Editorial Reply: Home rule opponents—CAVE people or critical thinkers?

“Unique” certainly describes my friend Marge Bevers. I have enjoyed her, and her husband Kyle’s, generous hospitality many times at their loft apartment in the Morrissey Building during the mayoral campaign and at other social gatherings. As reflected in the decor of her residence and the many fine meals the couple has prepared, their taste is exquisite. Their commitment to the Morrissey Campaign and the River District is unquestioned as embodied in their newest enterprise, the Hamilton Building at the corner of West State and Wyman streets. This million dollar-plus effort is being done in the finest quality with great attention paid to historical detail.

Historically, we worked together with many others in the movement against putting low-cost housing in the Amerock Building in the Doug Scott administration. After seeing the will of the people in regard to the proposal, the River District Association finally opposed the project as well. Marge has done considerable research for this paper at no charge as well. Recently, we worked together on the Joyce Serrano benefit, with wonderful results for the family.

However, as is the case with many supporters of Mayor Morrissey, blind faith in whatever he and his supporters propose is not good for them, him or us. No matter how good the intention, every issue must be examined with critical thinking and open debate.

Examining the role and contributions of Peter Provenzano and Jim Keeling in the Home Rule proposal is part of the public process of public debate and interest. Being a spokesman and chairperson for Empower Rockford and advocating a change in the basic character of municipal governance makes them public figures. To characterize that examination as a personal attack on their “vision, generosity, character, leadership skills and devotion to the community” as the “lowest of impulses” is just as unfair as such an attack would be.

To say this paper seems to be “sloughing off our candidate of choice” is also unfair. In case you may have forgotten, Mike Leifheit and I were the first to urge Larry Morrissey to run for mayor. We were the first media in the area to print his ideas, in his words, in a series of columns that brought him into the public eye. We worked with Larry in establishing the River District. When he was defeated in his first effort to become mayor, we did not abandon him. In fact, he defended us in a libel suit, and we won through his efforts and because the court agreed that we printed the truth, without recklessness or malice. Matt Provenzano printed 5,000 extra copies of our endorsement of Larry for mayor in the last election. We were glad to do it and still are.

Now that we dare to differ with Larry, malice is in the air. Disappointment is my response. This paper backed Larry because we believed in him as a good person, which he is, and because we wanted to take Rockford back from special interests that did not have the public interest—that of Joe and Jane citizen and their children—at heart. Doing our duty as journalists, this paper will always be very avid about protecting the public interest and their right to know—everything. We will not march in lockstep with anyone, even our good friends, at the sacrifice of critical thinking.

This commitment is not a “fit of pique” nor a “primal scream.” Civil and rational debate on important issues with the people making informed decisions is called democratic process, not “white noise.” Haste leaves little taste.

Democracy is not the unenlightened leadership of a few, with the many having only limited input, if any. That model of government is an aristocracy, and absolute power does corrupt absolutely.

To say that Larry cannot expediently achieve his goals without the power of Home Rule is admitting defeat before he has really started. Do not underestimate Mr. Morrissey; we don’t. With only six months in office, he has “made a dent.” As his friends and as a member of the fourth estate, this paper will laud those “dents,” and at the same time challenge him and his administration to really pack a walloping, positive difference. To do this, he must use the right tools. At present, and unless logical, very convincing points can be made to the contrary, the editorial position of this paper is—Home Rule is the wrong tool.

Yes, Home Rule did surprise many, not just this paper. So what if it was mentioned on a radio show or if insiders in the campaign discussed it? Home Rule should have been in his public campaign platform and as material in the public mayoral debates.

As Larry has said to this paper, to exercise that kind of power, he has to have the public trust. Amen. Personally, we may have that trust, but for the public to have trust, Larry must earn it with major accomplishments that demonstrate the depth of his stewardship. Bluntly, six months and a few “dents” don’t cut it. How could it? I stuck up for the mayor many times, personally, saying, “Give him a year, at least, to rack up some big ones.”

Yet, this paper and many other people are concerned about where Larry’s stewardship seems to be going. His appointments have largely been from folks in his campaign. Good. He has to have his own people and replace those from the old power structure.

However, some from the old power structure are there as well. Our new City Legal Director, Patrick Hayes, was a lawyer with the law firm that is closely affiliated with Sen. Dave Syverson. Hayes was a known operative for Syverson in the Winnebago County Courthouse. Syverson’s control over the County Board and administration is well known. Now, many ask, “How much influence does Syverson have in City Hall?”

Jim Ryan was a member of the Scott administration that was not prone to listen to people in the River District when they said his swerve proposal for Wyman and Main streets was a bad idea. We understand that idea is still on the table. Mr. Mayor, you said that was a bad idea yourself.

Then we have the appointment of Dominic Iasparro as interim police chief. He’s definitely the old power structure. He’s a top-down administrator and not a champion of the community policing model that has worked so well. While he may know the day-to-day operations, he’s not the new school we need, either.

Now, the argument can be made that Home Rule is new school. I think that the members of Empower Rockford definitely show that the movement is power school. And the fact that the funds were garnered in 2004, proves that the move was going to be made no matter who was mayor because they certainly didn’t know who would win. To see our new mayor climb aboard this bandwagon without really discussing it with the community is disappointing. I’m for discussion. Another column for Home Rule by Jay Graham is set for next week. John Gile has a column against Home Rule this week. All sides will be given a chance to make their point; hopefully, good humor will be considered by all writers.

The more information, the better. Let the debate continue, and let the voters decide. That’s a bright day.

From the Nov. 9-15, 2005, issue

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