Mayoral Candidates Speak at Forum

By Jeff Parrott, The South Bend Tribune

March 26, 2011

SOUTH BEND — In what could have been described as electoral speed dating, the men vying for voters’ hearts took turns Saturday stating their views and telling why they should become the city’s next mayor.

All seven candidates, four Democrats and three Republicans, attended a forum in WNIT’s community room sponsored by the Martin Luther King Jr. Center Senior Men’s Club, 100 Black Men, the Neighborhood Resources Corp. and the Pan-hellenic Council.

The candidates were given 90 seconds to answer questions focusing on some of the city’s most pressing and complex issues, such as jobs, education, population loss and vacant houses.

Below are some of the questions and highlights of what the candidates had to say during the two-hour forum. The candidates’ responses are listed in the order they were given.

Jobs

Name one thing you think is South Bend’s greatest strength, and how would you use it to sell the city to a prospective employer?

Democrat Pete Buttigieg: South Bend is an “extraordinarily affordable” place, for property, energy and even taxes, although some taxes should be lowered.

Republican Wayne Curry: The city’s “people” are its greatest strength. 

“We have a lot of people who actually volunteer their time and energy, free of charge.” 

Republican Bill Davis: The city has the “oldest zoo in the state.” 

Democrat Ryan Dvorak: Infrastructure. Access to interstate highways, rail, Lake Michigan, its own airport and the Metronet, a dark-fiber optic network that can rapidly move vast amounts of data.

Democrat Mike Hamann: Dvorak “hit the nail on the head.” Access to transportation modes, so they “can get products in and out of the community quickly.”

Republican Will Taylor: The University of Notre Dame is “our greatest asset. They have teachers all over the world that can promote this city.”

Democrat Barrett Berry: Quality of life, which results from the low cost of living, low energy costs and its varied transportation modes.

Public schools

Should the city be involved with the South Bend Community School Corp., and if so, what role should the mayor play? 

Curry: If elected he would encourage the school system to implement a program designed by the Fort Wayne-based Foellinger Foundation that assesses whether students possess 40 “basic building blocks” or “assets” they need to succeed in school.

Davis: He would get kids and parents involved in raising money to support drug abuse prevention programs. He would require youths to obtain a diploma or GED in order to receive an Indiana driver’s license.

Dvorak: He would look for ways to “leverage” city funding to help schools improve, including possibly spending tax increment financing district revenue on programs such as early childhood education.

Hamann: He would encourage more private-sector initiatives that mentor students and parents. A teacher for the past 26 years, he also would regularly visit schools.

Taylor: He would encourage the private sector to donate money to the schools. 
Berry: If elected, one of his first two staff hires would be a “liaison with public education.” He would form an “education roundtable” to address ways schools could improve. He would bolster after-school programs for mentoring and academic enrichment.

Buttigieg: He would work to keep schools safe by ensuring the police department’s school resource officers are adequately equipped. He would make sure land use zoning decisions don’t negatively affect schools. He would provide support for afterschool programs.

The west side

How would you address problems on the west side, such as blight, public safety and vacant houses? 

Dvorak: The city needs to have a “comprehensive strategy.” The Northeast Neighborhood Revitalization Organization has opened an office and has done a “good job” of focusing its resources “block by block.” He noted that the west side is not adjacent to Notre Dame, an apparent reference to how the Eddy Street Commons area and some housing revitalization underway nearby have benefited from proximity to campus.

Hamann: He would become more “aggressive” with “out of town” people and entities who own vacant houses, like the cities of Dayton, Cleveland and Indianapolis have done. The city should offer to forgive code enforcement liens and in exchange, ask these owners to relinquish the properties to the city, which would then demolish them so the land could be redeveloped.

Taylor: He would want to be elected the “coach” of South Bend, rather than the “mayor.” 

Berry: He would lobby for state legislation that would give owners of code-delinquent properties a year to fix them up or relinquish ownership to the city.

Buttigieg: The mayor and department heads should visit the west side often. Lifting up the economy as a whole by fostering job creation would do the most to improve conditions in that part of the city. He would work to identify absentee landlords, fine them more and seize their properties if they don’t comply with city code.

Curry: He would use TIF money for redevelopment of abandoned residential property. He would redraw property parcels to create lots large enough for new home construction. The city needs to encourage building clusters of homes on vacant lots, rather than just one new infill house in an area, to increase market values of the newly built homes.

Davis: The city should buy up more properties, rent them out and ultimately sell them to the renters when they can afford to buy.

Population loss 
 

Is South Bend a “dying city” because of its declining population, as recently claimed by Newsweek magazine?

Hamann: “We are not a dying city. Its people are the heart of this city. We are not quitters, we are fighters.” 

Taylor: “We are wounded, crippled by our state and federal government. Wounded is not dead. We are in ICU, in bad, bad shape.” The city needs more people willing to volunteer as mentors to youths.

Berry: “We’re in a pruning or transitional stage. You need to prune a vine to cultivate it so there will be a greater harvest at the end of the day.” South Bend must return to its “entrepreneurial” roots.

Buttigieg: “That report was sloppy and unfair to our city … but we should treat the report as a call to action.” South Bend can be a “dynamic, cool little city,” and its assets include five colleges and universities.

Curry: The city has a “beautiful” river, property is “relatively cheap,” Notre Dame generates millions of dollars in economic activity, and the school system has a new superintendent and school board who are determined to make improvements.

Davis: “We’re in a slump. We also have an opportunity to be an example to the rest of the state and country. We have great universities and museums. All it takes is a lot of work. We can turn this city around.”

Dvorak: Most of the cities on the Newsweek list were industrial towns in the Midwest. The city can deal with its population loss in a positive way. It still has all of the “backbone” it needs to prosper.

Crime 

Crime levels in the city seem to have fluctuated from year to year. Talk about your views on crime in South Bend. 

Taylor: His uncle was a state trooper for 27 years. If elected, he would ask his uncle to be a “mentor” to him in dealing with crime issues.

Berry: He would create a citizen’s review board, reinstitute neighborhood resource centers, install security cameras in commercial area as Chicago has done, deploy police foot patrols downtown and increase street lighting around the city.

Buttigieg: Crime is an “economic problem at its heart.” Creating an environment that leads to more high-paying jobs would go the furthest to reduce crime.

Curry: He would borrow Tampa, Fla.’s “Focus on Four” strategy. That city’s police department has focused attention on the four “pattern” crimes of burglary, robbery, auto burglary and auto theft. Because people who commit those crimes tend to also commit more violent crimes, overall crime rates have fallen as a result.

Davis: He would deploy more police foot patrols. 

Dvorak: Incidence of a lot of major crime categories in the city have declined but nuisance crimes, such as graffiti, are on the rise. Police need to partner more with code enforcement to focus more on vacant homes, which can attract nuisance crimes.

Hamann: He would increase foot patrols downtown, set up neighborhood watch list-servs for residents to communicate with each other, and install wireless web access in police cars, as county police officers now have. To boost officer morale, he would defend police officers more in alleged police misconduct lawsuits “instead of just writing checks” to settle with plaintiffs.