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Thursday, March 10, 2011 06:23 am

Aldermanic candidates quizzed for answers to community problems

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City alderman candidates (left to right) Tim Stout, Ald. Kris Theilen, Michael Higgins, John Laurenzana, Joe McMenamin and Cameron Counts. There are 16 candidates running in six contested wards.
PHOTO BY DAVID HINE

Doris Turner says that 65 percent of the people within the Third Ward do not have sidewalks, something she hopes to change if elected to the alderman post in the April 5 election. Infrastructure and public safety were only a few of the hot-button issues that gained traction at the Citywide Aldermanic Forum March 3.

“The infrastructure needs are critical to the survival of the individuals who live in that ward. As a city we have a responsibility to have a safe, healthy environment,” Turner says. “And a healthy environment is more than just the absence of disease and those types of things, it’s public health issues like sidewalks.” Turner and Jim Gasparin are running for the seat being vacated by Frank Kunz, a candidate for mayor.

Kris Theilen, current alderman of the Sixth Ward, told fellow candidates that his ward doesn’t have clear walkways from Monroe Street to the middle of Illinois Street on Springfield’s west side.    

“It’s a brick sidewalk under there buried if you dig down,” Theilen said. “Sidewalks need to be around the areas where the seniors and the children are going to use them.” Tim Stout is challenging Theilen for the seat.

Turner and Theilen were among 12 candidates for alderman who fielded questions from the community. More than 80 attended the event, says Steve Combs, president of the Enos Park Neighborhood Association, who facilitated the question and answer session. The forum was sponsored by the MacArthur Boulevard Business Association, Inner City Older Neighborhoods, Illinois People’s Action and Downtown Springfield, Inc. Representatives from each organization quizzed the candidates on their answers to some of Springfield’s toughest problems by asking “yes” or “no” questions, followed with specific questions like one posed by David Farrell, vice president of the MacArthur Boulevard Business Association.

Farrell asked candidates whether or not they would support a moratorium on city expansion outside of city limits. Candidates gave the idea little support.

Theilen responded first with a “no.” He said if the city can reap the property tax benefits from annexed land, he would be in favor of further development beyond current city limits.

Most candidates opposed limiting funding for projects on the outer parts of the city, mandatory construction of parking garages downtown or having a single hauler for garbage. Candidates did support TIF districts to spur inner city growth and polled 10 to 2 in support of using corporate funds to build new sidewalks. They discussed issues from zoning overlays in business districts to whether or not Springfield bars should close by 3 a.m.

They did find common ground on limiting the amount of time houses may remain boarded, and all expressed support of implementing foreclosure procedures for “problem” or “unsafe” properties.” All candidates were in favor of finding alternatives for the “chronically” homeless population in Springfield. For Don Norton, the issue has been personal.

Norton, a trustee for the Springfield Chapter of Illinois People’s Action, advocated from the audience on behalf of the chronically homeless. Norton plans to vote for Fifth Ward incumbent Sam Cahnman, whose opponent is Ryan Tozer. Norton was homeless for nearly seven years up until two years ago. The Springfield resident listened intently as aldermen candidates shed light on Springfield’s often forgotten chronically homeless population.

“I think there’s studies that show that if we have a place for the chronically homeless and get them off the street, then we actually end up saving money in the long-run through all the extra costs that are incurred,” Cahnman said. “In the long-run it’s penny wise and tom foolish to not help these people.”

“Amen,” Norton said from his seat in the crowd.

Ten of the 12 candidates voted to pursue funding for a full-service center for the chronically homeless and in the meantime, pursue federal and state dollars to help those considered to be chronically homeless.

Contact Holly Dillemuth at hdillemuth@illinoistimes.com.