A group of Southeast High School students participated in Illnois Public Media’s Civics Youth Engagement Summit in March. They came up with ten questions to ask.
Illinois Public Media emailed questionnaires to the candidates for city council. Below are the submitted responses from candidates for the Ward 8 seats, Erin Conley and Debra Kunkel. Candidate Dean Graven did not respon.
Conley: One core issue of my campaign is that we need more balanced development in Springfield, which means that instead of continuing to add to the growing west side urban sprawl, we need to focus more on the east and north ends of our city. We do have active TIF districts that will help with this development, however, I believe that part of my responsibility as Ward 8 Alderwoman is to be a cheerleader and advocate for the entire city. The City Council must play an active role in attracting new businesses and supporting our existing companies to encourage their growth.
Kunkel: East, North, West and South; our city needs a comprehensive, pro-active plan for the future. As much as we would like to “make our city great again”, nostalgia for the industrial age will not save our city that is now suffering from a collapse of economic and cultural prosperity. We must now move forward with an honest and clear-eyed understanding that those days are over, and we need to be pro-active in our strategy considering the economy, generational needs, robotics, and ever increasing unrest with justice issues. For the East side, providing microloans, sponsoring vocational programs and providing grants and endowments could get us through the tough times ahead.
Conley : I will work closely with the entire council to keep in touch with the neighborhood issues in Springfield. It is important for us to ensure that our entire community is growing and healthy, that is critical to moving the community forward.
Kunkel: We need to focus on how we can build economic, cultural, and social capitol in the coming decades and stop trying relentlessly to recover the capitol we have already used up. Instead of privatizing and selling resources, we need to build up publicly owned entities that will make new money for our city, including the East and North sides. For instance, instead of selling hundreds of empty lots for fluid cash now, build triplexes or condos on those lots and sell or rent them for a reasonable price. This would both give citizens an opportunity for affordable housing, but would also control rent prices in Springfield through healthy competition. This is our city and we own it. We can have our own grocery, gas station, parking garages, broadband, cable, telephone service, daycare, better schools, and even our own bank to generate future income. The sky is the limit. Decentralization of social and economic policy would address the particular problems we are confronting Empowering institutions at different lWe need to focus on how we can build economic, cultural, and social capitol in the coming decades and stop trying relentlessly to recover the capitol we have already used up. Instead of privatizing and selling resources, we need to build up publicly owned entities that will make new money for our city, including the East and North sides.
Conley: One question I get asked all the time is why am I running for office. My answer consistently is that I love Springfield. This is where I raised my family, and where I plan to retire. Part of loving something is having the ability to openly and honestly talk about where we need to improve. Governing magazine highlighted the racial divides in our city, and that article needs to be used as a launch for some deep, and possibly painful, conversations about how we can address the divisions in our community.
Kunkel: Through hope and working together to make these needed changes. Everyone working together and EVERYONE BENEFITING creates a sense of equality and justice that people crave. The more entities we own publicly, and the more revenue is generated, the more safe and dignified the population will feel. We are separated in many ways and we need to look at these factors one at a time and attend to each one by order of importance.
Conley: I am excited about the possible plans for a new university campus on the Y-block, but I would like to see that any such plans include residential and retail space. By incorporating a mixture of educational, residential, and businesses on the Y-block, we can draw more people downtown and have a new area that contributes to our tax base. We also need to address our homeless population, and that needs to be done in a manner that deals with the underlying root causes of homelessness. The city has already taken some steps through the homeless outreach officer program. This is an initiative that I would like to see expanded. Our City Council needs to develop and maintain strong partnerships with local social service agencies and volunteer organizations, adopting a multifaceted approach to working with our homeless population.
Kunkel: I would like to see our city build affordable, minimalist high rises with courtyards suited for public leisure. Pre -World War II urban development, with modern, ecologically friendly, and veritably maintenance free structures in vacant areas and renovation and preservation of the old buildings that make up historic districts of our downtown. My vision calls for greater walkability, mixed-use neighborhoods, and vibrant parks and city squares where people can congregate. This would foster the kind of community growth necessary for a flourishing downtown area. A heavily populated downtown is actually more environmentally friendly, socially satisfying, and ensures successful business and services will move into the area.
Conley: Yes, we have the space and the demand for an expansion of higher education in Springfield. A big part of attracting new businesses to Springfield is the availability of a qualified and educated workforce: a wider range of educational programs will only serve to increase the variety of businesses that we can attract to our city. Additionally, a downtown campus will stimulate development for different types of residential housing in the area.
