DeKALB – David Jacobson has had a lot of eye-opening experiences since coming to DeKalb to study special education at Northern Illinois University.
He inadvertently became a landlord at the age of 19. He took over the business side of his fraternity, Sigma Alpha Mu, when, as he said, it was near collapse. When the fraternity moved to its current location at 900 Greenbriar Road, he had to learn basic contracting work including painting and plastering.
Jacobson compared the city of DeKalb to his fraternity at the time – an organization so consumed with the day-to-day that it has no clear long-term vision.
"If you're too busy treading water, you're not busy learning enough how to swim," Jacobson said. He said he wants to begin planning for the future comprehensively, and to see the DeKalb City Council actually solve its issues with crime and public safety.
The 1st Ward alderman has not minced words in his criticisms of city government since he was elected to the City Council in 2011. DeKalb has lost its way, and as mayor, Jacobson says he could fix that.
"Right now, DeKalb has lots of different challenges," Jacobson said. "Some of those challenges have been created or exacerbated by a lack of leadership in our city, whether it's our elected officials or within our staff."
Jacobson says he is willing to put in the time, energy and commitment to fix the city's problems, something he doesn't think his competitors – John Rey, Mike Verbic and Jennifer Groce – can do.
"The only way to get things done right is to do them yourself," Jacobson said.
Unlike his competitors, Jacobson said he symbolically represents many people in the city. He described himself as an advocate for NIU students, businesses, property owners, and residents.
Jacobson said city leaders have made short-sighted decisions that created DeKalb's financial issues. In 2010, the city only had $21,869 in its general fund; in 2013, it is projecting to have $5 million.
"A lot of council members are quick to pat themselves on the back, that we've fixed those issues," Jacobson said. "Some of the same people who are patting themselves on the back are the same people who got us into that situation in the first place."
The mismanagement has extended to the city's tax increment financing accounts, Jacobson said. TIF is a special tax mechanism local governments use to try to spur redevelopment in blighted areas.
Jacobson has been a vocal critic of proposals for using TIF funds. He takes a narrow view of how TIF money should be spent – to bring businesses to blighted areas.
"For me, all of those investments have to be investments," Jacobson said. "I want to see some legitimate return on those investments. I want to see how those jobs are going to be created."
Tax increment financing – which freezes property taxes in an area at a base level and redirects all increases in revenue to a special city-controlled account – can be used on existing public buildings. TIF funds have gone toward the Egyptian Theatre and the DeKalb Public Library. Jacobson says he plans to re-develop the former DeKalb Clinic building at 217 Franklin St. with no economic incentives.
Jacobson also is not a fan of the new housing bureau the City Council created to implement the new housing rules passed in 2012.
" 'Bureau' implies bureaucracy," Jacobson said. "It's more red tape. It's more layers of government. It's more unnecessary management when it doesn't need to exist."
Rather, the city should use its existing services – police, fire, and code enforcement – to implement those rules, Jacobson said. It could be an issue when the time comes to deliberate next year's budget.
Unlike the other mayoral candidates, Jacobson – a sitting alderman – will have a voice in the next city manager regardless of the election's outcome. City Manager Mark Biernacki will retire in June, and Biernacki's replacement will have high expectations.
"He's going to be asked to do a lot of things," Jacobson said. "...We have done a very good job at finding staff that are not only jack-of-all-trades but are experts in multiple fields. That's what the next city manager is going to have to bring."
Jacobson says he will take a hard line against the "criminal elements" in DeKalb, but he feels some crime concerns are more perception than reality. He said he lives in what some have called a bad neighborhood, but he's never felt threatened there.
"You lock your cars at night, you lock your doors at night," Jacobson said. "Would I like to have a community where you don't have to do that? Sure, but that's not the reality we live in right now."
Students and residents could do a better job policing their neighborhoods as well, instead of ignoring the problem, he said.
"A big step we need ... is for some of those people to get involved and say 'this isn't right,' " Jacobson said.
All of the mayoral candidates have some connection to NIU, but Jacobson has been critical of Groce and Verbic – who are full-time employees at the university. Despite their protests, Jacobson says their work at the university could cause a conflict.
"There may come a time where the city's interests have to be protected above other interests," Jacobson said. "Can someone that plays on both sides make the right decisions to protect those interests? I don't think it's fair for the community to wonder."
Jacobson said he does not think his position as a landlord for an NIU fraternity would constitute a conflict of interest. He said he leases to fraternity alumni, who in turn lease to the fraternity chapter.
"I'm as far removed from the university as possible. ... Business-wise that makes the most sense," Jacobson said.
He added that landlords in general have a big stake in the community, and he provides a voice and perspective. If there was a conflict, he said he would recuse himself.
Education: Bachelor's degree, political science – politics, Northern Illinois University; Associate degree, criminal justice, Kishwaukee College
Career: Property management and development and 1st Ward alderman, Self-employed and elected by the residents of the 1st Ward.
Marital Status: Single
MAYORAL PROFILE SCHEDULE
Wednesday - Jennifer Groce
Today - David Jacobson
Friday - John Rey
Saturday - Mike Verbic