuesday and will be sworn into office on May 3.

The mayor-elect collected exactly 600 more votes than Wells-Armstrong. Curtis gained 57 percent of the vote with 2,351. Wells-Armstrong picked up 43 percent of the vote with 1,751.

During his victory address to supporters at the Knights of Columbus Hall in downtown Kankakee only about an hour after the polls closed, Curtis called for unity, not only within the city, but within the entire region.

“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you,” Curtis said to the packed room of supporters. “One last time: We did it!”

Wells-Armstrong said she and her team were certainly disappointed with Tuesday’s results.

“The campaign team fought hard for a victory. I’m incredibly proud of the team,” she said.

She added that she looks forward to completing the last month of her term and will continue advocating for Kankakee.

Prior to entering the room filled with supporters, Curtis, who announced his mayoral candidacy nearly 18 months prior to Tuesday, was asked to sum up the evening’s victory.

“Stunned,” Curtis said. “I thought it would be a very, very close race. I’ve been anxious all day. But my team never stopped working. This was a complete team effort.”

Asked what the victory means for the city, Curtis stopped for a moment.

“It says the city is looking for a leader who will create unity and work for everyone. The first step is to make this a city for everyone, not a divided city. I want to work with all leaders,” he said.

Entering the room to handshakes, pats on the back and words of congratulations, Curtis first thanked his family for their unwavering support. “They put up with a lot in the last 90 days,” he acknowledged.

He then thanked his large election team, headed by Chad Gessner. “Chad, I can’t thank you enough. Without you this would not have happened.”

Then he talked to Kankakee residents.

“You spoke and you spoke volumes. ... The unity has to start now. ... We got votes from all over the city. ... I will be your mayor. I will have an open-door policy. We will work with community leaders. That’s the only way we can solve this public safety issue.

“We start this tomorrow,” he said.

The goal, he said, is to make Kankakee a city everyone can be proud of and one in which people are willing to tell others about as they travel throughout the country.

“I’m excited,” he said. “I could talk for the next 50 minutes.”

Angela Shea, who opposed Wells-Armstrong in the Democratic Party primary on Feb. 23 and then later endorsed Curtis, was on hand as well. Curtis brought her to the front of the room and thanked her for her bold support.

Asked if she wanted to speak to the crowd, Shea noted this was Curtis’ night, not hers.

She only said to be a mayor who listens to the people.

“Get back to unity,” she said. “Get back to where we have been.”

Curtis nodded in agreement.

“We thrive as one,” Curtis said. “We can join and do so many things together. There is a lot of work to do.”

Lee Provost, an award-winning reporter, has been writing local news stories for The Daily Journal since 1988. He is a lifelong resident of the region. Provost can be reached at lprovost@daily-journal.com.