Substance or style?

Substance or style?

By Ken Staaf

Substance or style?

Allow me to respond to a column published in The Rock River Times a few weeks ago by Mr. Mike Leifheit endorsing Mr. Larry Morrissey’s candidacy for mayor of Rockford. I believe all four candidates are altruistic in their motivations and basically very nice people. The difference lies in their experience, especially in the areas of economic development, business acumen and the making of the tough public decisions, which, I believe, are necessary to lead our community at a time of an economic downturn in our economy. Given these priorities, I respectfully offer justification for my disagreement with Mr. Leifheit.

First, let us look at the job these men are seeking: the Chief Executive Officer of Rockford, Ill., with a municipal workforce of over 1,000 people. What board of directors would hire a CEO that had absolutely no background in the administration and management of personnel, let alone a municipal workforce of over 1,000? The mayor’s office is not a training ground for political aspirants. During a recently broadcast mayoral forum, Mr. Morrissey insisted that it is vitally important that we examine the records of the candidates. I agree. However, a look at Mr. Morrissey’s public track record finds his actions in conflict with his rhetoric. In mayoral forums, Mr. Morrissey talks as if he will be an aggressive leader, fighting for principles on behalf of our community. His showmanship style may be compelling; however, I believe we are witnessing more style than substance.

Now, I don’t believe it is necessary for the mayor of Rockford to represent a major political party. However, I do find it interesting that a man who, along with his family, has supported the Democratic platforms and principles for years, jumped from that party in an effort to win an election. Was he afraid of his party’s principles or of his Democratic opponent? Many readers may recall the commitment of Senator John McCain, when many people encouraged him to abandon the principles of his party, because they felt he could win an independent run for the presidency. A man of principle, McCain said, “No!” When a candidate abandons such an affiliation, because it is expedient, and/or he fears he may not win by sticking to that ideology, one may question his commitment to principles. As a member of the board of directors of the Rockford Convention and Visitors Bureau, Mr. Morrissey supported the policy to keep the financial records of this tax-supported agency secret from public scrutiny. He did not advocate public disclosure. I find that quite troubling.

Only when the Rockford Register Star would not drop the issue, and public frustration saturated the airwaves, did he react. However, his reaction is worthy of public scrutiny. He resigned from the board. He resigned without apology for his support of a policy of the questionable use of public funds. This, from a man who professes, if elected, to run an administration that is open and inclusive. He professes support for agencies like Rosecrance, but fought to keep them out of an ideal location in the downtown area. Finally, it does not trouble me that he lives and works in a building subsidized by the taxpayers, but I do find it irritating that he also uses this building as his campaign headquarters. You and I are paying for his campaign headquarters, and that bothers me. Talk about taking advantage of the taxpayer!

On the other hand, it has been acknowledged, Dennis Johnson has the most impressive history of successful corporate leadership. Dennis Johnson not only has run one company, he has run several, quite successfully! He has served with distinction in city and county government, as well as been intimately involved with our police and fire departments. He has major corporate experience in local, state and interstate business. Additionally, his expertise is acknowledged as he has been invited to sit on the boards of directors of several major corporations in our community. Dennis Johnson has considerable international experience as an ambassador of good will in his philanthropic efforts to build playgrounds for underprivileged children. As such, he has met and negotiated with international leaders.

Before you pooh-pooh this experience and its benefits to Rockford, allow me a short story. A few years ago, several Americans were put in prison in DaNang, Vietnam. The U.S. State Department failed in their attempts to get the religious leaders released. With the permission of the State Department, Dennis called a government contact he had made in Vietnam while building a playground in that country. As a direct result of that conversation, the ministers were released! When it comes to recruiting new business to our community, who, then, is best qualified? Which of the four, when negotiating with business leaders, is more likely to bring new business to our community? Who is best qualified to negotiate contracts on behalf of the citizenry?

In addressing economic development, we must consider the track record of Doug Scott. Again, Representative Scott is a nice man and quite likeable, but I believe his public record on economic development is in conflict with his public record. As noted by the Illinois Manufacturers Association, Representative Scott has one of the worst pro-business/pro-economic development voting records in the Illinois State Legislature. During the last three years, out of 118 state representatives, Scott ranked between 115 and 118 in supporting business in Illinois! He has one of the worst records in the Illinois State Legislature! Is this the kind of record a community should endorse during a downturn in the economy? Given the current economic downturn and the potential of a recession, we should be concerned about the track record of the men who wish to be our next mayor.

I did not address the campaign of Mr. Spinello, simply because he has no public track record. Last time we had a recession in this country, Rockford experienced 25 percent unemployment! We must elect someone who understands business and the importance of maintaining a vital workforce in our community. I believe that person is Dennis Johnson! A lifetime of public service and being a successful businessman has not found Dennis Johnson compromising principles. He has a track record of integrity. Those who have dealt with him in both the public and private sectors respect him. His vision is one of practicality, not based on promises he cannot or will not keep. For the aforementioned reasons, I suggest voters look beyond the showmanship of Mr. Morrissey. We must be careful to separate the chaff from the wheat and discern style from substance. I encourage support for a man of substance: Dennis Johnson.

Ken Staaf is the Winnebago County Recorder.

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