LWV’s City Council candidate forum & 4-year candidate picks
Last night was the League of Women Voters’ Elgin City Council candidate forum at Gail Borden Public Library. I (Jessica, not RS) attended, with the intention to choose who I will vote for. RS encouraged me to make endorsements on the blog while he is out of town, so here you go! The four-year candidates I plan on voting for are Rich Dunne, Juan Figueroa, and John Walters.
Below are my comments on each of the four-year candidates. I hotlinked each name to their site, if I could find one. Because I choose who I’m voting for based on a process of elimination, I typed “HAS MY VOTE” next to each candidate, with a strike through each one I’m not voting for. (If you have trouble choosing from the dizzying array of candidates, I encourage you to try the process of elimination. It’s often easier to pick who you like the least instead of who you like the best.)
Rich Dunne HAS MY VOTE
He had me at “land trust.” When the issue of affordable housing was brought up, his suggestion was to develop a land trust in Elgin (possibly using Neighborhood Stabilization grant funds). I have done a fair amount of reading on Community Land Trusts (please click!) and love the idea. They are fairly new, and popping up in a few major cities around the US. Essentially, a family is able to own the home, but the “trust” owns the land beneath it. That means it must stay affordable when it is resold. If elected, I really hope he tries to make this a reality.
Dunne came across as articulate and more at-ease than most of the other non-incumbent challengers. He believes the Council should’ve waited until after the election to vote on replacing the City Manager. He has attended one City Council meeting in person. He would’ve attended more, but it wouldn’t have been appropriate because of his position in the Fire Department. He is upset that Elgin spent so much money on Wing Park Boulevard while the Police Department is shrinking. He believes illegal immigration is a federal issue with local ramifications. He’d rather cut back on incentives we provide to businesses than raise residents’ property taxes. He approves of red light cameras if they improve safety.
Juan Figueroa HAS MY VOTE
Figueroa won me over with his strong belief in neighborhoods and his acknowledgement of the need for affordable housing. He wants strong neighborhood groups, and believes they will be key in people’s perceptions of safety. He also believes we have a need for affordable housing in Elgin, especially for seniors. He says the issue he faces is that most residents do not want the affordable housing built near them.
Figueroa believes they did the right thing by appointing a new City Manager because Elgin does not have the funds to do a national search right now, and Stegall is clearly the best choice anyway. He said the dwindling Grand Victoria funds should be spent on economic development, which will result in more dollars for Elgin. When illegal immigration came up, he mentioned AFLA and referred to text he printed from their website that stated Elgin had taken their advice and was doing a good job. Any further developments in that area will be via ICE. In regards to red light cameras he said, “Commit the crime, pay the fine.”
Robert Gilliam HAS MY VOTE
Gilliam already had a strike against him in my mind for two reasons: 1) He lacks a website, which I think shows that either he doesn’t “get it” or that he is so confident of his re-election he isn’t even trying, and 2) I saw him fall asleep during a presentation by Doug Farr earlier this year at a City Council meeting. Perhaps he had a valid reason, but I considered that one of the most important presentations this City has had.
Still, Gilliam came across as articulate and confident in this forum. I was seriously considering voting for him until the issue of affordable housing was raised. His response was that Elgin has 45% affordable housing, when only 10% is necessary. I take that to mean that he will continue voting for the development of far-west McMansions and overpriced downtown condos that Elginites clearly cannot afford.
Gilliam cited fiscal responsibility as one of his strong points and pointed out that the property tax rate has not gone up in his 17 years as Councilman. He also mentioned that Elgin is the 2nd safest city of its size in Illinois (Naperville is #1), and that the reduction in the Police Department did not change the number of police on foot patrol. He believes the Council made the correct decision in appointing a replacement manager before the election. Regarding illegal immigration, he said we’ve done all that we legally can, and now must wait for the federal government to respond. He supports red light cameras if they reduce fatalities.
Brenda Harris Khan HAS MY VOTE
Khan already had a strike against her in my mind because of her lack of a website. (Get with it people!) The main reason she gave for running for Council is that there are no women on the Council, and she is a woman. Later she made a comment that neighborhoods should make themselves “unpleasant” to illegal immigrants, “in their gangs.” It sounded as if she was saying all illegal immigrants are in gangs. I know that “illegals” are illegal by their very status, but that doesn’t mean they are all engaging in street crimes, and it’s pretty foolish to think so.
Khan wants to bring more businesses and more affordable housing to Elgin. She thinks the Council should’ve waited until after the election to appoint a new manager. She has attended 3 Council meetings in the past year. Khan believes neighborhood patrols and watch groups will help people’s perceptions of safety. As the riverboat funds dwindle she believes we must improve the perception of Elgin so more businesses settle here. She said that red light cameras are a “revenue reducer” because of the cost of a study, installing and maintaining cameras, reviewing tapes, etc. (It later came out that private companies do all of this, and red light cameras usually produce revenue.)
Shane Nowak HAS MY VOTE
Nowak started off his statement saying that he is 28-years-old and ran for this office two years ago but lost. Couple that with the fact that he looks young and is currently a student, this probably wasn’t a good idea strategically. Though Emi Morales is the same age (or very close), she started off talking about how she is a practicing lawyer that owns her own home. One introduction gives the impression of youth and inexperience, while the other shows professionalism and competence.
I got the impression that Nowak has potential, but is a bit naive. I could see him winning a Council position in future years, but not now. His public speaking skills were not up to par with most of the other candidates. Admitting that he has never actually attended a City Council meeting made him look inexperienced. He is in the middle of obtaining his Master’s while working, which left me wondering if he’s thought about how he’d have time for this anyway.
