A ward-by-ward look at the candidates and the issues, from potholes to garbage pickup, sidewalks to the city budget. Politics doesn’t get any more grass-roots than this.
As Springfield heads to the polls April 5 for the general election, many voters will be focused on their choice for mayor. But just as important is the makeup of the city council, with 10 aldermen drawn from across the city. Together, their decisions will set the tone for Springfield’s future even after their four-year term is over. We’ve highlighted the six contested races citywide and provided some context that will hopefully make it easier to understand both the election and city government thereafter.
Ward 1: Young newcomer challenges a familiar face
In 2008, Ward 1 got a Wal-Mart on South Sixth Street. Meanwhile, Mike Crews and Frank Edwards got an election issue. Both alderman candidates highlight the supercenter to explain their philosophies for representing their ward, the area anchored by Lake Springfield and the University of Illinois Springfield.
“There was a lot of pressure on me to keep that (development) from happening,” says 60-year-old Edwards, who was finishing up his second term as alderman when the city council chose him in December to fill out the late Tim Davlin’s term as mayor. Now Edwards, who also owns Springfield Welding and Auto Body, is running for his old city council seat. “But I knew it was a good project for our ward and I helped push for it. … Now we have restaurants out there. There’s a medical facility built in there. So there are a lot of positive things that are good for the people of Ward 1.” He says it’s up to aldermen to research, ask questions, filter through emotions and know what’s best.
Crews, a 26-year-old teller at Marine Bank, says Edwards should have listened more to his constituents, many of whom feared the development would bring excess traffic. “I guess what the residents of Ward 1 wanted didn’t really matter,” he says of Edwards’ position. He says residents’ fears came true, and now more cars travel over roads, including the crumbling and flood-prone Hazel Dell Road. “I would have had town hall meetings and I would have been able to feel the pulse of the people who live in Ward 1 and if they didn’t want it, yes, I would have fought against having it in Ward 1.”
Crews says Edwards is disconnected with Ward 1 residents and promises that if elected he’ll hold quarterly town hall meetings, attend neighborhood association meetings and continue knocking on doors. He wants to improve public transportation, find grants or enact a Tax Increment Finance district for Toronto Road economic development, conduct an in-depth study of fire department personnel needs and implement zero-based budgeting. He says he would “seriously consider” increasing parking fines, dining taxes and hotel-motel taxes. As for cuts, he says: “Without looking at that line-by-line audit it’s hard to determine what we need to cut.”
Edwards lists roads and property drainage as the biggest issues in Ward 1. Drainage problems that cause residents’ yards to flood, he says, come from continual building. “That’s really not an issue for the city to be involved in, that’s more of an issue for the homeowner and the person they bought the lot from or the developer,” he says, adding that new building regulations probably aren’t a good idea. “It’s tough to build as it is, and our construction industry is somewhat besieged now.” He says he wants to see Hilltop Road widened and Toronto Road resurfaced. For any major roadwork to happen, though, the city will need either grants or patience. “Until we get our budget in order, it’s going to be tough to make any promises on anything.”
Edwards says the council has already raised all reasonable fees and taxes but adds that he would support increased parking fines. “Now it’s time to slow down spending,” he says, pointing to staff layoffs as a solution going forward. Edwards has attempted laying off employees as mayor, where hiring and firing responsibility ultimately lies.
Though Edwards’ powers as alderman would differ from his current powers as mayor, Crews criticizes Edwards’ mayoral decisions. “He claims to be a fiscal conservative, and I thought being a fiscal conservative meant you did more with less,” Crews says, referring to Edwards’ hiring of alderman Steven Dove as executive assistant. Crews also criticizes Edwards’ attempt to lay off nine city employees, positions for which aldermen, to Edwards’ chagrin, restored funding. “It seems like you always want to cut people at the bottom rung of the ladder and that doesn’t make sense,” Crews says. “These front-line people are really the backbone of these departments.”
