Column: Notes from the Batavia candidate forum

Originally published in the Kane County Chronicle on March 26, 2009

The Batavia City Council chambers is vaguely reminiscent of the waiting area for an amusement-park ride, with its wooden walls decorated with knickknacks from the past.

But on Wednesday night it was much more lazy river that roller coaster during the League of Women Voters of Batavia candidate forum. Candidates tended to agree with each other about Batavia’s future rather than unleash the fireworks that have been seen at other forums in a year for hotly contested local races.

I attended all three of the forums in the Tri-Cities hosted by the League of Women Voters, and this was the best attended. Though the Batavia forum had more people than the other two, all three forums had people standing at the back of the room, a wonderful testament to the interest in the democratic process here.

The Batavia forum also had the most young people in attendance. I can’t deny I overheard the words “extra credit” while walking past a group, but it still was good to see the youth there.

If they wanted to see a fierce debate, though, they would have walked away disappointed. It easily was the most civil of the LWV forums. Jotham Stein and Don DeWitte did not have much pleasant to say about each other in the mayoral portion of the St. Charles forum, while the 5th Ward contest in Geneva turned into a “who has a college degree here” discussion.

Neither the mayoral or aldermanic races in Batavia could come close to being as civil as the Library Board portion of the Geneva forum, though, in which almost all the candidates agreed on everything – including that the incumbents should be re-elected to the board.

As for the candidates at the Batavia forum, I thought all performed well. I much prefer civil discourse about the issues rather than opponent-bashing. Batavia’s forum touched on all the major issues facing the city, including a second bridge, ideas for revitalizing downtown, deciding how to use the Siemens property, and coping with loud train horns on the east side.

One of the most interesting parts of the night, though, was when 1st Ward candidate Michael O’Brien had no answer for what should be done with Siemens property.

He simply said something to the effect of, “I don’t have an answer to that question,” which brought to mind President Barack Obama’s quippy reply to a reporter’s questions about why it took him a few days to take action on the recent AIG bonuses.

“It took us a couple of days because I like to know what I’m talking about before I speak,” Obama said.

While I wish O’Brien had been ready with an answer on that question, I’m pleased he didn’t try to make something up. The world would be a lot better off if we all could admit we don’t know something.

Inevitably, candidates run out of time at these forums and finish their remarks with, “And I see I’m out of time.”

I wish this applied to more aspects of life; you never know when it could come in handy. For instance …

And I’m out of time.

Joe Grace is the editor of The Chronicle. You can write to him at jgrace@kcchronicle.com or call him at 630-845-5368.

Editor’s note:

Kick out the kids? The cutest campaign signage award had to go to Batavia 3rd Ward candidate Kyle Hohmann’s young twins, Jacob and William, who were wearing “Vote For My Daddy” T-shirts during the forum, despite the fact the League of Women Voters frowns on campaign literature in the room. But, seriously, who’s going to throw out tykes? And I’m pretty sure most voters’ decision would not be swayed by cute kids who love their daddy.

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