Nowak wants to reduce the number of ordinances and needed permits in order to bring more business to Elgin. He did not mention specific ordinances or permits, but commented that his parents had to pay $55 to do construction on their home, and seemed to disagree with that. He had no problem with the Council appointing a new manager because “We can always fire him.” He wants Elgin to hire more police since we are understaffed by 11, and mentioned that 1% of Elgin’s population is in a gang. Reducing the number of permits as well as improving Elgin’s image are his ideas for bringing builders here who want to put up affordable housing. Regarding illegal immigration, he feels Elgin should’ve taken advantage of the free ICE training that was offered in the past. He believes the key to replacing the riverboat funds is increasing the population in Elgin, not taxes. He believes red light cameras are good for safety.
John Prigge HAS MY VOTE
Prigge started off by saying he is a “solution” man, and has a solution for Elgin’s gang problem that has caused four murders in the past 20 months. The way he said this rubbed me the wrong way and gave me an impression of arrogance. How is Prigge the one person who knows how to prevent murders, and why isn’t he sharing it? My impression was confirmed when he said he wouldn’t wait 15 months for the federal government to respond to ICE requests. What would he do then? How does he have special access to the feds that no one else has? If he knows how to move things along faster, why isn’t he sharing it? I took his claims to be removed from reality, and cannot imagine what he would do once in office when the occasional murder occurred and the feds still didn’t respond quickly despite his attempts to force them.
Prigge said the Council should’ve named an “interim” City Manager, then named a permanent one after the election. He has attended 2 Council meetings in-person over the past year. He said we should deal with safety issues “the DuPage way,” with ordinances, but ran out of time before saying what those ordinances are. He is not aware of anyone “legitimately” saying that Elgin needs more affordable housing. He named illegal immigration as Elgin’s “number one problem” and proposed that we form a coalition with other nearby towns. He is against raising taxes, but would consider raise “usage” fees. He noted that the Centre loses $1,600 per day. He didn’t give specifics, but seemed to be in favor of closing it or selling it. He is against red light cameras and says a study shows they actually increase rear end collisions.
Linda Quezada HAS MY VOTE
Quezada stated that her reason for running is that she “literally got a message from God.” Hm…I don’t think the message from God was “literal,” unless she still has it lying around. I don’t mean to be mean, but this just seemed like bad strategy and caught me off guard. I’m not going to vote for someone because she tells me God told her to run. Throughout Quezada’s responses, her words got jumbled at times. I don’t want to pick on people for public speaking mistakes, but as a Council member public speaking is a very important skill. It isn’t used during the election only.
Quezada believes the Council should’ve waited to appoint the new manager. She has attended one meeting in the past year. She believes that safety issues should be dealt with through gang prevention programs and community policing. She said Elgin does not have affordable housing, and that affordable housing should be mixed with other housing. Her answer to declining riverboat revenue is to “prioritize and cut waste.” She recommends that those concerned about illegal immigration write letters to Congress. She is for red light cameras on Big Timber Road, but says overall they are revenue generators.
Lenora Scruggs HAS MY VOTE
Lenora Scruggs was articulate and displayed a professional demeanor. Her main issue mentioned was government transparency. I was turned off when she displayed a very negative attitude about businesses in Elgin. In regards to Burlington Coat Factory she said, “So how long will that be here?” Her point was criticism of the current Council, but it still came off as pessimistic.
Scruggs believes the Council should’ve waited until after the election to appoint a manager. She has attend around 5 Council meetings in person this past year. She believes safety issues should be dealt with through gang prevention programs. She said that a few years ago over 3,000 people lined up in Elgin to get Section 8 vouchers, which shows the need for affordable housing. Scruggs recommends the residents concerned about illegal immigration write letters and conduct marches, since it’s largely a federal issue. She believes we should revitalize the downtown to have merchants like it did in the 1980s. She believes red light cameras could provide revenue and catch people breaking the law.
Bruce Trego HAS MY VOTE
Trego was a no-show for the forum, so I am making my decision not to vote for him based on other sources of information. He has several “strikes,” in my mind: no website, compared employers asking for workers’ citizenship status to Nazi Germany, appears to have a spotty work history as city manager, was fired and then charged with trespassing by Naperville.
John Walters HAS MY VOTE
Walters was articulate, confident, and came across as very friendly and easy-going. He seemed likeable, and I think that is important. I am generally not in favor of candidates who come across as negative and antagonistic. Walters put forth sustainability as one of his top issues. (It is also one of my top issues.) While noting that the federal government changes the definition of “affordable housing” regularly, he admitted that Elgin needs more rental units (another point I agree with, especially with the economy today). He said the difficulty is in getting builders to build rentals.
Walters defended the Council’s decision to appoint a new Manager, saying “Sean is a walking, talking budget” and it would be “devastating” to lose him. He stressed that Elgin is doing every legal thing it can to deal with illegal immigration, and that anything else would bring on a racial profiling lawsuit that we cannot afford. He said that working with ICE when they respond is our next step. Walters admitted to voting against the riverboat initially because of his disagreement with gambling, but says he came around to supporting it because of funding. For every $1 of Grand Victoria money the City receives, $15 in private funds are created. He seemed to be in favor of red light cameras, stating disapproval of the fact that stop signs and lights seem to be viewed “as a suggestion” in Elgin.
Stay tuned…later I will go through this same process with the 2-year candidates.