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Olson: A funny thing happened at the forum

The bats picked a pretty opportune time to crash the party, all things considered.

I was on stage Thursday at DeKalb’s historical Egyptian Theatre, emceeing the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce’s Candidates’ Night. The two candidates for alderman in DeKalb’s 4th Ward, James Mitchell and Robert Snow, were on stage as well, giving their statements to the city’s interested voters and listeners on WLBK radio.

Snow was speaking when the unexpected happened. The audience started to gasp the way you do when you realize that, yep, that’s a bat flying around up there. Oh, and there goes another one.

The audience members were as polite as they could be – I tried my best, too – but we were all aware of the bats flitting about as Snow talked about financial incentives for development in the city.

At least both of the candidates on stage at the time had seen the bats before.

Snow, who was born and raised in DeKalb and was one of the starters on the 1968 DeKalb boys basketball team that took fourth in state, said he could tell from the crowd’s reaction that the Egyptian’s longtime resident bats had made an appearance.

He remembered them from when he was a kid watching movies at the Egyptian back in the 1950s and ’60s, he said.

“You’d be here at night watching a movie and you’d look up and sometimes there’d be bats,” Snow said. “… I tried to look forward and not lose my train of thought.”

Mitchell says he knows the bats well, too. He told me when he was in a production of “The Sound of Music” on the stage at the Egyptian, the bats tended to make an entrance when he introduced the von Trapp Family Singers.

Mitchell didn’t mention the von Trapps in his remarks, but maybe he still has some kind of sonic connection with the bats. Unfortunately for him, the bats aren’t voting in this race. I checked with the county clerk’s office. They’re not registered.

I wish both Snow and Mitchell good luck on April 9. They both showed a sense of humor about the bats when I spoke with them afterward, and both seemed enthusiastic about making a difference on the City Council. Voters in the DeKalb’s 4th Ward have two good choices.

But one of them could have warned me about the bats.

• • •

On the issues: Thank you to DeKalb Chamber Director Matt Duffy for inviting me to take part in the Candidates’ Night on Thursday (the Daily Chronicle also was a sponsor, as was the Egyptian and WLBK). Turnout was pretty good and hopefully there were more people listening on the radio.

If you missed the event or the broadcast, you can see edited videos of the candidates’ comments online at The school board candidates are online, the park board and aldermanic candidates go up today and mayoral candidates will be added Sunday.

The themes of the various races are starting to come into focus now, it seems. Much of the talk among the four candidates for two seats on the DeKalb Park District board was about the plan to rebuild Hopkins Pool. The candidates want the project slowed down so they can get in on the planning, and there seems to be concern about the number of swimmers it will hold (1,100 compared with 1,400 for the old pool design).

The school board candidates – well, if Gov. Pat Quinn’s plan to cut $400 million in state education spending becomes reality – will mostly be talking about is the district’s budget and what to do with that $21 million in grant money the district has to fall back on.

At the city level, a lot of the talk is about new development vs. redevelopment. There seemed Thursday to be a lot of interest in shifting the focus from some of the new developments proposed (e.g. ShoDeen’s plan for a 1,000-house subdivision it calls “Irongate”) in favor of redeveloping parts of the city that have become run down.

Nothing wrong with that approach, but any candidates targeting redevelopment of “blighted” areas shouldn’t be telling you in the next breath that they oppose incentives for developers. Redevelopment tends to be more expensive than new development, that’s why the city is trying to incentivize developers.

• • •

DeKalb’s mayor race: The point that more than one of the four candidates for mayor of DeKalb made Thursday was that this is a very transitive time for the Communiversity.

The city will elect a new mayor April 9, and a new president will take over July 1 at Northern Illinois University.

The city of DeKalb also will hire a new city manager in the coming months after Mark Biernacki’s retirement June 14, and one suspects that there will be some administrative changes coming at NIU when a new president takes over.

There will also be a new police chief at NIU; Gene Lowery started as DeKalb’s new police chief May 30.

There will be little shared history of give-and-take between the new crop of city and university leaders, which makes this an opportunity for residents.

Whomever they elect will have a role to play in how city and university work together going forward.

• • •

Why no primary: I think all of the candidates for mayor – Jennifer Groce, David Jacobson, John Rey and Mike Verbic – have something to offer.

But this is one of those situations where the city would be better served with a primary election followed by a run-off between the top two vote-getters.

I know it’s a nonpartisan race, but we have a situation where the next mayor is likely to be elected with only a plurality of the vote. And that plurality will come only from a sliver of the electorate.

An earlier election to winnow the field down to two would be fairer to voters and candidates in the race.

• • •

Interested viewer: OK, today’s the day that CBS will air the “48 Hours” episode about the kidnapping and murder of Maria Ridulph and the conviction of Jack D. McCullough 55 years later for the crime.

The show will be on at 9 p.m. tonight.

Obviously, we’ve written extensively about this case, but I’m interested to see how they’ll tell this story with TV cameras.

Photos from the Daily Chronicle will make an appearance during the broadcast. I’d say I’m most interested to see what McCullough says from prison.

He declined to take the stand in his own defense at the trial, and I can’t imagine that he’ll come off looking too good here, either.

• Eric Olson is the editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841, ext. 2257, email, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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