Edwards continues to defend his actions: Personnel costs in some cases are the only thing left to cut, he says, and Dove as deputy mayor has become increasingly necessary with the resignations of the mayor’s executive assistant and budget director. He says his time-consuming duties as mayor might hurt his candidacy, but adds: “This isn’t about what’s good for Frank Edwards. This is about what’s good for the community.”
Edwards, a Republican, says his experience – first as a rookie firefighter, then as a fire chief, alderman and now as interim mayor – has provided him with in-depth knowledge of and a valuable perspective on the budget and how government works. Edwards says he’s committed to reaching out to his ward but adds: “Am I absolutely perfect? No. There have been phone calls that I’ve missed. Do I call people back? Yes. Do I return e-mails? Yes. Sometimes do people like the answers you give them? No. But most of the time you explain what you can and can’t do for people and you go from there.”
Crews, a Democrat, says it’s time for a change. “We need someone fresh. I am younger so I have a little more energy than some. I would be completely devoted to being Ward 1 alderman.”
– Rachel Wells
Ward 3: Workhorse candidates in a working man’s ward
Ward 3 covers much of Springfield’s far east and is mostly residential. Once home to many coal miners and factory workers, the ward has largely retained its blue-collar makeup, but is also quite diverse, including newer, mostly white neighborhoods in the north and south, as well as older, majority black areas in the center.
Unlike many of the other alderman races, there are no write-in candidates here, no young faces out to make names for themselves and no negativity between candidates. Each candidate has some measure of experience in politics, public service or both, all have lived in the ward most or all of their lives, and they all know the issues facing Ward 3. What separates these candidates is their experience and what they say will be their focus if elected.
William “Billy” Earl, 48, works for the Illinois Department of Central Management Services and has served on the Sangamon County board for 10 years, the Prairie Capital Convention Center board for eight years and Springfield Mass Transit board for eight years. He currently serves as second vice-chairman of the Sangamon County Democratic Party. His first priority if elected would be addressing the city’s financial situation.
“We can stand at everybody’s doorstep and promise them we’re going to do this and that, but until we get a handle on the budget and economic issues of the city, that’s the number one issue,” Earl says.
He says he would push for economic growth as a solution to the city’s budget shortfall and is not currently in favor of increasing taxes or fines. Earl says he would also like to see the city do a better job of recruiting minorities for employment, possibly through a partnership with local high schools to teach trade skills along with fire and police preparatory classes.
Doris Turner, 57, has been a county board member since 2000 and is currently serving as first vice-chairman of the Sangamon County Democratic Party. She works as head of the Center for Minority Health Services at the Illinois Department of Public Health and is the only woman and the only African American candidate for alderman running in a contested ward. Ward 2 Ald. Gail Simpson, the only other woman and only other African American in the election, is running for a second term uncontested.
Turner says she would like to implement a four-pronged plan to revitalize Ward 3 if elected. She wants to push the city toward a more efficient budget process, which she says would begin much earlier in the year, while also continuing the city’s cooperation with the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce Q5 initiative to attract new businesses to the east side. Turner calls for addressing abandoned structures through better code enforcement and stronger anti-blight ordinances, while ensuring Ward 3 receives “prompt and efficient” services.
“I think that we really have to start holding department heads accountable for the way they issue out work orders and the way that they double back to ensure their completion,” Turner says.
Jim Gasparin, 56, serves on the board of managers for the Sangamon County Employee’s Health Insurance Plan and is the lone Republican running in Ward 3. He says public safety will be among his top priorities. For 17 years, Gasparin has worked on computer technology with the Sangamon County Sheriff’s office. His experience there has shown him problems with the public safety services in Ward 3, such as low fire and police department staffing levels, unusable or nonexistent sidewalks and poor building code enforcement.
Gasparin would like to see the city build a day shelter so the city’s homeless could wash up and seek help or jobs.
“Can you imagine going to look for a job if you’re wearing the same dirty clothes you’ve had on for several days?” Gasparin asks. “It would give them dignity.”
David Estes, 41, a masonry supervisor with Galassi Masonry in Chatham, is running in Ward 3 as an independent candidate. A former Democratic precinct committeeman in the 1990s, Estes says his primary focus if elected will be dealing with the abandoned houses in Ward 3. The city should tear down problem properties, he says, and turn them over to nonprofits or implement TIF districts to encourage new development.
