Three experienced candidates compete in Ward 5
Three candidates who all have experience as elected officials will be on the ballot for the Ward 5 aldermanic race in the April municipal election.
Sam Cahnman, an attorney in private practice who previously served two terms as alderman for Ward 5, is hoping to regain the office from current alderman Andrew Proctor, who was a political newcomer before successfully challenging Cahnman for his seat in 2015.
Proctor currently works as the chief legislative liaison for the Illinois Department of Labor. His other challenger, Lakeisha Purchase, also works for the state as a supportive services specialist for the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Purchase, in contrast to the incumbent and former alderman, is younger and not as established. But in 2017, she began her political career by becoming the first Democrat in 40 years to be elected a Capital Township trustee. She says she is engaging in the same type of aggressive campaigning this time around to connect with potential voters.
“I am totally committed to walk the precincts of this ward on a regular basis,” Purchase said. “If elected, I will hold neighborhood meetings to hear concerns and discuss possible solutions.”
Cahnman attributed his defeat during the last election cycle to Proctor using mailers with “false information,” Cahnman said, and he regrets not responding.
However, Cahnman is not without baggage, having been censured by the Illinois Supreme Court in May 2014 for misleading a judge about how the alderman obtained a copy of the judge’s calendar (“Cahnman faces challenger in Ward 5,” Illinois Times, April 2, 2015). In addition, Cahnman’s law license was suspended for 90 days beginning Dec. 9, 2016, for an incident that occurred during his second term as alderman. He failed to notify the city council that he was representing a client who had been arrested or issued citations by Springfield police. He also sat in four closed meetings where “the council discussed a police records destruction lawsuit and a civil rights lawsuit that Cahnman’s client had filed against the city through separate counsel,” according to the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.
This time around, Cahnman has been openly critical of Proctor on issues ranging from Proctor’s track record of sponsoring ordinances to what Cahnman claims is a lack of follow-through on his campaign promise to regulate halfway houses for parolees.
Despite Cahnman’s criticisms, Proctor said during his time as alderman he expanded the current TIF programs in Enos Park to provide funding for exterior home renovations and down payment assistance to first responders, as well as current military and veterans, a point of pride for him.
Proctor also said he has helped improve infrastructure throughout his ward, though he knows more work is needed, and helped develop the Homeless Outreach Team the Springfield Police Department launched at the beginning of the year.
“When they elected me, they also elected my wife, because she helps out in all of these things. It was greatly satisfying when we heard the H.O.T officer was in place with the Springfield Police Department,” said Proctor.
Crime is another issue for the candidates, and Proctor said although he has had some success working with the police to reduce crime in his ward, public safety and quality of life concerns remain consistent issues for residents. Cahnman said Proctor’s claim of assisting the SPD in closing 15 drug houses in Ward 5 is suspect and asked about the houses’ addresses during a recent NAACP candidate forum.
Purchase recently sent out a mailer with the words “We Call Police” for residents to place in a visible location to serve as a deterrent for would-be criminals. “Should the need arise to call to report crimes or even suspicious activities, the numbers are displayed on the back for quick access,” Purchase said.
She also wants to work with the community to better organize neighborhood watches throughout the ward.
All three candidates have expressed concern with the number of dilapidated and vacant properties around the city.
Purchase said she takes a personal interest in combating the decline of the inner city and believes the current three-year period property owners are given to complete renovations to homes deemed occupancy prohibited is excessive. Purchase and her husband bought an occupancy prohibited home through the Enos Park Development land bank and were able to complete necessary improvements in under a year. They later received an award from the Springfield Historic Sites Commission for their efforts, and in 2017, Purchase was appointed to a seat on the commission.
“It doesn’t take three years to renovate a property,” Purchase said. “And the reason I can speak to that is because of what we’ve done to our home.”
Cahnman had tried to reduce the time owners had to rehab an occupancy prohibited property from three years to two years toward the end of his last term as alderman, but the amendment never came up to a vote. He said he would like to revisit the two-year time frame and give those who can demonstrate they’ve made progress an option to extend the window for another year.
Proctor believes the city needs to consider land banking houses to sell to prospective homeowners, something that’s currently occurring in the Enos Park neighborhood. He said repurposing some of the vacant houses could reduce costs associated with the demolition of dilapidated structures, in addition to reducing the number of vacant lots in the city. It could also provide additional revenue to the city, both through the sale of the homes and increasing the tax base by having a renovated home instead of a vacant lot.
“There’s probably not a ward in Springfield that’s not touched by either vacant houses or vacant commercial properties,” Proctor said.
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 email@example.com.