JOLIET – Councilman Bob O’Dekirk went on the offensive against Mayor Tom Giarrante in their first public debate on Saturday, which included a revelation of possible cheating on a city firefighters exam.
Andy Mihelich, the Joliet Junior College board chairman who also is running for mayor, stood apart from most of the sparring, although he did say at one point that both opponents were exaggerating their roles in putting more police officers in the 2015 budget.
The mayoral contenders appeared with Joliet City Council candidates at a forum hosted by the Unity Community Development Corp.
O’Dekirk took jabs at Giarrante frequently when fielding questions.
Answering one question about minority hiring, O’Dekirk said “there are more members of Mayor Giarrante’s family on the fire department than there are African-American firefighters.”
Giarrante, a former Joliet firefighter himself, responded that he has encouraged family members to take the firefighter tests. He said he does have a grandson and two nephews on the fire department, but added that it is common for firefighters and police to encourage relatives to take the exams.
“For you to insinuate there was wrongdoing, you are out of line,” Giarrante said to O’Dekirk.
Giarrante said the best way to bring more minorities into the police and fire department is to encourage them to take the tests used for hiring.
“We’ve got to get the people to take the test. It’s a fair test,” he said.
O’Dekirk, however, suggested firefighter exams were not necessarily fair tests. He said there were reports of answers being leaked for an exam taken last year by prospective firefighters.
“Don’t let anyone tell you later that it’s a fair test when the guy next to you has the answers,” he said.
Asked later if it was ever determined that the answers were leaked, O’Dekirk said he did not know. But he did say the city is considering a change in testing companies because of the report.
But for defending himself against comments made by O’Dekirk, Giarrante did not mention his opponents.
Mihelich, too, largely stuck with his own agenda. But he did question separate claims by Giarrante and O’Dekirk, a former Joliet police officer, that they were responsible for adding more police in the budget for the Neighborhood Oriented Policing Team.
Noting he was at the City Council meeting where the officers were added to the budget, Mihelich said it appeared that the city manager had recommended more police because of concerns expressed by the community.
“Neither one of my opponents addressed that vocally until the city manager addressed the issue,” Mihelich said.
Minimum wage at
Mihelich mainly emphasized his own ideas, including a local minimum wage for warehouse workers in Joliet and especially for those who work at companies that receive tax incentives to move into the city.
“No company that moves into the area should be given any money unless they meet that minimum wage,” he said.
O’Dekirk, pointing to Giarrante’s insistence that contractors use union labor when building in Joliet, said the city should also try to compel businesses once they open “to hire union labor from Joliet.”
Giarrante defended his record on economic development, pointing to new businesses like APL Logistics and the Home Depot distribution center, which, he said, pay good wages and benefits.
“I think Joliet has made great strides,” he said.