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Thursday, Dec. 14, 2006 08:17 am

The issues

City candidates line up as Davlin announces

The next two or three years should serve as a cleansing period for city government, as Springfield, or the courts, settles seemingly never ending legal battle battles, puts the wraps on major capital improvements, fires up its new power plant, and hosts Abe Lincoln’s 200th birthday celebration.

In the meantime, the mayor and at least five newcomers to the City Council still have to purchase fire trucks and squad cars, hand out liquor licenses, indulge NIMBYs, agree on who’ll serve on various commissions, and pass city budgets.

This week, individuals started lining up to accept these tasks. At press time on Wednesday, about one dozen candidates had submitted petitions to campaign for seats on the City Council, as well as for the offices of city clerk and treasurer.

Mayor Tim Davlin’s announcement last weekend that he would seek a second term as Springfield’s mayor didn’t exactly send shockwaves through the community, nor have there been many real surprises during this week-long filing period.

Longtime speculation that Ward 10 Ald. Bruce Strom, who is facing term limits, might challenge Davlin in the mayor’s race were confirmed as the Republican began circulating his petitions for mayor earlier in the week. Ward 1 Ald. Frank Edwards also reaffirmed this week that he will not run for mayor but seek to hold on to his Council seat.

Which candidate citizens credit (or punish, depending on the citizen) for making Springfield’s controversial smoking a reality — Strom for forcing the issue or Davlin for ultimately drafting the ordinance that passed — remains to be seen.

Davlin counts creating Springfield Green and that organization’s efforts to beautify the city, balancing the budget, improving Springfield’s bond rating, and streamlining city hall among the accomplishments of his administration’s first term. He also touts the ground-breaking on City Water, Light & Power’s power plant and setting up a homeland security office.

“It’s fun to go to ribbon-cuttings and groundbreaking ceremonies, and it’s boring to talk about surfacing of roads, but I think we owe the taxpayers the dollars right now,” Edwards says.

He adds that funding for a new fire house on the city’s southwest side, street overlays, and addressing trash collection should be top priorities.

If there are any clouds hanging over Davlin, as far as voters are concerned, it’s the problems with the Springfield Police Department, which include the racial discrimination lawsuit filed in August 2004 against the city by African-American officers, scheduled to go to trial in January.

Outgoing Ward 2 Ald. Frank McNeil says that the police department will be among the most important issues facing the next mayor and City Council.

“We have to get some integrity and confidence back in the police department. There’s a real missing link as far as how the public feels about the police department,” McNeil says.

Although he has considered a mayoral run, McNeil says he won’t jump into fray, but will serve as a resource to the east side’s next representative, for whom ensuring public safety, economic development, increasing home ownership, and general clean-up will be key issues.

Other possible negatives critics of Davlin may cite include making permanent a half-percent sales tax increase in February, brokering a deal in secret with the Sierra Club to commit CWLP to purchase wind energy, and failing to enact a citywide trash collection plan.

Should he win reelection, Davlin says he’s looking forward to the day the new CWLP plant goes online sometime in late 2009 or early 2010, luring jobs to town, and making Springfield the “best city to call home.”

But money, or the city’s short supply of it, has, and always will be, at the center of council debates, particularly when it comes to public works.

And Davlin, who has had to fight to pass his last few “hold the line” budgets — even though his party holds the majority — on the non-partisan board, says he won’t rule out future tax hikes.

The next council will also have to figure out how to accomplish major infrastructure improvement projects, such as the $12 million Capitol Avenue facelift, which the city hopes to complete in time for Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday party in 2009, and the extension of MacArthur Boulevard, along with economic development initiatives such as revitalizing South Town, while somehow coming up with money to fix more neighborhood sidewalks and city streets.

Anyone who’s up to the challenge has until Monday, Dec. 18 to submit petitions for city office. The general election will be held on Monday, April 17.

Contact R.L Nave at rnave@illinoistimes.com

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