Mayoral candidates tie at fourth debate

Mayoral candidates tie at fourth debate

By Shellie Berg

By Shellie Berg

Staff Reporter

At the Rockford Public Library Monday night, the four mayoral candidates again went to bat to discuss issues related to the city’s highest position at an event moderated by the League of Women Voters.

Individuals wrote down questions that JoAnne Baker of the League asked. One inquiry was directed at the candidates’ personal qualities that make them the best choice for mayor.

Republican Dennis Johnson promoted his business sense with his printing company, Johnson Press, and the compassion gained from his involvement with the non-profit groups, asserting those qualities make him a good choice.

Johnson pointed out his business has received the Management Plus Gold Award out of 42,000 printers in 1989,1999 and 2000. “We need to bring that quality to City Hall,” he stated. “At the same time, we need to bring compassion.”

He pointed to his involvement in the group, Kids Around the World, which builds playgrounds across the globe in poorer countries.

Independent candidate Larry Morrissey said that “leadership and character are things that come from the heart.”

Morrissey remarked that when people have told him that he can’t do something, he said he finds out how it can get done. “Challenge me,” he stated. “Tell me I can’t do it.”

One of his challenges entailed completing the renovation of a River District apartment, which now has full ocupancy.

Democratic candidate Rep. Doug Scott said, “I’ve got 15 years of experience … in this business.”

He reflected on legislation developed while working with neighborhood groups and the importance of his relationships in Springfield. “Those are all the things I’ve worked directly on,” he stated.

Scott also noted his work with thousands of constituents. He said it’s important to care about people. “That’s something I’ve done,” he stated. “That’s something I’ll continue to do.”

Independent candidate Guy Spinello stated that one of his qualities is “the ability to get things done. I’m not afraid to do the job myself.”

Spinello pointed out that he’s been in business for more than 30 years, running I. Spinello Locksmiths.

“I know the city very well,” he said, adding that he knows “the nuts and bolts of the community.”

Another question concerned whether the candidates would consider appointing a school board.

Scott said the city is at a point in which going back to an appointed school board might be a good idea. He said the board should have more control from the mayor’s office. But he stated that having an appointed board doesn’t mean problems will disappear.

Spinello disagreed with the notion of appointing a board. “I would never favor a board that was not elected,” he stated. “I don’t think you can take the vote away from the public. When you have an appointed board, it allows too much cronyism. As citizens, instead, we should encourage people who are qualified.”

Johnson remarked that people should elect the board members because people make the best choice. “We must make sure we have good candidates running,” he said.

He said that on Monday, he attended a court hearing for the school board. He said he didn’t hear one lawyer discuss the importance of providing education to the children.

Morrissey said that “what it really comes down to is getting the job done.” He also said trust and accountability are the keys. He said a referendum would be necessary where the people would approve or reject an appointed school board. Anything less than a vote would not do. “Trust is lacking,” he said.

Another individual inquired about how candidates would improve the transportation system around town.

Morrissey said the city needs to begin providing a more integrated busing system. He also said that trolleys, as there are in Chicago, would help solve problems related to transportation. “There’s many things we can do to make the system work,” he stated.

Scott said one challenge is that Rockford Mass Transit District lacks resources. “They’ve got some very good plans,” he said.

He stated he wants to work with the Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau and acquire a shuttle to run from east side hotels to the River District, allowing people to patronize businesses downtown.

Spinello said he recently met with residents in Concord Commons. He said sparse transportation is available for them to go to work. “I believe local transportation is a very critical element,” he said. He noted it’s vital to work with the RMTD on the issue.

Johnson said that the city needs to take care of various aspects such as maintaining the roads. “We need to make sure people can park downtown,” he said.

Spectators agreed that none of the candidates emerged as a clear winner at this forum.

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