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DeKalb mayor's race: Rey sets sights on leading city

Published: Friday, April 5, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, April 5, 2013 12:11 p.m. CDT
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(Erik Anderson for the Daily Chronicle)
Jerry Smith (right) speaks to the attendees during the fundraiser event as mayoral candidate John Rey sits (far left) on March 28 at the Hillside Restaurant in downtown DeKalb.

DeKALB – It’s hard to find a DeKalb-area organization that hasn’t counted John Rey among its members.

He’s a past president of the Ben Gordon Foundation, the DeKalb School District 428 board and Kiwanis Club of DeKalb. He sits on Re:New DeKalb’s board of directors, and is a founding member of the DeKalb Education Foundation.

“I choose to become involved because I'm driven on giving back to the community,” Rey said. “I thought about what motivates that, and some of it comes from several mentors I’ve had over my career at [DeKalb Ag/Monsanto].”

Now, Rey is looking to take a leadership role on the DeKalb City Council with his bid for mayor.

“I feel my proven leadership skills qualify me to be a team leader on the City Council,” Rey said.

Like his opponents – Jennifer Groce, David Jacobson, and Mike Verbic – Rey says DeKalb is on the cusp of major change especially with its relationship with Northern Illinois University and its new president, Douglas Baker, who takes the title in July.

“I think it’s a major undertaking, but not an unrealistic goal to expect that to really be developed over the next year as we get new leadership in the community,” Rey said. “We’re at a pivotal opportunity for change, and I see that as being effective change, positive change for the community.”

Rey said he would reach out to NIU if elected mayor, attending meetings of the NIU Board of Trustees and its various student groups to hear their concerns.

Every mayoral candidate has some connection with NIU, which is the city’s largest employer. Two – Groce and Verbic – are employed there. Rey earned an MBA at NIU.

Rey joined Jacobson in stating that he believes it would be a conflict of interest for the mayor of DeKalb to be an NIU employee.

“How can an employee of Northern effectively negotiate city and university issues if their job might be in jeopardy?” Rey said. “How can an employee of Northern approach the president of the university at a negotiation table if they in turn have to recuse them of discussion with council members, of voting on issues in front of City Council?”

Rey said he also felt Jacobson had a conflict of interest because of his occupation as a landlord. Jacobson rents out the rooming house at 900 Greenbrier Road to the NIU fraternity Sigma Alpha Mu.

“That could raise some potential areas of conflict as well,” Rey said. “I am kind of frustrated at watching the same house with screens falling off the front of the windows and having the candidate talk about landlords putting responsible maintenance into their buildings.”

Rey is a member of the city’s Economic Development Commission, which reviews different economic proposals before they head to city council. His work occasionally involves tax increment financing, a special funding mechanism that local governments use to cure blighted properties.

Rey said TIF funds should be used on private and public projects that require additional work to develop.

“The projects that are appropriate for TIF are for those that would be a significant hurdle to overcome,” Rey said. “Either in a deteriorated property or land site that might need additional funds to recondition it.”

By this measure, Rey said the council was right in deciding to loan $900,000 in TIF proceeds to Olive Garden as the restaurant chain would have faced numerous start-up costs because of the site property’s condition. Olive Garden’s parent company, Darden Restaurants, later abandoned the plan.

Rey also supported the council’s decision to approve $2 million in TIF funds for the library’s planned expansion, something his opponent Jacobson voted against as an alderman.

“I think those types of projects that are going to refurbish the property and stimulate jobs and economic activity in our community are certainly appropriate for TIF,” Rey said.

Rey sees housing and the city’s economy as being linked issues. He says making improvements to the city’s existing housing stock will encourage people to invest in DeKalb.

“I think to drive that need, we’re going to have to attract jobs that are, in turn, going to attract people that want to live here,” Rey said.

Rey was a member of the Safe and Quality Housing Task Force that considered different ways to revamp the city’s housing stock. When the task force concluded in summer 2012, the council later passed rules the task force recommended later that year.

To implement those rules, the city created a housing bureau, which has been criticized for its funding mechanism and necessity. Rey supported the different rules the council passed, but said the bureau’s performance should be evaluated after 6 months to a year.

“The housing bureau, I would see, working as the implementation arm for City Council policy,” Rey said. “As we get into assessing the current housing stock, if those needs should change over a four-year term as mayor, I would certainly see revisiting that area of quality housing.”

Like his opponents, Rey also emphasized the need for residents to work with police to crack down on crime in the area. He said it is paramount that DeKalb’s police, fire, and public works crews are adequately funded.

If he is elected Tuesday, Rey said he would like the city to be safer and it’s government more financially secure when his term ends in 2017. He says his teamwork-oriented leadership style will foster a positive environment on the council, although that might be a challenge in the early going.

“I realize there are some strong personalities on City Council; there have been, there will be,” Rey said. “I see that as a challenge, to get the right atmosphere achieved within those individuals interacting.”

JOHN REY

Affiliation: Independent

Age: 70

Education: Master’s degree, MBA - finance , Northern Illinois University

Career: Community volunteer, various public/private organizations. See biography at www.JohnReyforDeKalb.com

Marital status: Married, Marjorie

Children: Daniel, 45, Timothy, 44

Website: www.JohnReyforDekalb.com

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