Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder is hoping to win re-election in next week’s city elections. He’s facing a challenge from a former alderman and fire chief, Frank Edwards.
The two have divergent views about the challenges the capital city is facing, and what to do about them.
“I touted for a long time, the resource of the future will be water and right now we don't have a secondary source of water,” Langfelder said. “We need to have that secondary source of water.”
Meanwhile, Edwards said attracting jobs and economic development is the biggest hurdle for Springfield.
“You have to make [the city] marketable. So we can bring jobs in here,” he said. “And then our crime statistics, we have to get that under control. Or we will have nobody look at our city to say, ‘let's go in there and put our business.’”
NPR Illinois talked with both candidates.
Below are lightly edited excerpts of the conversations.
Addressing crime and crime statistics
Edwards: I think you'd have to get the crime under control. And the way you do that, as you do it from the top down with leadership, be serious about it. And we would use what we call data policing, where we find out where the crime is, and then go after that particular area. Because if you don't stop it, oh, just grow like cancer.
…You can play all kinds of games, if you want to, with statistics. Just go back and look at the last four or five years, and you'll see if you look at actually what's going on out there. It's serious.
Langfelder: I look at Springfield [police] and they've done an outstanding job with regards to that. And that's under the leadership of [Chief] Kenny Winslow. When I came in we did public forums to ask the public what they'd like to see in the next police chief, as well as the police department. Well that did two things, one that reaffirmed Chief Winslow status within the community but also engage the public within the government. Chief Winslow embraces community policing. Not all officers do, especially the more tenured ones. And we're moving in that direction especially with the younger officers coming in because what it comes down to is how do you build relationships. So with the violent crime, you can look at the reports. I think everybody can agree, we're not more dangerous than Chicago. That's what a lot of the reports say and that's absurd.
Development on the east side
This was in response to questions posed by students from Springfield’s Southeast High School: “What will you do to bring more businesses to the east side?”
Edwards: Well, that's a development question. And… the whole city, we have to look at, we're only as strong as our weakest link. And if crime is out of control, if utilities are out of control, cost-wise, we have to get those two things before we can talk about any certain part of the city. So as we approach development, you look at all the [tools] that you can use - TIF district, Business Enterprise district, those are tools that you can use to bring development to certain areas of town.
It’s easy for me to sit here and come up with all the plans, but I’d really like to sit down with the community leaders and develop a team approach rather than just one person pushing their views on everybody. I think you're more successful when you get immunity to buy in and help with the project.
Langfelder: We're partnering with the developer of Poplar Place. Poplar Place is the most crime-ridden or one of the top crime-ridden areas in Springfield. That's an old dilapidated public housing entity and so that will be a $20 million of development. How we did that was we took them to court. So the resolution is doing this redevelopment, changing it from duplex to single family as much as possible so with that $20 million development.
The other key component is partnering with Bone Training Center and Calvin Pitts. He trains individuals looking for employment. They will use local workers, local residents to do the work. And then they've actually helped them establish jobs or join a union based on that 18 months of work experience.
The other item we're doing is we're extending the Madison Park Place TIF [district] to envelop all of the 11th Street corridor and then South Grand. And that will allow opportunities as not only for the housing side of development but also the business development along those main corridors.
Y-Block / Downtown
Edwards: Half of [the Y-Block] has to be a park. And the reason it has to be a park is because of the of the development that they put under half of that lot, which is upgraded sewers and holding tanks. So you can't build buildings over the top of that.
And then so you have the northern half, which is available for development. I think [State Sen.] Andy Manar was on the right track … trying to bring either [University of Illinois Springfield] downtown, or [Southern Illinois University] downtown. Those are the kind of things we're going to help generate interest in the downtown area. Then the buildings that are downtown, you have to make it easier to develop not harder. They can't be developed under the same rules as a brand new building out west. Now, I'm not saying make it. So it's not safe. I'm saying make it so it's easier to develop.
Langfelder: We want to be nimble with this whole block because it's rare you have … two and a quarter acres available. My prediction is you're going to have a university presence on Fourth [Street] and Capitol [Avenue]. And then also the open green space with fountains and the you know so you can enjoy lighted fountains in the summertime and then ice skating in the winter and that will be the push that we will make.
This development, if you want to do it right, like any other development, it costs money and a lot of money. So that's what I look at is can we put the pieces in place … We have TIF dollars that we could leverage which we cleaned up the block and we got a shovel ready. But now you have the capital bill coming up and so we have expressed an interest with regards to development there but really it's a private public partnership. How do you make that happen? … You want to make it significant where it's not any old development. You want it to blend in with the what's happened at the [Governor’s] Mansion… you want to blend in with the Bicentennial Plaza, which we help fund through TIF. And now you have a connected corridor from Lincoln’s Home to the Mansion. So the next piece of the puzzle is right there on the Y-Block. We want to take our time to make sure it's the proper fit.