Kunkel: Absolutely!! The downtown campus idea would be a great fit for the low cost apartments mentioned above. The diversity and energy that would bring to our city would be invaluable.
Conley: My campaign is focused on ensuring that the city meets its commitment to our existing neighborhoods, especially our older neighborhoods. Springfield has a lot of potential to grow, not only as a destination city for people to visit, but also as a place to live, work, and raise a family. As Springfield residents, we have access to quality health care and a strong education system that includes a community college and a four year university. We are also ideally located with easy rail, car, and airplane access to both Chicago and St. Louis. Over the next four years and beyond, our City Council needs to work with other community stakeholders to market this potential in order to draw more residents and businesses to our city. Part of this marketing must include highlighting our broad range of available housing options. To ensure that all our neighborhoods have ‘curb appeal’, the City must make an ongoing commitment to maintaining and strengthening basic infrastructure (street, sidewalks, and especially our outdated storm sewer system). Our variety of housing options is a critical part of attracting new and young families to Springfield. With the passage of the new 1% sales tax increase, Springfield Public Schools will now have a dedicated fund source for facility improvements, which in turn will allow District 186 to better compete with the surrounding areas. As a former School Board member, and a mother of five young adults, all graduates of District 186, I have a unique perspective on the value of our public school system.
Kunkel: All of the above and more. The age for students to claim their own income needs to be lowered for possible free college grants. being a successful, vibrant, prosperous city would ensure good paying jobs for graduates and a city they would be proud to live in.
Conley: Communication is key! People can get more engaged in the decisions at the city level if they have quality information about the issues the city council is dealing with. I am committed to being an active and engaged advocate for Ward 8, which means that I will develop multiple lines of communication to keep in touch with residents. I currently have a Facebook page, a website, and an e-newsletter that I have sent to residents a couple times over the course of this campaign. Additionally I have held multiple “coffees with Conley” to give people a chance to talk in more detail about their concerns. I plan to continue these activities, and enhance them if elected.
Kunkel: By proposing an agenda that matters to real people, that they can understand, and that is tangible and beneficial to them. Ideas that actually raise the standard and quality of life for deserving citizens. Listening to new ideas and exciting propositions for the new age city. When people can get excited and have hope for a better future they will get involved and since this is their city, and they live here, they will have the best idea of what to prioritize and what programs we want to add or keep.
Conley: We have a lot of video gambling here. I think our community will be stronger if we have a wider variety of recreational options for people. We need to be careful that we have the social support systems in place for people who have issues with gambling, and provide information on the risks associated with gambling.
Kunkel: Video gambling is a two-edged sword. The pro’s are that it has netted $882 million for the state and $176 million for municipalities. It helped fund a huge infrastructure bill that created a lot of jobs and expanded small businesses throughout the state. The downside is the social costs of video gambling. According to the National Gambling Impact Study Commission and academic studies, for every $1 that gambling brings to the state, taxpayers pay $3 to address the accompanying addiction, crime and bankruptcy. Casino’s have suffered as a result, and since a percentage of their revenue goes to education, this has also led to a decline in education funding.
As a safety net, part of the profit does support services for those struggling with addiction. There is information on and near the machines that provide resources for these people as well. It is a fine line when the gaming board provides ideas to try to help players in need without suffocating the industry. This issue is a very good one to prioritize for future consideration.
Conley: One of the first things I did as President of the Springfield Public School Board was to establish the position of Student School Board member. In fact, I am still in touch with our first student School Board member! I would like to see the Mayor’s youth council expanded, and that the city council uses the members as a resource. My husband and I have five kids (from 19-24 years old) and I know how many ideas and opinions they have - we need to engage with residents of all ages, that is critical to attracting new residents and keeping people here. As a council member I will include considerations of the needs of younger residents, it is important to check in with members of all age groups to make sure I am meeting the needs of all of the residents of Ward 8.
Kunkel: Young people are starting to step up in droves. First of all, they are the ones that will be most affected if the current system continues. They have a stake in preserving their city, making it prosperous, and elevating their quality of life for their future comfort and happiness. I believe that if young people can get excited about proposed changes, they will be eager to attend city meetings and be an influential and integral part of those changes. Their viewpoint and ideas can create momentum and excitement here in Springfield. I like to hope, as a progressive and forward-thinking candidate, that, even if I don’t win, I can help guide this city toward solvency.