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Four Vying For DeKalb Mayor

Susan Stephens

There’s a lot of change in store for the city of DeKalb…at least when it comes to who’s in charge. There’s turnover in most leadership positions, from Northern Illinois University to city government. WNIJ’s Susan Stephens takes a look at the four-way race for DeKalb mayor.


First, don’t expect to step into the voting booth tomorrow and just pick the Democrat or Republican in the race for mayor of DeKalb: they all run as independents. DeKalb County saves money by not running a municipal primary election. Second, don’t look for the incumbent. Mayor Kris Povlsen announced last fall he wasn’t running for re-election. There’s even more change at the top because city manager Mark Biernacki is retiring in June. DeKalb has a mayor/city manager form of government, with an elected part-time mayor and a full-time city manager, who is appointed by city council.

What voters WILL see on the ballot are four familiar names in the mayor’s race: Jennifer Groce, David Jacobson, John Rey, and Mike Verbic. They’re all active in the community, through elected or appointed positions.

John Rey has a long, long list of community leadership positions: that includes DeKalb school board president, chair of the city’s economic development commission, and founding member of the DeKalb Education Foundation. The 70 year old has an MBA from Northern Illinois University, and spent much of his career with DeKalb Ag, later Monsanto. Rey says this is an important point in DeKalb’s history, with turnover in city government and at NIU offering exciting opportunities. He says it’s a “pivotal point in building a stronger relationship between the city and university:” it’s an opportunity to attract businesses and industry and take control of housing in the city. Rey says he wants to get citizens more involved in city government, build on his relationships with NIU’s leaders, and add a youth liaison to city council.

Jennifer Groce also sees the change in DeKalb as a great opportunity for the city. The 36 year old is a researcher for NIU’s Center for Governmental Studies and the former executive director of the downtown development organization, Re:New DeKalb. She’s an NIU political science grad and holds a graduate certificate in regional economic development. Her vision for DeKalb is to build a stronger community for long-time residents, students, and people who’ve just moved to town. By the end of her first term as mayor, Groce says she envisions more collaboration across all units of government. Groce says her experience working on development issues with all facets of local government are valuable assets for the city’s next mayor.

Mike Verbic says it’s time to re-write the city’s seven-year-old comprehensive plan. Verbic is 46, a DeKalb native, and works in media production at his alma mater NIU, where he earned a marketing degree. But it’s the DeKalb School District where he has gained the experience he sees as most important for leading DeKalb. Verbic has been a school board member since 2005 and was named board president two years later. He wants to get citizens involved in shaping the city’s next comprehensive plan. One way of doing that is to develop a leadership council that would meet throughout the year to align goals across jurisdictions. Verbic says it’s important for the city to balance programs that people expect with a respect for their tax dollars.

David Jacobson says it’s the tax burden that concerns him most. The 29 year old is the only candidate who is already an elected city official: he’s in his first term as first ward alderman. Jacobson says he got into the mayor’s race when he saw who else was running: he says the other three have been more involved in spending the city’s money: he said it shows that it’s time for common sense leadership in DeKalb if the city wants to keep residents happy.

Jacobson has a bachelor’s in political science from NIU and runs his own business as a property developer and manager. He says his background makes him representative of a lot of DeKalb residents: property owners, students, and small business owners.

The winner of the DeKalb mayor’s race serves a four-year, part-time term…although all four candidates say they’ll be full-time mayors.  

Audio for this story came courtesy of theCity of DeKalb Government Access Channel 14and the League of Women Voters of DeKalb County. WNIJ's Susan Stephens moderated the March 20th forum.

Links to candidate websites:

Mike Verbic: http://mikeverbicformayor.com/

Jennifer Groce: http://www.grocefordekalb.com/

David Jacobson: http://www.jacobsonfordekalb.com/

John Rey: http://www.johnreyfordekalb.com/

Susan is an award-winning reporter/writer at her favorite radio station. She's also WNIJ's Perspectives editor, Under Rocks contributor, and local host of All Things Considered.
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