Left Justified: More about the candidates’ forums

By Stanley Campbell

The first of our regular “get the candidates for a few minutes in a church hall and let everyone take a good look at them” came and went rather well. Almost 20 politicians in 80 minutes.

Susan Stephens, WNIJ news director, moderated the affair, and kept the pols on their toes. We had the big guns first, State Sen. Dave Syverson, State Rep. Dave Winters and the sheriff quickly spoke and ran to other meetings as their opponents came waltzing in.

We don’t do debates. Office seekers who have opponents gave a 3-minute introduction, and Sue asked a question. The League of Women Voters kept time and welcomed everyone (the crowd numbered more than 120).

My favorites were Doug Aurand leading a cheer, Paul Gorski using some of his precious time to extol Margie Mullins, and George Gaulrapp, who’s running for Congress, showing up at the last minute.

There were candidates who had no opposition (otherwise known as “lucky devils” and “shoo-ins”) as well as Forest Preserve Board wanna-bes (see below) who were introduced from the floor, but didn’t speak. We had more than enough candidates, but not enough time for everyone.

Thanks to First Presbyterian Church, 406 N. Main, in downtown Rockford. That’s the church across from Beattie Park. They were very gracious with their space and hospitality. They’re looking for a new full-time pastor to fill Bob Hillenbrand’s shoes. Good luck, and God bless that effort.

The forum was co-sponsored by Rockford Area Lutheran Ministries (which is made up of all the ELCA congregations, and whom I love working with because their leader, Mariel Heinke, is so well organized), Rockford Urban Ministries (for which I work), and the League of Women Voters of Greater Rockford. The league, too, is much better organized than I, and has skills and raises issues far beyond my capabilities.

Not all candidates were invited to speak at that event. Not because we don’t like them, but because there’s just too many running for the Winnebago County Forest Preserve.

Blackhawk Sierra Club sponsored a separate forum Monday, Sept. 27. More than 100 voters showed, and the room was packed—despite grumblings about the Bears and Packers football game. Thanks to Burpee for opening their doors.

Twenty-seven of 35 preserve candidates showed. Some sent apologies (like Judy Barnard, who had an allergic reaction, and Helen Yeterberg, who announced she “doesn’t go out after 7 p.m.”). We never heard from the supposed front-runner, Randy Olson.

Barnard “regrets that she was unable to attend due to a severe allergic reaction to poison ivy that came on over the weekend. It caused extreme swelling of her eyes and face (think of a losing prize fighter). She planned to attend, but her doctor recommended not after administering an extremely large dose of drugs.”

The League of Women Voters provided a timer who waved her stop sign in at least five instances. One person almost refused to sit down. Three minutes was adequate for most of the candidates, and the forum lasted 90 minutes, with time left over for individual confabs.

One of the candidates brought copies of the actual ballot. I passed them out to the audience and asked people to vote and submit them after the program. There was an audible gasp, but 40 people responded.

Mary McNamara Bernsten led the vote totals with 25, followed by Lee Johnson with 24, Dan Williams with 22, Leanae Weichel and Marjorie Veitch both with 15, and Michael Eickman, Craig Peterson and Jack Cook all tied at 11. This is not anything close to a scientific poll, put I kinda like the results, though I wish Barnard was in there.

Thanks again to all those who sponsored the County Forest Preserve Candidates’ Forum: the Blackhawk Sierra Club, Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden, Four Rivers Environmental Coalition, the Natural Land Institute, Rock River Valley Wild Ones, Burpee Museum of Natural History and the Green Communities Coalition.

Now, we have to tell the rest of the county.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

From the Oct. 6-12, 2010 issue

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