Sewers, sidewalks and leaves
Ward 6 race focuses on public works issues
Ward 6 Alderwoman Kristin DiCenso is facing a challenge from a political newcomer who said her motivation to run for city council struck her while raking leaves. Candidate Elizabeth Jones, who operates Bright Beginnings Home Daycare, is challenging the incumbent in a race that has already provoked controversy.
Jones said her motivation to run for office occurred in October when she was raking her leaves and felt there could be a better system in place for the city’s yard waste collection.
“The leaders you elect have the ability to make changes,” Jones said. “That’s what I think the people in my ward want.”
Jones’ chance of running for city council faced a hiccup when her petition was challenged by one of DiCenso’s supporters because of a $25 unpaid parking ticket Jones had at the time she handed in her petition, which was subsequently paid. Ironically, DiCenso says she believes the city needs to do away with metered parking and replace it with a two-hour parking system to promote spending in downtown.
DiCenso, who is currently the development director at the Illinois Health Care Association, was elected to the council in 2017 to fill a vacancy created by Alderman Cory Jobe’s departure prior to finishing his term and is now seeking re-election to a full four-year term. DiCenso said she didn’t challenge the decision of the election board – Mayor Jim Langfelder, City Clerk Frank Edwards and Ward 1 Alderman Chuck Redpath – to allow Jones to remain in the election because she had her own race to consider.
Allegations that the mayor’s office may have encouraged Jones to challenge the incumbent began to swirl when it was discovered that the deputy mayor’s husband, Jim Drew, helped collect petition signatures for Jones, according to a Nov. 28 State Journal-Register article. Drew denied he circulated petitions for Jones for any politically motivated reason, but the relationship between the mayor and the unions – who have come out in support of DiCenso – has deteriorated dramatically since Langfelder first took office.
Both candidates have their own ideas about how the city and ward could be improved, although they agree that infrastructure is a key issue.
DiCenso said she strove to make improvements to her ward during the past two years, even though the concerns of her constituents are just as diverse as the section of town she represents.
“I have definitely gone to bat for Ward 6 infrastructure improvements. That includes alleys, overlays, accessible sidewalks, brick road repairs – which Ward 6 has the most of – and new sewers,” DiCenso said. She said she wants to continue to promote economic development throughout the city, because what happens in other wards has a direct impact on Ward 6.
Like DiCenso, Jones sees infrastructure as a major issue for Ward 6 and wants to address some of the concerns she said Ward 6 residents have about sewage and water lines made of lead that contaminate drinking water.
Jones said she plans to work with the Environmental Protection Agency to address the water contamination, even if she isn’t elected, and wants to apply for federal grants that have been used to correct similar issues in Madison, Wisconsin, to help offset some of the costs.
“Infrastructure updates, as we all know, are very expensive,” Jones said. “Even though they are, the city council needs to find ways to resolve these issues.”
Jones said the leaf problem that prompted her to run for office is more than an eyesore since leaves can clog the outdated brick sewage passages and people in the ward are frustrated because of limited leaf pickup.
"Many of the residents have expressed concern to me about clogged sewers that back up into their homes, and under the worst scenarios, this can mean raw sewage,” Jones said.
Early voting and mail-in votes begin
Feb. 21 with the consolidated election held April 2.
Lindsey Salvatelli is an editorial intern with Illinois Times as part of the Public Affairs Reporting master’s degree program at University of Illinois Springfield. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.