PEORIA, IL - The first local candidate forum/debate of the 2016 election season produced some odd comments.
The event, held in a church basement and sponsored by the NAACP, drew a good crowd who applauded and cheered comments that appealed to them.
Several candidates appeared who do not have opponents in the March 15 primary elections, and spoke and answered questions. Some also do not have opponents in November, but also participated.
The only race where both candidates appeared is the contest for Peoria County judge. It features Democrats Sonni Williams and Jodi Hoos, The winner will face Republican Tim Cusack in November who also attended..
Hoos offered the oddest comment of the evening. She is an appointed judge, and said she's seen it all -- fights in the courtroom, a juror throwing up at the site of gory evidence, a defendant attacking someone. I wondered: why does she want this job?
Her odd point was that in these situations, the judge must control what occurs.
Williams drew the most applause as she said, "we need a second chance for non-violent offenders. We're putting good people who make poor choices in prison," and most are African Americans. Then their prison record makes it impossible for them to find work, she said. "We need judges with common sense in sentencing."
Cusack, the Republican opponent of the winner of the Democratic primary, said he has saved "half a million" dollars by giving kids in juvenile court "better opportunities," and ankle monitors rather than incarceration.
He said incarcerating a kid costs $133,000 a year. Others said putting an adult in prison ranges from $35,000 to $58,000.
States Attorney Jerry Brady, who is running unopposed, had some interesting statistics. Every homicide costs the community $7 million, he said a study has shown. He and Hoos said there are "diversionary programs" but they lack adequate funding.
Asked by the moderator to respond to a report that a $400 million federal prison might be built in Pekin, everyone said they opposed more prisons, and the money could be better spent elsewhere.
"Invest in education and communities, not prisons," said Napoleon Harris, a Democrat and state senator who is running for the U.S. Senate against two opponents in the primary. Oddly, his signs and promotional materials did not state his party affiliation.
Chris Crawford, a Republican running for the Peoria County Board in District 11 in the primary against Gregory Adamson, who did not appear, had another odd comment. "I want to keep Peoria affordable. It's no longer regarded as an affordable place to live," he said. Say what? Houses are cheap in Peoria. Very cheap.
Oh -- later he mentioned the word "taxes," saying "keep taxes low, keep Peoria affordable."
And so it went throughout the long evening. The softball questions, and the lack of opponents except for the two judge candidates, made the event less than perfect and exciting. But it still was worthwhile, despite much time wasted by the candidates thanking everyone who organized and hosted it.
Here is a recording of the event.
The Feb. 20 candidate forum hosted by the Greater Peoria League of Women Voters, for contested races only, may be more interesting. It's at the north branch of the Peoria Public Library on Allen Road behind Menards. It starts at 10:15 am.
-- Elaine Hopkins
-- Elaine Hopkins