Mayoral Candidates Take Questions from LWV and Elmhurst Residents Sunday
Candidates answered questions on Hahn Street, TIF, sustainability and getting along.
The three Elmhurst aldermen vying to be Elmhurst's next mayor participated in the League of Women Voters candidate forum Sunday afternoon. Questions posed to them from both the League and from audience members focused on tax increment financing, how they would work to bring the council together and development of Hahn Street, among other things.
One of the first questions asked by the audience was, "Do you have aspirations for higher office?" Elmhurst's former mayor, Pete DiCianni, was elected to the DuPage County Board before finishing his term as mayor.
All three candidates answered, without hesitation, that they are not seeking higher office and would serve out their full term if elected.
Why They're Running
Each candidate pointed to their experience and love of Elmhurst as reasons for running.
Alderman Diane Gutenkauf, who has served the 1st Ward since 2007, is campaigning on transparency, fiscal conservatism and her 25-year work history with nonprofits.
"We are entering a new era in Elmhurst government where transparency is the norm," she said.
She also wants to protect taxpayer money "100 percent of the time" and she said she is "proficient at doing more with less."
Seventh Ward Alderman Mark Mulliner, the council's longest-serving alderman (since 1999), said his experience working with large government bodies and his long service on City Council sets him apart. He said Elmhurst is a $100 million corporation and should be treated as such.
"We have a skilled staff hired to do their jobs, and we are there to set policy, not to micromanage," he said. "That's what I do—set policy and get out of the way and let staff do it."
Sixth Ward Alderman Steve Morley, who has served on City Council since 2007, wants to maintain Elmhurst's character as a "great place for my kids and theirs to grow up." He said it's important not to lose site of what's best for the city.
"I want to be mayor because I care deeply for this town and its future," he said.
Tax Increment Financing
The candidates were asked to defend their positions on TIF 4, the new tax increment financing district on North York Road that was approved last year.
Morley sees TIF 4 as an "economic engine" that will reduce reliance on property taxes. He said the TIF will benefit all taxing bodies, and that he proposed adding Conrad Fischer and Churchville schools to the TIF to benefit Elmhurst School District 205.
"We will enter a revenue-sharing agreement (with District 205) that is five to 10 times greater than if the TIF had not been established," he said.
Gutenkauf said TIF 4 was a good idea—at first. She did not vote for the TIF once the Hahn Street property was taken out of TIF 1, the "downtown" TIF, and moved into TIF 4.
"I did not support the final map," she said. "We should have left Hahn Street within TIF 1 like we promised" instead of extending it for another 23 years in TIF 4.
Mulliner said economic development is a necessity on the north end of town.
"I want to make one thing clear," he said. "We lost four car dealerships in the last four years. The (TIF) system has been very effective at Lake and Walnut. This is an opportunity for us to increase the tax base and reduce property taxes."
All three candidates said they would not support TIFs 5 and 6, slated for York and South Street, and on Riverside Drive, until one of the existing TIFs is retired.
Another one of Gutenkauf's priorities is green infrastructure to reduce flooding. She said a model would be Chicago's Green Alley program, which is "three to five times more effective" than dedicating large areas of open space to water retention.
She said she has been an Elmhurst Cool Cities supporter since 2007 and helped create a sustainability policy for the city.
"We now use biodeisel and partner with Elmhurst College on recycling events," she said.
Gutenkauf said she has hosted an Energy Impact Illinois event in her home, installed permeable pavers on her own driveway and drives a fuel-efficient car.
Morley said a balanced approach to sustainability practices is needed. He said it is important to encourage residents to act together as a community to achieve sustainability goals.
"These decisions require an examination of cost and benefits," he said, adding it is a priority and he welcomes suggestions from the Cool Cities coalition.
Mulliner said sustainability is "very critical." He said the city is changing its fleet to hybrid and biodeisel vehicles, and a research project is under way on Pine Street to see if it makes sense to use permeable pavers. But the city must be careful not to do "something symbolic" that will cost a lot of money, he said.
The Hahn Street development project has been stalled for more than six years. Mulliner said the ultimate goal is to have developers bring fresh ideas to the project.
"We have to let them be creative and make sure what we come up with is a solution that can be built in the next few years," he said.
Just because Hahn Street is in TIF 4 doesn't mean it has to stay there for 23 years, he said.
"After it's paid itself back, we can release it early," he said.
Morley said Hahn Street "is a tough one."
"It was slated to begin before I was elected to office, then stumbled along for seven or eight years," he said. "We need to get these properties on the tax rolls as fast as possible. I have my own opinions, but the key is, what is its highest and best use?"
More than 20 developers are interested in the site, he said, adding he thinks it should be a mix of residential and "unique" retail.
Gutenkauf said Hahn Street, now that it's in TIF 4, should "fuel a lot of other development in TIF 4."
"I really would like a project that gets that property value up quickly and generates revenue to help fuel some of that north York development," she said.
City Council council members are sometimes at odds with one another. An audience member asked how the candidates would bring members together.
"I have a reputation for working together with fellow aldermen," Morley said. "The most important thing is communication prior to the meetings. Then a lot of issues, challenges and misinformation can be addressed before we get in front of cameras."
Alderman generally agree on 85 percent of the issues brought before the City Council, Mulliner said.
"It's that small, 15 percent that is contentious," he said. "Dissent is not a bad thing. It's that thread of information that will build a stronger case."
Dissenting voices are an important part of the mix so that aldermen can hear all of residents' concerns, Gutenkauf said. But the discourse must be respectful.
"The difficulty has to do with the lack of respect for dissenting opinions," she said, adding it is the mayor's job to encourage respectful conversation.
The aldermen also answered questions about flooding, infrastructure and intergovernmental cooperation. Their complete answers to the League's questions are posted on the League's website.
Elmhurst Patch also will post reports on school and park board forums.