A jam-packed candidates forum took place Thursday night in Joliet, with candidates for state, countywide and County Board positions up in the Nov. 6 election.
The Black Bar Association of Will County sponsored the forum, which was held at Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church.
There were 16 candidates present. Those in attendance included Alyssia Benford, R-Bolingbrook, and Natalie Manley, D-Joliet, running for state representative in the
98th District, and Larry Walsh Jr., D-Elwood, and Rick Laib, running to represent the
86th District. There also were countywide candidates, including Laurie McPhillips and Lauren Staley-Ferry running for clerk; Steve Weber running for treasurer; and Mike Kelley and Jim Reilly running for sheriff. Will County Board District 9 candidates Annette Parker, Jim Murphy and Rachel Ventura were present. Will County Circuit judge candidates Ben Braun, David Garcia, Vincent Cornelius and Victoria Kennison also were in attendance.
Even with a wide array of offices represented, there were some common themes when it came to the issues candidates talked about.
Candidates from both sides of the aisle and across different levels of government agreed on the need for infrastructure improvements on highways such as Interstate 80.
Murphy, Parker and Ventura all agreed that infrastructure improvements were vital – so much so that they all named it the top issue facing the county.
“We have parents who are afraid to have their kids who just got their driver’s license drive on I-80,” Murphy said.
Several candidates talked about the importance of bipartisan work with different levels of government to bring about those improvements and expansions. Ventura and Walsh both spoke about wanting to halt big industrial projects, such as the Compass Business Park project in Elwood, before the needed improvements were implemented.
“You look at all the development that’s going on,” Walsh said. “I have pointed out the downfalls and asked our local officials to stand up and make the right choice for all of us.”
Candidates for the General Assembly fielded a question about tax relief for residents.
Benford, a Republican, pointed to high property taxes and pension debt the state owes as the main culprits to blame for high taxes. Laib said he would support lowering the state income tax rate. Manley advocated for a graduated income tax rate, and she and Walsh also spoke about what they saw as the real reason for high property taxes: local taxing bodies.
Walsh specifically put the onus on the state to raise its education spending to help local school districts, which he said would help relieve the burden on the taxpayers.
There was one notable exchange regarding a Will County case that’s received a lot of attention over the past year: the 2017 death of Preston Heights toddler Sema’j Crosby.
Toward the end of the forum, Reilly brought up the subject as one of his main issues he’d try to get solved if he were elected county sheriff.
“I promise to bring the FBI in to look at that murder,” Reilly said.
Kelley had an opportunity to respond after and said, “Let me enlighten Mr. Reilly. The FBI has been involved in that case since Day 1.”
Early voting has started in Will County. The last day to register to vote is Oct. 9 in person or by mail, and Oct. 21 online. The last day to request a ballot by mail is Nov. 1. Election Day is Nov. 6.