Candidates vying to represent neighborhoods on Springfield’s east side and downtown as well as surrounding Lake Springfield met at a forum on Monday night.
All but one of the six candidates at the event, sponsored by the State Journal-Register and 94.7 & 970 WMAY, agreed Springfield needs a secondary source of water.
In 2017, city officials restarted the permitting process with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the long-discussed second lake, often referred to as Hunter Lake. More recently, the State Journal-Register reported that the corps asked for further study of recreational purposes for a new lake, which was part of the city’s request.
Both Ward 1 Ald. Chuck Redpath and challenger Rev. T. Ray McJunkins said they support it.
Redpath, whose most recent stint on the council started in 2015, said he voted in favor of pursuing the army corps permit. But he added that maintaining the current lake was also important.
“One of the things that we want to do it in addition to building lake two is to fund enough money to also do some dredging [of Lake Springfield],” said Redpath. Dredging removes silt and other build-up from the bottom of the lake, increasing its capacity.
McJunkins is lead pastor at Union Baptist Church of Springfield. He ran against Redpath four years ago and lost. He said if City Water, Light and Power is going to provide electricity and services to other communities, it would need another source of water.
Three of the four candidates running for the Ward 2 seat, which represents parts of downtown and Springfield’s east side, said they were in favor of the project.
“It’s not a question of if, but when,” said Gail Simpson, who served on the council for eight years before an unsuccessful run for mayor in 2015.
Current Ald. Herman Senor said the lake is needed to provide water for the proposed natural gas plant in Pawnee.
Tom Shafer, a gun rights activist who has run for several local offices, pointed out that the city has already bought much of the land needed for the lake.
“It's vitally needed for our community,” he said.
Meanwhile, William “Shawn” Gregory, also vying for the Ward 2 seat, was the lone candidate to say he doesn’t support Hunter Lake. From the studies he’s seen, he said the demand isn’t there.
“We use less water when we flush our toilets, we use less water when we take our baths,” he said. “We could use that $180 million… somewhere else, maybe in Ward 2.”
In reference to an investigation by Governing Magazine, candidates were asked what they thought about the finding that African-American households in Springfield earn 42 percent of the median income of white households, and what city officials should do about it.
“For some reason, we're still afraid to talk about the elephant in the room, which is racism,” McJunkins said. “I think that gap can be closed.”
McJunkins is a cofounder of the Faith Coalition for the Common Good, a group that has advocated for more minority hiring at the city. He said one reason he’s running is to make sure the council reflects the city of Springfield.
Meanwhile, Redpath said he’d like to see more opportunities for young people who are African-American.
Senor, in Ward 2, said there are job opportunities out there. He talked about Bone Construction, LLC, a contracting company that hires young people and trains them in construction and building trades. “But the motivation has to come from within,” Senor said.
However, Simpson said the city has to set the example.
“Economic development drives jobs. But it needs to start with the city of Springfield,” she said. She said she ran for mayor because of reports she saw about lack of minority hiring for city jobs.
Shafer said he didn't think jobs would come back to the east side, and that aldermen should work to make sure people are hired fairly.
"I think we're losing ground, unfortunately," he said.
Gregory, who works at Green Family Stores and coaches youth sports, said an article shouldn't have to come out to highlight the struggles.
"I come from that life, and it's very hard," he said. "It's not as simple as people think, [to say] 'Oh, you should just go get a job,'" he said.
WMAY and the State Journal-Register will hold two more forums. Candidates running for wards 4, 5 and 6 will meet on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at the State Journal-Register’s offices, and candidates for wards 7, 8 and 10 will meet Thursday at 6:30 p.m.