Economic Development, infrastructure needs and leadership style have been three key issues in the race for mayor of Bloomington. WGLT's Willis Kern reports on the similarities and differences of the three candidates.
Hear GLT News interviews with Lex Green, Tari Renner and John Hanson, including how each candidate ranks the three previous mayors according to overall effectiveness.
All three candidates for mayor of Bloomington directly tie the city's deteriorating roads and sewers to the ability of Bloomington to thrive and prosper economically. Tari Renner is a former McLean County Board member and Illinois Wesleyan political science professor making his second bid for mayor. Four years ago, he lost to current Mayor Steve Stockton by just 15 votes. Renner says Bloomington can't compete as a regional retailer without fixing its crumbling streets.
"I want people to come here from small towns and rural areas, rather than Peoria, rather than Champaign, or Springfield or Decatur. If people know that our roads aren't very good or Veterans Parkway is congested, they are going to be less likely to shop here. So that has to be our number one consideration."
Renner says fixing roads will lead to an increase in retail activity which will spur economic development and lead to more sales tax revenue. He favors development of a downtown hotel next to the Coliseum, one he says should be privately financed. John Hanson runs a dry-cleaning business and is a former Bloomington Alderman who agrees more economic activity is tied to road repair. In fact, he says the city's transportation system is at the heart of thriving economically.
'I think one of the things that could probably be a big economic driver for Bloomington is the fact that we go out and offer people the opportunity to come visit the community and come see what we can do. We can move people in all different directions in a very fast pace. We're connected to both coasts through Bloomington and it gives us a lot of opportunity for growth."
Hanson says the proposed east-side highway would in effect create a ring road around the community, giving retailers logical spots to grow their business and fuel the city's economic engine.
Like Hanson, Lex Green was raised in Bloomington and also wants to be mayor. Green was the state's Libertarian Party candidate for Governor three years ago during his first run for public office. He says paying for Bloomington's crumbling streets, combined with the unfunded pension obligation leaves the city more than a quarter billion dollars in debt.
"It's going to take 20 years to come up with that kind of money and that's still at a fairly high tax rate. We need to make sure that we pay that stuff now, in our generation, in this council, and not shove it off to the future."
Green is pushing a limited role of government in his campaign, just as he did in his gubernatorial run. He says basic services are all that government needs to provide. With municipalities he says that's infrastructure and public safety. He says Bloomington is paying overtime for police protection in the downtown area to address a situation he says aldermen helped create by concentrating bars in a small area of downtown. Renner says he'd like to look at closing off traffic in the 500 and 600 blocks of North Main street after 10 p.m. on weekends. He says police suggested such a move during a ridearound Renner did with cops earlier this year. Hanson favors appointing an individual such as the city's economic development coordinator to help manage that communication pipeline between bar and restaurant owners, aldermen and downtown residents.
"I think there was some disengagement from the council to the downtown community. I think a lot of it was communication and having someone in place that could come and discuss with the council what are the issues and some of the ideas that need to be addressed."
Hanson says this is an example of the consensus building style he'd use to lead Bloomington. In fact, the difference between Hanson and Renner is most noticeable in the way each says they plan to govern. Hanson says he'd serve mostly as a conduit between the council and city staff, while Renner says he'd be a high-energy mayor.
"I totally, totally disagree with Mr. Hanson on the avenue. I think it's a misunderstanding of the role of the mayor. The mayor is the only elected official chosen from throughout the city. The individual account aldermen are chosen from their wards and the mayor has a duty and obligation to lead and to speak out."
Lex Green says Bloomington needs a strong mayor but he says consensus building is a major part of the job description.
"Let's get everybody talking. And it doesn't have to be total agreement. I want to see debate. If they disagree on the council, great. I would like to see more no votes until we have come to the best solution, not just the solution that came up first."
While he is Libertarian in his political beliefs, there is one area where Green differs from that philosophy and that's city involvement in Connect Transit. The community's bus system is trying to manage steadily decreasing federal and state funding, where most of its dollars come from, while adapting to the changing transit habits of those who choose to ride the bus in addition to those who rely heavily on it because they need it. Green says the city has a role in adequate funding measures as well as management of Connect Transit. John Hanson says revenue enhancements should only be a last resort, and only after all efficiencies have been exhausted. Renner says he's on board with city support for the bus system and says a reliable system helps reduce the wear and tear on roads with fewer cars on the streets.
With the April 9th election less than two weeks away, voters get a chance to hear from all three mayoral candidates in a forum tonight at Illinois Wesleyan University.
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