“We need to restructure the timetable to get [control of] abandoned houses, not hire more attorneys,” Estes says, adding that the ward also needs more business growth.
“I want to see some jobs here,” he says “Some retail or factories, we need something that’s going to create jobs, and fast food just doesn’t do it.”
– Patrick Yeagle
Ward 5: A newcomer calls for ‘accountability’
On a sunny Sunday afternoon, Ward 5 Ald. Sam Cahnman walks door to door in his ward, listening to his constituents’ complaints about bad sidewalks, poor drainage, potholes and more. Cahnman is seeking a second term as alderman of the ward that encompasses the city’s downtown and nearby residential areas to the north, south and west. The ward includes many of the city’s biggest tourist attractions, such as the old and new State Capitols, but it also contains many abandoned houses.
“I like to help people on an individual level,” Cahnman says. “A lot of what people are talking about here is individual constituent problems, as opposed to the overall policy issues. … People want someone who is accessible and who will respond and be effective to their requests.”
Cahnman, 56, has represented Ward 5 since 2007 and previously served a term on the Sangamon County Board from 2002 to 2006. A lawyer in private practice, Cahnman touts his flexible work schedule and previous experience as his biggest assets, while pointing to accomplishments like banning future drive-through liquor windows and prohibiting panhandling downtown.
But Cahnman faces a determined challenger in Ryan Tozer, a 28-year-old Republican. Tozer says he is running for Ward 5 alderman because he feels Cahnman lacks “accountability, integrity and trust.” A former Republican precinct committeeman with his first child due soon, Tozer currently works as an outreach coordinator for the Illinois House Republicans. He says he has already knocked on every door in Ward 5 and is going around a second time, adding that he has received positive feedback so far.
“When I knocked on peoples’ doors, people are just so relieved that there’s a choice out there,” Tozer says. “Yesterday I was out putting up yard signs and this lady comes out – she was almost near tears – and gave me a hug and goes, ‘I’m so glad that you’re running.’”
Tozer says Cahnman’s votes as alderman are geared more toward “self-benefit” rather than what’s best for the city. For proof, Tozer points to Cahnman’s vote on Feb. 22 to have Mayor Frank Edwards redirect part of a planned budget surplus toward avoiding eight layoffs – a move Tozer says was meant to look good for reelection.
Cahnman says he felt the proposed layoffs were “bad policy.”
“Originally, the mayor’s budget had a $10 million deficit, and he came back with a $2 million surplus,” Cahnman explains. “If people were not laid off, we would still have a surplus – it would just be a bit lower.”
Cahnman says the workers who would have been laid off were actually revenue-generating positions, and laying off workers should only be done by a mayor who was elected.
Mayor Edwards is not an elected mayor,” he says. “I felt like that is a decision should be made by a mayor with a mandate from people.”
Additionally, Tozer says he was troubled by Cahnman’s August 2009 arrest on a misdemeanor charge of soliciting a paid sex act from two female undercover police officers. Cahnman was acquitted in December 2010, but Tozer feels Cahnman should have resigned anyway.
“The appearance was horrible,” Tozer says. “Guilty or not, he should have resigned immediately. … I think that was selfish.”
Cahnman responds that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, and it would have been “irresponsible to resign from the job the voters elected me to do.”
“The people of Ward 5 elected me because I’m a fighter and not a quitter,” he continues. “I have a proven track record of being independent, fighting hard for my constituents and not giving up when the going gets tough.”
If reelected, Cahnman says he will continue to push for better enforcement of building code violations against abandoned houses and fixing rundown streets and sidewalks, among other goals.
Tozer says the city needs to streamline services to save money, while issues like garbage disposal and homelessness should be handled by private entities. He supports mayor candidate Mike Houston’s proposal to hire two city attorneys devoted to addressing abandoned houses, as well as increased fines on absentee landlords and better code enforcement. Though he support’s Houston’s plan, he says he is backing candidate Mike Coffey for mayor.
