Thursday, May 31, 2007

Candidates Have Their Say

Two Democratic primary contenders and a Republican who will be on the November ballot shared their views with about 50 people Wednesday at a forum sponsored by a Second Ward neighborhood group.

Participants were James “Tony” Rucker and incumbent Councilman Cory Storch, vying for the Second Ward Democratic line, and GOP choice Deborah Dowe. Storch has the backing now of the Regular Democratic Organization, running for re-election with First Ward incumbent Councilwoman Linda Carter. If Rucker wins the primary, he will become the RDO candidate for the November 6 general election.

The Crescent Area Neighborhood Association hosted the forum in the Plainfield Public Library.

In opening statements, Rucker said his campaign is based on economic development and called the Second Ward the most diverse of the city’s four wards. Storch described his family’s service to the city and said the city has not fully used its assets. Dowe said Plainfield holds “an incredible human resource that we haven’t been able to tap.”

Questions ranged over familiar ground: Code enforcement, economic development, taxes. Newer issues, including a focus on transit villages and City Hall’s weak technology, also came up.

On keeping up property code standards, Rucker spoke in favor of having more inspectors, but Storch said the city needs “strategic application” of its current staff. Dowe said people want a more even-handed approach to enforcement, with emphasis on major violations.

Asked how downtown development would affect the Crescent neighborhood, Rucker cautioned against overloading the business district with high-density housing, adding, “We need to increase the commercial footprint.”

Storch said the downtown, which now appeals to low-income families, must become more appealing to middle-income families. Dowe voiced a concern for better education and for the city and school board to work together.

“We need more incentives to provide for the behavior we want,” she said.

On what to do about $850,000 in unclaimed tax overpayments, Rucker said the problem is “another example of not being able to manage information.”

Taxpayers will get the money back if they can document the overpayments, but so far only about $30,000 has been claimed. The city wants the money to go into surplus.

“I think surplus is a good thing,” Storch said, noting it can boost the city’s bond ratings and loans will be needed to carry out a 15-year road improvement program.

On the controversial call to close the Park Hotel residence for deinstitutionalized mental patients, Dowe said a statewide solution is needed for such housing.

On the administration’s push for high-density development around train stations, Dowe said she was concerned about any project that would generate children and overburden schools. Recalling transportation promises made when a health center was moved from the center to the edge of the city, Dowe urged caution in supporting the untried transit village concept.

“If you build it, they will come. But who will come and how will they occupy it?” she asked.

Skeptics question an influx of $350,000 condos, fearing lack of sales will cause them to become rental units.

In all, the candidates answered about a dozen questions submitted by the audience and presented by the moderator, library Director Joe Da Rold.

Rucker and Storch will vie June 5 for voter approval and the primary winner will go on to the November 6 general election, facing Dowe and any independent candidates who file June 5. The winner in November will get a four-year City Council term starting Jan. 1, 2008.

Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. June 5.


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