JOLIET – Candidates for Joliet mayor are sticking close to their messages as the campaign enters its last full week before the April 7 election.
Mayor Tom Giarrante is trying to convince voters the city has come a long way in four years. Councilman Bob O’Dekirk hopes voters agree with him that the city has been headed in the wrong direction. And Andy Mihelich thinks he can persuade voters to try a different path.
“I’m getting a lot of comments that I’m staying out of the line of fire between the mayor and the councilman,” Mihelich said.
Giarrante, first elected to the City Council in 1997, said he has not done any polling and never has in his campaigns.
“We’re just working hard. I’m sure everybody is,” Giarrante said when asked what he had planned for the last week of the campaign.
O’Dekirk has done polls and said he is “pleased” with what they show.
“I feel really good about things,” O’Dekirk said. “I’ve heard a lot of positive things in the campaign. I feel people are very excited.”
Whether people are excited enough to show up and vote may be another matter. City elections typically draw a small share of eligible voters. About 21 percent of Joliet voters cast ballots in 2011, when Giarrante was first elected mayor out of a field of nine candidates.
Those candidates included Mihelich, who received 14 percent of a total vote split up in so many ways that Giarrante won with 26 percent.
Mihelich hopes to keep people who voted for him last time and add more. He promotes himself as an alternative to Giarrante and O’Dekirk.
“I think we’re making strides in convincing people that my views are completely separate and my ideas are completely different,” Mihelich said.
Mihelich, who serves as chairman of the Joliet Junior College board, has tried to attract interest in his “101 New Ideas for a New Joliet” plan.
The plan posted on his website runs a gamut of possibilities. Some are simple, such as turning vacant lots into neighborhood food gardens.
Others would be significant changes in city policy, such as selling Silver Cross Field if it cannot be converted into a multi-use facility and converting the annual $600,000 subsidy for the Rialto Square Theatre into “accountable incentive payments.”
“I have a totally different, bold new vision for Joliet,” Mihelich said.
O’Dekirk, first elected to the City Council in 2011, also has presented himself as a candidate of change. He’s been aggressive in blaming Giarrante for people’s tax bills, unplowed streets and distrust in city government.
During the course of the campaign, he has called the mayor a liar and believes voters feel the same way.
“I get the response that people don’t feel Mayor Giarrante has been on the up and up,” O’Dekirk said.
He contends one of Giarrante’s biggest campaign claims – that the mayor led the city out of a financial situation where it faced a $17 million deficit – was used to prop up a series of tax and fee increases passed a few months after the 2011 election.
The projected $17 million deficit was the big issue of the 2011 campaign, when the city was still trying to emerge from the recession. But by the time the 2012 budget was proposed at the end of the year, the deficit was gone.
At the time, then-City Manager Thomas Thanas was adamant the deficit was only brought under control through the tax and fee increases, combined with a series of budget cuts and savings that included a pay freeze for employees.
“We were looking at a $17 million deficit. That deficit is gone,” he said. “We have a $35 million reserve.”
Giarrante contends O’Dekirk has not been truthful in telling voters that he opposed the tax and fee increases, which, the mayor says, have been included in every budget since 2012. Giarrante said O’Dekirk, who voted against the tax increases, voted for subsequent budgets.
“He claims he didn’t support the tax increases,” Giarrante said. “But the tax raise was included in the 2013, 2014 and 2015 budgets, and that’s how we got our [budget] reserves.”
Giarrante points to improvements in the city’s financial condition along with the arrival of new businesses and improved employment rates in Joliet in making his case for re-election.
Asked whether O’Dekirk’s campaign may have convinced voters otherwise, Giarrante said, “We’re going to find that out on Election Day.”
Find out more about the candidates running for Joliet mayor on their respective campaign websites
• Tom Giarrante, www.tg4joliet.com/
• Andy Mihelich, http://andyformayor.com/
• Bob O’Dekirk, www.odekirkforjoliet.com/