JOLIET — There's yet another twist in Thursday's Joliet mayoral debate.
Joliet Community Television — the city's public access channel — will tape Thursday night's mayoral debate. The decision comes after the organization's president, Dick Schuster, pulled the plug Monday after learning all three candidates were not planning to participate in the debate.
Mayor Tom Giarrante backed out of the debate late last week.
Julia Alexander, another member from JCTV, said Wednesday she will tape the debate, saying it's a community event that “needs to be out in the public.” It won't air live, but will be aired on Channel 6 several times leading up to the April 7 election.
Depending on who you ask, you'll get a different story about who's behind Schuster's initial decision.
Prior to reports of JCTV's cancellation Tuesday, there were claims, detailed in a news release sent Monday evening to local media, from event organizers that claimed Giarrante pressured Schuster to cancel the taping. The mayor has steadfastly denied that, and those making the claim have not provided proof to back up their assertion.
Schuster said Wednesday the decision was made on his own accord, and that it's a “downright lie” that the mayor contacted him to influence his decision in any way.
But District 1 Councilman Larry Hug said Wednesday that he and Schuster spoke over the phone after Hug learned about JCTV's cancellation Monday from a member of the news media.
The reporter called, Hug said, saying JCTV was pulling out and that the reporter had been told the mayor was behind it. The reporter called Hug to see if he knew anything, and noted the mayor could not immediately be reached for comment, Hug said.
“I said, 'The first I've heard of this is right now,'” Hug said, recalling the conversation. Hug said he then called Schuster to find out why JCTV backed out.
“During the course of our conversation, he got frustrated,” Hug said. “And then he said 'Larry, if I'm made to do this, Tom is going to get really mad at me.'”
Schuster told The Herald-News on Wednesday he doesn't remember saying that during the conversation.
“I don't remember saying that,” Schuster said late Wednesday. “Why would he do this? Why would [Hug] say that?”
Schuster said he was "all shook up" after the conversation with Hug.
'City has no authority'
Schuster, having already decided he didn't want to film the event, was informed by City Attorney Martin Shanahan and City Manager Jim Hock shortly after 5 p.m. Monday that filming the debate could potentially violate the city's ethics ordinance because JCTV would use city-owned equipment for political purposes.
Then, upon further review, Hock said Wednesday, the city attorney learned JCTV can tape political debates at its own discretion and that the city cannot control programming.
Hock on Wednesday confirmed the conversation between he and Schuster. He said he first learned of the debate, and JCTV's backing out, when Hug approached him prior to that conversation.
Hock was the one who raised red flags to Schuster about whether it's against the city's ethics code to film the debate, Hock said.
Hug said he told Hock the city had no authority to block JCTV from filming the debate.
"It's not fair to the public," Hug said.
With Giarrante declining the invitation, his two opponents – Councilman Bob O'Dekirk, and Andy Mihelich, chairman of the Joliet Junior College Board – are set to battle it out onstage during the debate, which starts at 6:30 p.m. Thursday and is being held at Cantigny VFW Post 367, 826 Horseshoe Drive.