By Jim Hagerty
CITY HALL – While the Rockford City Council now comprises eight Democrats and six Republicans, leaders say an “all-in” mentality is the key ingredient for a successful four years.
“It is time for Rockford to come together as a body,” Alderman Natavius Ervins, D-6, said. “I want to see Rockford flourish.
Ervins is among six new council members sworn in Monday night along with new Mayor Tom McNamara, who carried every precinct in the city with at least 50 percent of the vote in last month’s general election.
McNamara’s victory was no surprise down the stretch as a groundswell of Republicans who supported independent Rudy Valdez joined the McNamara camp. In the final weeks ahead of the election, the question was not whether Tom would win, but by how much.
The race was called about an hour after the polls closed, marking what could be an end of party politics in Rockford.
“I would love to see Rockford nonpartisan,” outgoing Alderman Pam Connell said. “It would even the playing field and concentrate on the candidate, their platform and what they’ve done.”
Connell stepped down from her 6th Ward seat to run for mayor. She was defeated by Brian Leggero in February’s Republican primary.
Ervins defeated her husband, Craig Connell. Also new to the council in 2017 are Jonathan Logemann, D-2; Chad Tuneberg, R-3; Karen Hoffman, D-8; Bill Rose, D-9; and Tuffy Quinonez, D-11.
With a potentially massive budget hole looming in the next few years, they will have their work cut out for them as a collective unit that far outreaches party lines.
“People look to the city as a whole,” Tuneberg said. “If the council deviates from the issues – crime, property taxes, jobs and economic development – it would be a disservice to our constituents. Schools are also an issue the city indirectly has something to do with. We have to stay focused on what we were elected to do.”
Logemann agreed. While campaigning to unseat Jamie Getchius, the Auburn High School teacher was less concerned about winning one for his party and more focused on the needs of his ward. And so were voters, he said.
“Just talking with people, I didn’t hear, ‘What party do you belong to?’” Logemann said. “It was, ‘What ideas do you have and what actions will you (take) to improve neighborhoods?’ There’s no Republican or Democratic way to shovel a sidewalk. We saw this with the Amerock deal. There was bipartisan support and bipartisan opposition, too. In city government, it’s about what makes sense.”
And what makes sense for Rockford’s Democratic-leaning labor sector are jobs – potentially hundreds of them on the Amerock project.
Dozens of supporters rallied the outgoing council to approve the latest hotel deal that could secure employment for union workers for the next two years. The hotel and conference center would also employ more than 100 people when it opens as early as 2019.
“We had an environment that wasn’t always friendly to unions here at City Hall,” Rose said. “Part of that goes back to the (Gov. Bruce) Rauner agenda. So, we have to make it clear that Rockford is a good, working-class community and we are not going to be divisive anymore.”
McNamara hit the ground running Tuesday morning by hiring Todd Cagnoni as his city administrator. Cagnoni has been serving in the role on an interim basis in the Morrissey administration since longtime administrator Jim Ryan departed for Rock Valley College.
“I could not think of a better person to name as city administrator than Todd,” the mayor said. “He exemplifies the qualities and character we want to see on the city team. He is honest, trustworthy, humble and hardworking and I look forward to serving with him.”
Cagnoni previously served Rockford as the director of community and economic development.
McNamara is expected to hire a chief of staff in coming days while evaluating other positions to face the next four years.
“I think we have some great staff, so I am looking forward to it,” the mayor said. “I’ve met on-on-one with new aldermen, and I am going to continue to build relationships with current aldermen who will continue to serve.”
McNamara is the city’s 41st mayor. His father, John, was Mayor of Rockford from 1981-89, overlapping with 10th Ward Alderman Frank Beach’s first term on council.
“We’ve got a great town,” Beach said. “We’ve had some bumps and bruises, but we have moved on. I’ve seen Rockford go from a manufacturing personality to where it changed over to aerospace, freight with the airport now grown up. Just in the last two years, I’ve seen change into a huge medical complex.”
tyle=”font-weight: 400;”>And Beach says he’s encouraged by what’s coming next.
“The potential is there. It’s a wonderful direction to go. We need to hang on because there are some good things ahead of us.”