Dem mayoral candidates attend forum

By Erin Blasko, The South Bend Tribune

April 10, 2011

SOUTH BEND -- With about three weeks remaining until primary election day, the Democratic candidates for South Bend mayor participated in a public forum Saturday at Indiana University South Bend.

Sponsored by the American Democracy Project, IUSB Political Science Club, and League of Women Voters, the forum took place inside the main auditorium at Wiekamp Hall.

To accommodate the crowd, which was too large for the 122-seat auditorium, organizers also streamed the event live inside an overflow room down the hall.

Based on questions submitted by the audience, the four candidates -- Barrett Berry, Pete Buttigieg, Ryan Dvorak and Mike Hamann -- participated in a friendly discussion of the issues, including jobs, economic development, and crime.

Not a surprise given the high rate of unemployment in the city, each candidate identified job creation as his top priority if elected.

In that regard, Berry, a minister, educator, and entrepreneur, said he would create a jobs council and also hire a jobs adviser to coordinate economic development efforts in the city.

In addition, he said it would be his policy as mayor to buy locally whenever possible, and encourage employers in the city to hire one additional person as part of an initiative he dubbed Hire One South Bend.

For his part, Buttigieg, a Naval Reserve officer and former business consultant, said the city needs to recognize that the days of Studebaker and Bendix are over, and advance an economic development plan that emphasizes diversity within the local economy.

His jobs plan, he said, would focus on five things: promoting small business growth; creating new business; attracting outside investment; improving economic development infrastructure; and "confronting poverty head-on."

An attorney and state legislator, Dvorak said the city needs to invest the same amount of effort in retaining and growing existing businesses as it does in attracting new ones.

"The biggest complaint I hear from business owners in the community is, 'I have been in operation in the community for 30 or 40 years, and I see new businesses come in and get tax breaks,'" he said.

Similar to Berry, he also would encourage businesses in the city to hire one additional person.

Hamann, meanwhile, an educator, former county commissioner, and current county council member, said he would hire a small business advocate to help business owners navigate the bureaucratic maze inside city hall.

In addition, he would offer incentives, in the form of subsidies for training, to businesses that hire at least five additional people, he said, and attempt to lure businesses away from Illinois, which recently approved a corporate income tax increase.

On the topic of crime, Hamann said he would like to upgrade technology within the police department, giving officers the ability, for example, to access warrants and mug shots from their vehicles.

He also would like to assign more cops to neighborhood beats, he said, and create a "robust" gang task force, "because we know there is gang activity in this city, and we need to stop sticking our heads in the sand about it."

Berry, meanwhile, said he would create a Citizens Police Review Committee, to "mend the relationship between police and the citizenry."

In addition, he would establish neighborhood resource centers and support neighborhood organizations, he said, as a way to build pride among residents.

"We need to confront the vacant housing problem," Buttigieg said in regard to the crime issue, noting that vacant and abandoned houses invite crime and are corrosive to the pride and dignity of a neighborhood.

Bringing good-paying jobs to the city also would be a priority, he said, to provide residents an opportunity to make a living without resorting to crime.

Similar to Hamann, Dvorak said he would put beat cops "on the ground, working in neighborhoods, talking to people about what the problems are."

In addition, he would address so-called quality-of-life crimes, he said, such as graffiti and other forms of vandalism, because "if you don't address the little things ... it creates an environment where worse and worse behavior is acceptable."

The candidates also fielded questions about economic development, sustainability and green jobs, the city's human rights ordinance, vacant and abandoned homes, and backyard chickens.

A forum featuring the Republican candidates for South Bend Mayor -- Wayne Curry, Bill Davis, and William Taylor -- will take place at 7 p.m. April 19 in Room 1001 at Wiekamp Hall.