Ethics & Downtown Revitalization

All we know for sure is this: DeKalb Mayor Frank Van Buer cast a vote against Gavin Wilson’s candidacy as 5th Ward alderman. The mayor is now found to have close political relationships with Wilson’s opponent in the race and with the man who challenged Wilson’s ballot petition.

Van Buer’s campaign manager, Don Floyd, says that the mayor did disclose, by way of filing electronically with the Illinois State Board of Elections (btw, the irony has not escaped me). He’s got a point. How is it that the opposition party–in this case the Republicans–didn’t dig up that nugget? How did the Daily Chronicle miss it? As for myself, I didn’t blink or think twice at the time, when Van Buer said “We were advised that that was a mandatory.” That’s ’cause I trusted him.

I assume that when Van Buer sought legal advice, it was from the city attorney. Perhaps he should also have visited with the city manager, who is the designated ethics advisor for the city. That way the mayor’s men maybe wouldn’t have to be engaged right now in a flurry of damage control activity because the ethics of the situation called for recusal. Recusal would have saved the day.

At any rate let’s pursue a big-picture hypothesis brought to the fore by Gavin Wilson:

The Mayor and I were not strangers. He had just recently sent me a letter asking me not to write any more letters to the Chronicle, or it would undo all the things he was trying to accomplish, (for instance, removing the only viable parking in the downtown). I did write more, and I know this was not an action that would endear me to him.

The mayor didn’t have to try to shut him down. There’s a very clear consensus on working the downtown revitalization plan and it includes Wilson. He and other downtown businesses only had a problem with removing a parking lot that merchants north of Route 38 depend on (citybarbs discussions here and here.) Personally I think Wilson’s wrong (IMO the parking problem north of 38 is well addressed in the plan) but the city also was wrong by minimizing the extent of the concern. Fortunately, one administrator called the opposition “miniscule,” which inflamed the downtown merchants to no end and forced a public meeting.

Thus a pattern of trying to neutralize challenges to the Plan has been established. Meanwhile, the city moves like the proverbial well-oiled machine, buying up and fixing up and, I suppose, soon to be demolishing and building, and it’s happening like lightening compared to the speed with which the city usually moves. Was Gavin Wilson’s candidacy essentially bull-dozed by the Plan Machine? We’ll never know, but at the least his story prompts us to look for that dangerous end-justifies-the-means attitude and to try to ensure that Plan casualties are minimized amid the rush.


More at DeKalb County Online.

2 thoughts on “Ethics & Downtown Revitalization”

  1. Just a note on comment moderation. I’ve had to raise the bar because of a) harassment, and b) insistence on the part of some, in violation of blogging ethics, on “outing” me here and elsewhere.

    Call it censorship if you like. I call it having standards. You don’t flood a forum with the kind of comments I’m getting and you don’t “out” the authors if you want to play here.

    My blog. My rules.

  2. Related to the downtown development issue …

    I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia (Levittown, to be exact). When the city was built, they included a shopping mall (the Levittown Shopping Center), which was more like Geneva Commons, only 1950’s style.

    In the 1970s, a developer built the Oxford Valley Mall, a good five miles from the shopping center (which was less than a mile from my house). By 1980, the shopping center lost all of its anchor stores (Woolworth’s went under, as did WT Grant. Penney’s moved to the mall, and Pomeroy’s was slowly dying). The shopping center pretty much died with the anchor stores, and held a few specialty shops, and some places like Carvel Ice Cream.

    The point of the story is … downtown DeKalb is dead in terms of having the level and volume of business that it may once have had. None of the chain stores will come back downtown. The stores that remain are all mom-and-pop stores that can’t stay competitive, price-wise. And the specialty stores only cater to distinct demographics, with limited sales.

    All of the hoo-hah, money, time, and effort spent by the city to bring the downtown “back” is wasteful. The big boys play out on Sycamore Road, and they took Applebee’s, Steak N’ Shake, Subway, Starbucks, Blockbuster, et al, with them. They’re not coming back. Not today. Not in five years. Not ever.

    The city should have demolished the entire area between First Street and Fourth Street, and then built a huge shopping mall, each “section” utilizing one city block between First and Third Streets, connected by glass-enclosed, over-the-street walkways. The two blocks between Third and Fourth Street could have been parking garages, with walkways connecting back across Third Street to the mall proper.

    If you want something big to happen to your downtown, you need to think big. The revitalization project, as I have read it, isn’t thinking big. It’s thinking “different”.

    Downtown doesn’t need a facelift to save it, it needs a bold, innovative, let’s-try-something-radical plan, in conjunction with a real estate developer who knows this type of configuration (someone should find the folks who designed The Gallery in Philadelphia), and can help make it work through a private-public partnership.

    We aren’t Naperville … and we shouldn’t try to be. Instead of borrowing someone else’s ideas, why not try and come up with one of our own.


Leave a Reply