By: TAYLOR HILL
On Monday, Sept. 30 in the Humphrey’s room of the St. Joseph County Public Library (SJCPL), residents of South Bend gathered to meet the candidates for Mayor, Common Council, and the representatives for each district.
This event was made possible by a combined effort from IU South Bend’s American Democracy Project (ADP), The League of Women Voters, and the SJCPL. The event aimed to help citizens gain an understanding of who is on the ballot and what their priorities are, and for those running to take time to get to know voters and explain why they are running for office.
This event took place the day before the Mayoral debate at IU South Bend’s Wiekamp Hall. IU South Bend’s Professor of political science and Founding Director of the ADP, Dr. Elizabeth Bennion, acted as a moderator.
The Mayoral Candidates spoke first. James Mueller (D) spoke about his ideas of continuing the progress made by Pete Buttigieg, who he is endorsed by.
“I am running for mayor to build on our progress and make our community safer. We are going to get this done by creating more opportunities for everyone to thrive,” he said.
Mueller also mentioned his outlined plans to rebuild and reimagine neighborhoods, as well as a ‘Cradle to Career’ program. His pamphlets suggest plans for universal Pre-K.
Mueller went on to state, “As mayor, public safety will be my number one priority. Violence has no place in this city and we all must double our efforts to end violence.”
Second up was competitor Sean Haas (R). “I want to be your mayor because I love my home, and I want every single citizen to prosper,” Haas said.
He went on to criticize the current Mayor and Presidential candidate, Pete Buttigieg. He stated, “I don’t believe enough has been done by this administration. The praise heaped upon it fails to address the lack of development outside of downtown, wage growth amongst minorities, and jobs.”
Haas also emphasized a lack of support in the Buttigieg administration for the local police force. He proposed augmenting the Board of Public Safety with four elected positions, three from citizens at large and one elected judge, along with the three appointments from the mayor’s office. He also advocated for vocational schooling.
Next up were candidates running for the Council at Large. All council candidates were given 3 minutes. There are three spots and five candidates running.
Amanda Grove said, “Currently my main focuses are economic development, infrastructure, public safety, and help for our homeless and drug-addicted communities.” Grove mentioned her proposals for a new downtown detox center and a home village for the homeless.
Next to speak was candidate Davin Hackett (R).
“My number one three issues I want to tackle are poverty, safety, and education”, Hackett stated. He advocated for trade schools and addressing violence.
Lori Hamann (D) stated, “Many people in this community talk about how they enjoy the revitalization of our downtown, which our resources have been disproportionately focused on. I propose we realign our priorities and invest more in our neighborhoods, ensuring that our residents can achieve the safe and dignified life they deserve.”
She also advocated for establishing an outreach center for the homeless.
Rachel Tomas Morgan (D) said, “I am here tonight as a first-time candidate because I was met with open arms and opportunity,” and continued, “I believe that South Bend should be a place where everyone is met with open arms and opportunity.”
She advocated for inclusive economic development for all as well as sustainable development and is endorsed by former Mayor Steve Luecke.
Karen White (D) is seeking reelection.
“I’m seeking reelection for a number of reasons. One is that the coming 2019 elections will bring many changes to our city, and having an experienced, proven leader is very important as we continue to move forward.”
White promised to continue focusing on the community’s needs and involving citizens in the budget process.
Two Council district seats were contested, Districts 4 and 5. In District 4, candidates are Tyler Gillean (R) and Troy Warner (D).
Gillean stated, “South Bend really is in peril, crime is out of control.” He plans to work on improving the crime rate.
As for Warner, he explained, “I’m running to address the problems of crime and violence.” He is an attorney, Union supporter, advocate for the police department, and wants to increase opportunities for affordable housing.
Sandy Combs (D) and Jake Teshka (R) are the candidates competing for District 5. Combs has a history of a career in the council and public service as well as the private business sector.
“I believe in full financial disclosure, and transparency. I also believe that those that are involved in spending taxpayer dollars should be good stewards, and be responsible, and accountable to the taxpayers” stated Combs.
As the running incumbent, Teshka says, “Public safety, roads and infrastructure, and constituent services. Those three items have been my focus over the last year and a half that I’ve served on council, and will continue to be my focus if the good people of the fifth district hire me for a full four year term.”
Districts 1, 2, 3, and 6 all have candidates who are running unopposed. All of them, with the exception of District 2’s candidate Henry Davis Jr. (D), were able to make it to the event to speak. For District 1, Tim Scott (D) is running, District 3 has Sharon McBride (D) running, and for District 6 the candidate is Sheila Niezgodski (D).
After addressing the crowd from the stage, the candidates stood at tables to address constituents who had questions. This gave an opportunity to ask about what the candidates’ top priorities are, and for citizens to decide whether those priorities lined up with their own.
There will be several other chances to learn about the local candidates, put on by the ADP. There will be a Common Council Forum for Contested Districts Thursday, Oct. 10 at 6 p.m. in 1001 Wiekamp Hall and an At Large Candidate Forum also in 1001 Wiekamp Hall at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 15.
There will also be a Common Council District Forum Wednesday, Oct. 14 at 6 p.m. at the Mishawaka-Penn-Harris Public Library.
Voting will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 5th. To check voter registration status, or to register online, visit www.indianavoters.com.