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Rockford Aldermanic Candidates Speak At Virtual Forum

City of Rockford

Nine candidates for Rockford alderman recently spoke at a local forum in advance of the state primaries later this month.

The forum was hosted by Live Free Rockford. It featured a diverse group from different ward elections. Though many didn’t have their opponents present, they spoke at length about their priorities for the office.

Of the candidates who spoke, only Linda McNeely of the 13th Ward is an incumbent. She emphasized the need to not leave behind different age groups when addressing issues, whether they be youth or senior citizens. She also highlighted the need for intergenerational communication, and a place for that to occur.

“Within the city," said McNeely, "there aren’t a lot of places for kids or adults to go to outside of restaurants or bars, or the public library.” 

The other candidates would be new to the City Council. They come with varied experiences and priorities. Three of the speakers are competing for the 12th Ward, including Robert Walsh. He touted his business experience in areas such as real estate and the Chicago Board of Trade. In turn, his focus is on economic improvements.

“Development is in my background," said Walsh. "That’s the key for us to create more jobs, to create stability in our 12th ward, and to bring people who are going to be rooted here and live here.” 

Another 12th Ward contender is Gina Meeks. She compared the role of an alderman to a liaison, citing experience at a local credit union, a country club -- and as the Strong Neighborhoods coordinator for the local United Way.

“I truly feel like that is what this role truly represents, is to be able to communicate, and to be able to share information, and to be able to provide problem solving and resources -- and that’s what I do on a regular basis," said Meeks.

The last 12th ward candidate to speak was Mark Yone. He said communication with the neighborhood is important and considers the role of alderman similar to a union steward. He also wants to increase accountability for local landlords.

“We’re seeing a lot more tenants these days in the neighborhood, which drives crime up, people moving in and out and maybe creating some sort of team to hold these landlords accountable for the tenants they’re bringing in,” said Yone. 

Two candidates for the 7th ward spoke at the forum. One is Janessa Wilkins, who emphasized her experience in community activism, including HomeStart, a nonprofit focused on low-income housing. She also highlighted a community partnership with Comprehensive Community Solutions and a local Baptist church. It would both teach the community and help residents involved with the criminal justice system re-enter society.

“We’re working to turn this into a scholarship for any graduate in this program to receive free tuition at a Rockford institution pending that those individuals utilize their degree in Rockford for a set amount of time,” said Wilkins. 

Another 7th ward candidate is Joy Irving. She has a background in criminal justice, human services and children’s advocacy. She highlighted individual areas for improvement, such as more street lights, but said as a newcomer to politics, it was important to look deeper.

“I’m sitting back and I’m taking my time. And I’m trying to make a strategic plan of what do we need around here," Irving said. "Where can I start at the root of the problem?” 

11th Ward candidate Terri Schierer said her constituents have their own individual interests, but it’s important to bring those together in a common task.

“We’ve been talking about getting action groups, action groups that can work in different areas. Getting workshops for people to acquire training, etc. in improving their livelihood," said Schierer. "Also, we want to get workshops and also action groups working in the area of reducing crime.”

Fifth Ward candidate Gabrielle Torina highlighted previous political experience as a constituent advocate for U.S. Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, and by extension, an ability to effectively navigate federal bureaucracy. She also wants to better engage the ward politically and economically.

“I want to create a classroom format because I think that our residents need to learn civic engagement and how our government works," said Torina. "That’s honestly something that I’d like to open up to the entire city of Rockford. And I’m going to be advocating with our developers and our corporations to consider south Rockford as a viable and worthy place to build their establishments."

Finally, there was April Prunty, a 6th Ward candidate.  She has a background as a teacher at Rockford Public Schools, and in various advocacy roles. These include positions at the Booker Washington Community Center and the Delta Sigma Theta sorority. Youth advocacy is a focus for her, as well as neighborhood improvement.  

“Safety is a real concern for part of the area," said Prunty. "Having these places that are empty, revitalized and repurposed, that’s a concern for people. As well as we have a lot of homes in this area that have been left empty for a number of years.” 

Though their approaches differed, all candidates present expressed general support for addressing gun violence and rehabilitating former prisoners. They, and those candidates who didn’t make the forum, will all be on the ballot in the city’s primary election Feb. 23.