JOLIET – Three candidates are running for mayor in Joliet.
All are well-known figures in the city – making this race much different from the 2011 election when the nine candidates were on the ballot. The campaign for the April 7 election will heat up in the coming months with campaign signs, candidate nights and political advertising.
Here is an early preview of the candidates who filed petitions in December for the election: Mayor Tom Giarrante; Councilman Bob O’Dekirk; and Andrew “Andy” Mihelich, chairman of the Joliet Junior College Board of Trustees.
Giarrante seeks a second term as mayor.
Elected in 2011, he is only the second Joliet mayor in 23 years, having followed the late Mayor Arthur Schultz, the longest serving mayor in the city’s history.
Giarrante, 73, said the city is good condition and points to his handling of the $17 million budget deficit in 2011, the major issue during his first campaign, as among his accomplishments over the past four years.
“We were told by then-City Manager Tom Thanas that if we didn’t bring in some more revenue we’d have to look at laying off police officers, laying off firefighters and maybe closing a fire station,” Giarrante said.
Giarrante and a council majority in 2011 approved a hike in sales and utility taxes. Giarrante said those measures, along with belt-tightening, put Joliet in strong financial condition and helped erase the projected deficit.
The mayor said economic development has been one of his major focuses and he plans to continue on that course if re-elected. He points to new restaurants and stores that have opened in Joliet and emphasized ongoing downtown redevelopment.
Giarrante is a former Joliet firefighter who also headed the firefighters union. He served on the City Council for 14 years before becoming mayor.
Mihelich is making his second run at mayor, having been on the crowded ballot in 2011 that included nine candidates.
With just three candidates on the ballot this time, Mihelich, 63, said he should have a better opportunity to communicate his ideas for the city. And Mihelich said he has 101 of them.
His campaign theme is “101 Ideas for a New Joliet.”
“I’m pretty excited about the possibilities that Joliet has, and I’d like to turn those possibilities into reality,” he said. His strength, Mihelich said, “is coming up with creative ideas” and putting them into action.
A few of Mihelich’s ideas including creating a task force to focus on high-crime areas in Joliet and developing solutions, cleaning up Joliet streets to improve the city’s appearance and creating jobs by pursuing more economic development.
Mihelich said he wants the city to refocus on the Bridge Street Town Centre plan for a lifestyle shopping center at the crossing of Interstates 55 and 80. The plan, and another proposal for a Lego theme park, faded when the recession came.
“We need to bring those back now,” he said. “We’re moving out of the recession. We want to show people that we want to attract jobs.”
Mihelich retired eight years ago from his position as associate vice president for extended campuses at Joliet Junior College.
O’Dekirk is a lawyer and former Joliet police officer elected in his first run for City Council in 2011. He is among a group of new council members that has at times been at odds with Giarrante.
He said the city needs to change the way it does business, particularly out of the mayor’s office, to bring more business and jobs to town.
“You can’t operate the way you did 25 years ago,” O’Dekirk said. “I think the mayor needs to be marketing the city to the Chicagoland area and outside the Chicagoland area.”
O’Dekirk, 45, said he can step back from his law firm, The Law Offices of Bob O’Dekirk, to devote full attention to the mayor’s office and the active role he promises to pursue. He said he already has done that for the mayoral campaign.
“I own the law firm,” he said. “I have partners and several associates who work for me. My job is going to be mayor.”
O’Dekirk said there is too much “cronyism” at City Hall and attributes some of the in-fighting on the current council to a lack of leadership from Giarrante. His election, and the election of other new council members in the 2011 and 2013 elections, shows a desire for change in Joliet, O’Dekirk said.
“I think some of the arguments that myself and others were making four years ago – one, I think we were right,” he said, “and I think they resonated with people.”