Tozer also touts the support he has received from unions, as well as his father’s and grandfather’s union memberships. His campaign has filed three contributions with the Illinos State Board of Elections totaling $3,500 – all from labor unions. Cahnman received an endorsement and a $2,000 contribution from the Southern Central Illinois Laborers Political League, which also gave Tozer $1,500.
“Being a public servant is like running a marathon,” Cahnman says. “You have to keep a steady pace and never slack off. I think the fact that I was a marathon runner has helped me keep my nose to the grindstone to keep plugging away at what needs to be done. I don’t take no for an answer if it’s something that we really need in Ward 5.”
– Patrick Yeagle
Ward 6: Three candidates, one campaign
In the second week of March, well into his write-in candidacy for Ward 6 alderman and less than one month away from election day, 36-year-old Cameron Counts volunteered to Illinois Times that he had not once looked at the city of Springfield’s budget. While early on he built a campaign website and a Facebook page, now with 33 “likes,” earlier this month he didn’t have any campaign signs, and he hadn’t raised any campaign funds.
Counts’ fellow Ward 6 write-in candidate, 46-year-old Kent DeLay, has a Facebook page, a MySpace page and a Twitter account, but through his 21st Century persona DeLay is silent on his current candidacy. Instead, his online presence is built only around his failed attempts to run for state representative. When asked if he plans to run again for the more prestigious post, DeLay responds: “You never say never.” He says the alderman position’s low pay and smaller constituency don’t warrant an expensive campaign or social media tactics. Unlike running for a seat in the General Assembly, this time around he can easily reach every voter face-to-face, he says.
No matter what approach they take, as write-in candidates both DeLay and Counts are up against tall odds. Both were kicked off the ballot in December, leaving on the ballot just one man – 37-year-old Cory Jobe, whom Counts calls “the 8,000-pound gorilla.”
“I hate to say that I’m just still running on principle. I am very realistic that I am still relatively unknown,” Counts says. He notes that Jobe is “very well connected, if not too well connected, and has a lot of money behind him.”
Indeed, Jobe has received support from numerous labor organizations as well as the Sangamon County Republican Party. For this, Jobe credits his “well-thought-out plan” and open-door policy. Jobe has also raised about $30,000 in campaign contributions, which he’s used for a website, campaign signs and 5,000 temporary tattoos – a hit at Springfield’s crowded St. Patrick’s Day parade. In addition to his focused campaign, Jobe has earned media attention throughout his three years as president of the MacArthur Boulevard Business Association.
Jobe says his top priority is inner-city rehabilitation. He promises that, if elected, he’ll use half of his aldermanic salary – more than $7,000 annually – to create the “Ward 6 Community Rehabilitation and Revitalization Fund.” The fund, overseen by several Ward 6 leaders, would offer grants to Ward 6 neighborhood and business associations. He also wants to increase fines against neglectful property owners, create a neighborhood advisory council and hold quarterly town hall meetings. “I want Ward 6 to be a leader when it comes to identifying issues and resolving them quickly,” Jobe says.
Jobe would like to break the city up into zones for garbage collection, with either the hauling companies or the city registering residents for collection so the city’s mandatory garbage collection ordinance is easier to enforce. He also supports more inner-city Tax Increment Finance districts and wants aldermen to host some council meetings within their wards to increase familiarity with the entire city. Jobe says outward city expansion isn’t necessary in most cases, that increased dining and hotel-motel taxes are a last resort, and that the city shouldn’t engage in any new spending.
As for cutting the budget, Jobe says, “Everything is on the table right now, but I will always fight the hardest for public safety and infrastructure.” He says the mayor needs to eliminate middle-management positions and says the city should examine reorganization of certain programs.
Counts lists Ward 6’s biggest problems as public safety, specifically speeding vehicles; crumbling infrastructure, both streets and sewers; and blight, like Chantilly Lace and the Bel-Aire Motel. He attributes crime in his ward to “people being people” and a poor economy, and he says developing more neighborhood associations could help solve the problem.
