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Public Safety Key Issue In Rockford Mayoral Race

Rockford Convention and Visitors Bureau

Illinois’ municipal elections are less than two weeks away. In Rockford, three candidates are running for mayor, including the incumbent Larry Morrissey. One of the key issues on the campaign trail has been public safety.

In the waning months of the mayoral race, one issue that has often been debated is geographic policing. It’s a proposal being pushed by Mayor Morrissey, an Independent candidate who is seeking a third-term in office. The plan calls for moving the police department out of its downtown headquarters, and splitting the operations into three separate districts.

The proposal, which has been studied for a while, was included in this month’s State of the City speech. The mayor made it clear that under his public safety agenda, this is one of his top priorities.

“Geo-policing is the right thing to do, and that’s why we need to move this forward now” Morrissey said.

The administration says the plan fits in with their goal to focus on community policing. Morrissey says the move would save the city money, despite concerns raised by his opponents and some city council members. 

“Let me reaffirm that the city has the financial ability to operate our department under a geographic policing approach” Morrissey said.

The Democratic nominee is Jim Hughes, a former Rockford alderman and Winnebago County Board member. Hughes says if the city wants to save money in its crime fighting efforts, police should stay under one roof in a newly built department headquarters. When he proposed the idea last fall, Hughes said the building should include many green elements.

“With geo-thermal heating, with solar, cutting costs to the taxpayers by over 50-percent” Hughes said.

Like Morrissey, Hughes says the city needs to hire more police officers to help address violent crime in Rockford.

Republican nominee and political newcomer Michael Kleen also supports that move. But he too is a critic of geo-policing. Kleen, who is a writer and entrepreneur, says there simply needs to be more patrol officers on the streets. He also calls for tougher laws when it comes to things like loitering and vandalism.

Another crime-related issue the candidates have squabbled over is street lights. Mayor Morrissey has defended his move to remove 23-hundred street lights across the city, saying it has cut down on costs and is not a threat to public safety in the affected areas. Both Hughes and Kleen have pledged to reinstall the lights if elected.

And while the issue of crime has come up in debates and campaign speeches, it also weighs heavily on the minds of Rockford voters. So says Register Star Political Editor Chuck Sweeny.

“I don’t think they don’t care so much about geo-policing as they care about policing. [They’re saying] let’s get the criminals out of here, let’s be tougher on drug houses and things that contribute to crime” Sweeny said.

As for how the race is shaping up prior to election day, Sweeny says fundraising totals show that GOP nominee Michael Kleen isn’t getting a lot of support from his own party.

“Most of the money that generally goes to Republican candidates is going to Morrissey. Larry Morrissey is a conservative Independent. His two chief advisors are conservative Republicans” Sweeny said.

Democrat Jim Hughes is getting some traditional support from unions. Sweeny says while Hughes might have a greater chance of unseating Morrissey, it appears the incumbent might have the overall edge.

Still, he notes that after a couple of terms, incumbents traditionally build up some level of opposition from voters. Sweeny says right now, people in Rockford are a little grumpy.

“The unemployment rate is still high. If you don’t have a job, or if your wife lost her job or if your husband lost his job, you don’t tend to look at the whole world in a great shining light” Sweeny said.

Whether voters will carry that anger with them to the polls remains to be seen.