Park Ridge council candidates strut stuff
Updated: February 12, 2013 12:06PM
PARK RIDGE — Wintry conditions didn’t put a stop to the first Park Ridge candidate forum of the 2013 election season which drew about 40 people to the Park Ridge Senior Center on Feb. 7.
The forum, which included questions from audience members, was organized by Mayor David Schmidt and moderated by two editors of the local press, including the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate.
Attending were aldermanic candidates Nicholas Milissis of the 2nd Ward, Roger Shubert of the 4th Ward, and incumbent Marc Mazzuca and Vincent LaVecchia of the 6th Ward. Not in attendance were mayoral candidate Larry Ryles, 2nd Ward aldermanic candidate George Korovilas and 4th Ward candidate Jane Johnson.
Ryles declined to attend, citing the fact that it was his opponent who was hosting the forum.
Korovilas was reported to be out of state, while former Park Ridge mayor Howard Frimark hand-delivered a note from Johnson which stated she had believed the forum was scheduled for Feb. 27.
With the 6th Ward as the only contested race represented, the only real debate of the night occurred between candidates Mazzuca and LaVecchia.
LaVecchia, a business development manager, said he will bring a “new voice” to the council and plans to communicate with citizens by setting up a website and hosting town hall meetings. Mazzuca cited his financial background and that he is “strong on oversight” which he believes is the role of an alderman.
LaVecchia expressed interest in working with the city’s mayor to generate new business in Park Ridge.
“I want to start a task force to identify companies that will fit and want to invest in our town,” LaVecchia said.
But Mazzuca disagreed with comments LaVecchia made that residents leave Park Ridge for Rosemont and Edison Park because the city does not have restaurants and businesses these communities have.
“I think we can always do better, but we shouldn’t be emulating either of those towns,” Mazzuca said.
On the issue of bringing in new business to Park Ridge, Mazzuca said the city should not be using tax dollars to “subsidize” new business in town as was the case with the millions of dollars in city funding put into the now failing Uptown Tax Increment Financing District and associated development.
“I don’t think all the machinery of city government should be put in the direction of supporting business,” Mazzuca said. “It should be put in the direction of supporting residents.”
“I think that’s where we differ a little bit,” LaVecchia responded. “I don’t want to throw money at people … (but) growing a business is as important as cutting our budget. They’re dollars we need to get.”
LaVecchia said the city needs to focus on why there are so many “for rent” signs on commercial buildings.
“The biggest sign I don’t want to see in Park Ridge is ‘for rent,’” LaVecchia said.
When asked how they would keep taxes down, Mazzuca said one way is by looking at how employee pensions are funded. He stated that he has “challenged the city’s pension boards to look at some of their assumptions” so that the city meets its obligations, but is not contributing more than it needs to, which ultimately costs taxpayers.
LaVecchia responded by saying that the best way to keep taxes down is to “grow business revenue” and that he will “not vote to underfund our pensions.”
“I agree you that we shouldn’t underfund anything, but I think we need to actually look at the assumptions people are using to figure out if we’re overfunding these things,” Mazzuca replied. “When we overfund, that is is on the backs of the taxpayers.”
“My biggest problem with that is, what if you’re wrong?” LaVecchia countered.
The two candidates did agree that Park Ridge could benefit from a proposed 900-plus-room hotel and convention center slated for the 8100 block of Higgins Rd. on the Chicago side of the street. LaVecchia said this is where the city’s Economic Development Task Force — which is scheduled to disband because it has completed its assigned task of coming up with recommendations for the city — could target potential developers for the Park Ridge side of Higgins Road.
Mazzuca said the hotel development could open new opportunities, but the city should not use tax dollars to “buy out” Higgins Road building owners so that new developments can be created, something that occurred when Uptown was being redeveloped and has since led to financial challenges for Park Ridge.
The next scheduled candidate forum is hosted by the Republican Women of Park Ridge and candidates for mayor, alderman and the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District Board have been invited, as well as the incumbent GOP candidates running in the Maine Township Town Board race. It will take place on Thursday, March 7 at 7 p.m. at the South Park Recreation Center, 833 W. Talcott Rd.