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Local News

Joliet City Council District 4 candidates debate crime, old prison and more

Gavin, Foster and Zdunich vie for council seat

Joliet District 4 City Council member Bettye Gavin (left), candidate Damon Zdunich and candidate Jim Foster speak to The Herald-News on Thursday in Joliet.
Joliet District 4 City Council member Bettye Gavin (left), candidate Damon Zdunich and candidate Jim Foster speak to The Herald-News on Thursday in Joliet.

Three candidates want to be the next Joliet City Council member for District 4, an area that includes most of the East Side of the city and stretches across downtown into the near West Side.

Council member Bettye Gavin, who also heads the Forest Park Community Center, faces challenges from James Foster, an electrical contractor who came close to winning the seat four years ago, and Damon Zdunich, an accountant who is a partner in the group that is turning the old Diocese of Joliet campus into a winery.

All three candidates in the April 2 City Council election have been active in civic affairs.

They debated issues in a forum held last week at The Herald-News. The debate can be viewed on The Herald-News Facebook page.

Crime, economic development, and code enforcement were among issues emphasized by the candidates.

“The No. 1 thing that we need to handle in our area is public safety,” Foster said. “If we don’t have public safety, people aren’t going to want to bring businesses in, and people aren’t going to feel safe in their homes.”

Foster said District 4 has the most murders in the city.

Gavin said life in District 4 is getting better.

“Our crime stats are actually down,” Gavin said. “We have improved quality of life in our district. Everything can’t happen overnight.”

Zdunich said much needs to be done, saying a lack of code enforcement “creates apathy in District 4.”

“We need the city to work with the public more to make sure cars aren’t abandoned in the streets,” he said. “I saw a car sit on Center Street with a red sticker for two months. That’s just not acceptable.”

Zdunich noted his involvement in city discussions over the future of Riverwalk Homes, formerly Evergreen Terrace, which included presentation of a plan for downsizing the complex.

“I led the fight against the city of Joliet when it appeared they really didn’t want to downsize Evergreen Terrace,” he said.

Foster has been an advocate for a city ordinance that would enhance local minority participation on public construction projects.

“I’m a hard charger,” Foster said. “I won’t hesitate to challenge the city if I think they’re going in the wrong direction. I’ve challenged them in the past.”

Foster challenged Gavin a number of times during the debate at The Herald-News, including her leadership on a committee that has been reviewing the minority contracting issue but has not developed an ordinance.

Gavin said the city is being cautious about potential set-aside provisions and wants to maintain quality standards in a minority contracting ordinance.

Gavin also heads the City Council’s Prison Committee, which oversees the former Joliet Correctional Center that the city is leasing from the state rent-free.

The cleanup and reopening of the prison as a tourist and destination site is a District 4 success story, she said.

“When that property was vacated, it created more problems than one can imagine – the break-ins, the looting,” Gavin said. Now, the prison “makes the district look good,” she said.

The other candidates were critical about the city’s handling of the prison in some ways.

Foster said the city lost a year of activity when a contract with a potential haunted house operator fell through.

Zdunich said Joliet should have forced the state to take care of the prison.

“I think the state did a horrible job of walking away from the property,” he said. “They wouldn’t have done that if it was located in Hinsdale.”

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