“I’m not for increasing tax. It seems like we just keep on taxing everybody,” he says, but then adds that he “would consider” an increased dining tax and an increased hotel-motel tax. He’s also in favor of higher parking fines.
Counts, who delivers car parts for Stone Wheel, Inc., and is president of the Central Illinois Film Commission, would take a back seat during his first year. “I’m going to be one voice of 11. … Seniors in city council will probably initially be a lot more proactive with a lot of things. I’ll be voting on a lot of other peoples’ ordinances as opposed to proposing ordinances of my own.”
DeLay, an unpaid lobbyist and property investor, agrees that blight is a major problem. He wants to push for more affordable housing and explore turning problem properties over to nonprofits and neighborhood associations. He thinks the city should increase fines on neglectful property owners and focus on enforcement, perhaps by giving more city workers such duties.
DeLay, who is a Democratic precinct committeeman, isn’t sure on the issue of whether to expand the city outwards, but he would like to annex the donut-hole village of Jerome. He says police and fire would be his top priorities but that reorganization is an option. For new hires, DeLay is open to looking at scaling back starting pay and benefits. “I was watching Suzie Orman … talking about the American dream we once knew is gone. People are worried about Social Security, and she said, ‘I think it will still be here but we’re going to have to work longer for less.’ It’s the same thing with our state budget and our city budget. We’re not always going to have more and more.”
He’s against increasing hotel-motel and dining taxes but says he would update parking fines, though he’s more concerned with the general organization of downtown parking. DeLay says he would advocate for the disabled.
DeLay says Jobe, the Illinois comptroller’s deputy chief of staff and a consultant for Peoples Economic Development Corporation, doesn’t have enough time to serve as alderman. “I’m familiar with state government, and it can suck the life out of you,” DeLay says.
Jobe sees things differently. “The jobs that I have today … have prepared me.” He touts his organizational skills, explains that Ward 6’s current alderman, Mark Mahoney, works for the General Assembly, and says his jobs provide him with ideas for solving problems.
– Rachel Wells
Ward 7: Three is a crowd
Ward 7 spans some of the most well known parts of Springfield, including the historic Washington Park and Botanical Garden and part of MacArthur Boulevard.
Three candidates are running for one seat, making the contest visible and competitive. The candidates are Michael Higgins, 63, owner and chef at Maldaner’s Restaurant; Joe McMenamin, 58, an attorney and former candidate for the 19th congressional district; and John Laurenzana III, 30, director of marketing and public relations at Capitol Care Center and endorsed by the Sangamon County Republican Party.
All three candidates agree that Springfield has a need for infrastructure repair, but differ on how to fund short-term solutions for potentially long-term problems. Higgins has been owner of Maldaner’s Restaurant, 222 South Sixth St., since 1995, but moved to Springfield from outside San Francisco, Calif., in 1982. He says he has been accused of not having enough time to be on the city council as a business owner. Higgins feels that he has demonstrated through his involvement with MacArthur Boulevard Business Association steering committee and youth mentoring that he can take time away from his business to serve on the city council.
He wants to push for sidewalks along Old Jacksonville Road, maintain Chatham Road and South Grand Avenue, implement recycling and garbage consolidation and revitalize MacArthur Boulevard.
“MacArthur Boulevard used to be one of the grand boulevards,” he says. “It used to be the only boulevard like that in Springfield and people want to bring it back.”
Higgins favors a dining tax if the money is spent on worthy projects that can get a good return, like infrastructure. Although he has looked at the city budget, he has not seen the final version.
McMenamin, a self-described “fiscal watchdog,” is a tax attorney soon to be retired from the Illinois National Guard after 30 years of service. He plans to open a constituent office on MacArthur Boulevard with weekend and evening hours.
Higgins and McMenamin focus heavily on infrastructure and city beautification, while Laurenzana’s focus is on redevelopment and incentives to draw businesses to Springfield. Laurenzana is a former Marine with 10 years of marketing and consulting experience but is a newcomer to political campaigns.
