JOLIET – Mayor-Elect Bob O'Dekirk said Wednesday that he considers his 52 percent of Tuesday's vote in Joliet's mayoral election a mandate that will help him make changes at City Hall.
"When I talked about a change in culture at City Hall, I meant that," O'Dekirk said Wednesday during an interview about plans after being elected Tuesday.
O'Dekirk, who will be sworn in May 4, finished well ahead of incumbent Mayor Tom Giarrante, who had 39 percent of the vote, and Andy Mihelich, who had 9 percent.
"I do believe that there's a mindset that because we've done business a certain way for a long time, that's the way we're going to do it," he said.
In Joliet, the mayor is just one of nine votes on the City Council. He has no veto power. The mayor has the power to make appointments, but the City Council can block them. O'Dekirk himself joined a majority that blocked a recent appointment to the Rialto Square Theatre board sought by Giarrante.
Given those realities, it should not be surprising that reaching out to council members is on the top of O'Dekirk's agenda.
"I'm going to reach out to every council member for two or three ideas that they would want to see accomplished in the next two or three years, and we're going to see if we can get them done," he said.
He thinks an open rapport with council members will create more cohesive leadership in the city.
At least one council member likes the idea.
"That's awesome," said Councilwoman Bettye Gavin, who won a close election in District Four. "I would love for him to do that. I want to be one of the first to sit down with him."
Gavin has made a similar offer to two of her opponents in the District Four race – James Foster and Angel Guzman. She did not extend the offer to Phillip Petrakos, who did not come to any of the debates and forums that the other candidates attended. Gavin said she, Foster and Guzman all brought up plans for District Four, which includes section of the East and near West sides of Joliet.
"We all were focused on making District Four better," Gavin said. She said the three of them will meet to discuss plans for District Four and reach out to the community for participation, too.
Councilman Larry Hug, also re-elected Tuesday, said, "I think we're going to see a lot more collaboration on the council and individual members taking on more responsibility."
Council incumbents re-elected
While there was a big change on the top with O'Dekirk replacing Giarrante as mayor, there wasn't much change on the council.
All incumbents were re-elected. The only new council member will be Patrick Mudron, who won in District Two. The seat opened when O'Dekirk decided to run for mayor.
The Joliet City Council has gotten a reputation for in-fighting and divisiveness, although Councilman John Gerl noted that the council probably agrees 95 percent of the time.
It's that other 5 percent of the time that can get the attention.
"At times, I think debates have gotten a little too heated and a little too personal," Gerl said.
Gerl said the council needs to focus on opportunities in Joliet, including a new courthouse downtown and industrial development on the south end of the city.
"There are a lot of exciting things happening right now. We have to capitalize on those," he said. "If we all have different agendas, we're going to miss out on some of those things."
One big question now that O'Dekirk is mayor is how the city will approach the acquisition of Evergreen Terrace.
O'Dekirk has been the leading critic of the city's approach to the takeover of the low-income housing project on Broadway Street. The city has won its court case for the takeover. But now O'Dekirk is mayor.
He said Wednesday that his major objection always has been the lack of a specific plan, but he is not opposed to taking over Evergreen Terrace. He plans to discuss the matter this week with City Manager Jim Hock.
"I want to go forward with Evergreen Terrace, but I don't want to do it flying blind," O'Dekirk said.
A jury in March set a $15 million price for Evergreen Terrace after the city won an eminent domain case to take over the privately owned and federally subsidized apartment complex. But O'Dekirk said he wants specific answers on what the city plans to do with Evergreen Terrace, the total costs of ownership and how Joliet will pay for it.
"I have not polled individual council members," he said. "But I would be afraid that the vote [for Evergreen Terrace acquisition] will not pass if we can't get those specifics."