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DeKalb mayor candidates talk crime, housing

DeKALB – Questions about public safety and economic development ruled the night as DeKalb's mayoral candidates gave their thoughts to members of the DeKalb Area Rental Association.

Each of the mayoral candidates – Jennifer Groce, former director of Re:New DeKalb; David Jacobson, First Ward alderman; Mike Verbic, member of the DeKalb School District 428 board; and John Rey, a former school board member and former DeKalb Ag/Monsanto employee – promised at a meeting Wednesday to make the city more business friendly.

The solutions for public safety were wider, with candidates suggesting text alert systems and community policing as ways to crack down on crime. Both Rey and Groce said they supported adding more police.

"I don't think it's a perception. I think we absolutely have a crime and safety problem," Groce said. "We've got to get our police department to proactively react to crime, because right now we're reacting."

The candidates for alderman and DeKalb mayor fielded questions from the landlord association at a private forum. The Daily Chronicle and other local media were invited to attend.

There were nuances to the candidates' answers on economic development. Verbic said he wants to help existing businesses before attracting new ones. Groce's scope for economic development was larger than the city.

"When we're talking about retaining businesses, it's not just about our city," Groce said. "It's about all businesses in our community and our county. What are we doing to keep them here in our region?"

Like the alderman candidates before them, the mayoral candidates also were critical of the funding and inspection mechanisms included in the new housing ordinances the city council passed in November. DARA has opposed those measures as well, arguing that landlords are being double-taxed to support another layer of government.

"The renters don't want it, the landlords don't want it, but for some reason, the mismanagement of the city says that's the way we need to go," said Jacobson, who voted against parts of the new ordinances while on the council.

With regard to public safety, Rey said he supports Lowery's 20/20: Vision for the Future initiative, which would add four more police officers, a K-9 unit, a mass arrest vehicle and a host of other programs to the department. Jacobson added that community policing, or "having people stand up for their neighborhoods," is necessary.

Verbic said he would like DeKalb to set up a text alert system similar to one at Northern Illinois University, to be used in emergencies. He said there is a lack of information-sharing between the university and other community leaders on potential threats in the area.

The council's role with the city staff also was discussed. Each candidate vowed to lead the council and direct the city staff on different policy issues.

"Everyone will be accountable to do their job, and do it at council direction," Rey said.

As a member of the current council, Jacobson was more pointed in his criticism, arguing that the council's inability to effectively tackle issues has led to too much delegation to the city manager and staff.

"It's easy for a mayor or city council member to sit back and say 'City manager, you handle that.' 'City staff, you handle that for us,' " Jacobson said. "I think that's what got us into the situation we're in. Mismanagement, bad management, bad decisions, poor planning. It's where we are."

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