The budget is equally critical for the candidates. Higgins says that he has looked at the budget and will not “raid” infrastructure funds if elected to the city council. He would like to turn the vacant Kmart building on Wabash Avenue into a retail open-space and residential small business center and landscape deteriorating parking lots to draw residents from all over Springfield.
McMenamin has seen the city’s budget and wants to boost revenue streams by increasing fees on vacant commercial buildings and property like the Westwood Plaza on Wabash Avenue.
“Unless we take the initiative and put pressure on the property owner, it’s likely to get worse,” he says.
He and volunteers painted over graffiti on the backside of the vacant Kmart building last winter, and he wants to implement a low-cost, high-impact plan to beautify crumbling parking lots with landscaping.
Of the three, Laurenzana is the only lifetime resident of Springfield. He says he has looked at the budget and wants to cut wasteful spending through proper business management rather than by raising taxes.
He agrees with Higgins and McMenamin that infrastructure is one of the biggest issues for Ward 7, but he opposes both the dining tax and an increase in parking fines.
“I was shocked I was the only candidate to speak out against the dining tax,” he says. “People want someone in there who’s a fiscal watchdog. I’ve pledged to be a fiscal watchdog and attack wasteful spending when we see it.”
– Holly Dillemuth
Ward 8: Write-in challenges Theilen
After walking the neighborhoods of Ward 8, Ald. Kris Theilen says he needs new shoes, and that he lost 15 pounds after campaigning door-to-door in the last month. Theilen is the only candidate running for Ward 8 whose name will appear on the ballot. His opponent, Tim Stout, is running as a write-in.
Stout says that he has also walked neighborhoods in Ward 8, where he says constituents have told him they haven’t seen his opponent in the neighborhood in the past four years. Theilen says that he tries to follow up calls from residents within 24 hours but has two young children at home, and a full-time job.
Both offer solutions to a ward with heavy infrastructure problems. A variety of older and newer homes dot the streets within the ward, which encompasses areas between East Monroe Street and part of Illinois Street, as well as abandoned properties along South English Street.
Theilen, 37, is a systems analyst and database manager for the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. Stout, 53, is a retired lineman with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
Stout said he was a member of a political action committee that made contributions to Sen. Larry Bomke, a Springfield Republican, and Congressman John Shimkus of the 19th District. He is endorsed by AFSCME, Carpenter’s Local 16, and IBEW Local 51.
Theilen is supported by Laborer’s Local 477. He says he regularly polls residents for their input on key votes, like transferring money from the hotel/motel tax to keep employees from being laid off. Stout accuses Theilen of “raiding” city funds for other uses, but Theilen responds by saying that many Ward 8 residents were worried after employee layoffs were announced. They asked him to spend that money to reinstate city employees, he says.
Stout also criticizes Theilen for not having a listed telephone number. Theilen says that his wife, Lori, is listed because the phone is under her name. Theilen’s wife, Lori Theilen, is the only person listed at their address in the 2010 White Pages due to an error by a phone service provider, says Theilen. Stout’s name is not listed in the White Pages.
“It’s really none of Tim Stout’s business how I’m running my campaign,” Theilen says. When asked what he thought of Stout’s campaign, he says he doesn’t know because he’s not paying attention to it.
Other issues in the race for Ward 8 include infrastructure and the city budget, as well as how candidates will manage the shortfall.
Theilen says that he looks at the budget “line-by-line” every year. He favors increasing the parking fine, which is currently $5, but disagrees that the city should implement the dining tax, a 1.5 percent tax, because it would “single out” the fast food industry when the city recently had an income tax increase.
Stout disagrees with Theilen on the dining tax, and says he would vote for the 1.5 percent increase.
“If you think about a $10 bill, that’s 15 cents, right? What’s that going to hurt? Nothing,” he says.
He hasn’t personally read the budget, but says that it’s “nothing but a bunch of hoaxes, guesses, estimates.”
He began his write-in campaign after being removed from the ballot during the winter. The electoral board voted him off of the ballot 2-1 because of invalid notary signings.
“So I decided to cut my losses and go as a write-in,” Stout says. “It’s hard to do, it’s just lucky I got a short name.”
– Holly Dillemuth