Point-of-View: Yesterday’s Mayoral Forum (The Abridged Version) Part II

Town Hall

This is the second in a four-part series of articles covering a Mayoral Forum held on Friday, March 15. The West Suburban Journal sponsored the event. Of the five candidates running for office, three showed. I’ve bracketed my personal opinions and observations.

The first moderator asked if each candidate could explain why Maywood’s sewer rates are skyrocketing.

Trustee Guzman said that in 2005, the Village had a brand new meter billing system put in place. Fast forward to 2012, the Village owes $1.6 million to Chicago and this figure is increasing (see this article for more information). The increase happened, the Trustee explained, because there were about 2000 residents not paying their bills. As a result, a surcharge was introduced to collect the money.

Trustee Perkins repeated Trustee Guzman’s claim about $1.6 million being owed by the Village. She questioned why the Village wasn’t collecting this money. She mentioned that the Village acquired $1 million from First Suburban Bank to replace meters that, she believed, did not necessarily need replacing. She stated that, despite the replaced meters, which were supposed to yield more accurate readings, the Village was still getting estimated bills. She suggested hiring a temp agency to try to collect the outstanding money owed by various residents. She deplored the way the Village gives breaks to businesses that owe money on their bills, but doesn’t cut seniors any slack.

Mrs. Gooden stated that her concern was why Maywood was not using its own water supply, instead of getting it from Melrose Park via Chicago. She stated that she didn’t know the details of the $1.6 million Trustees Perkins and Guzman discussed.

The second moderator asked if each candidate could give an example of someone who has gotten prosecuted for ethical violations, but shouldn’t have; and someone who hasn’t been prosecuted, but should be prosecuted. I’m not presenting this question with exact precision, but this was the gist.

All three candidates were tactfully silent (their answers aren’t really worth repeating).

[In fact, the question was, quite frankly, a ridiculous one to ask. It was an instance of Mayor Yarbrough’s absence enlarging his presence. The entire night, from this point on, seemed to be more about incriminating the incumbent (who, no doubt, it would seem, is deserving of much of the criticisms that were levied his way), instead of seeking to understand much deeper problems of which Mayor Yarbrough’s apparent mismanagement is only a surface reflection.]

[This is the point at which I realized why Yarbrough didn’t show up. Fair or unfair, the general feeling among the candidates, the people in the audience and even, it seemed, the publication hosting the event, was of an indignation that had persisted for so long (at least eight years) that it drains from you the energy to even get all that angry. It’s hard not to allow the feeling to descend into bitterness. And that was this forum in a nutshell—a slowly swinging pendulum that swayed from fits of righteous indignation to mild bitterness, with Mayor Yarbrough being the source of both moods. As much as the Mayor needs to see the indignation and bitterness he’s apparently caused, it’s much more important to get beyond the political stalemate that these moods have engendered.

If you ask me, the greatest criteria for evaluating any mayoral candidate in this Village should be the degree to which that candidate can will into existence a modulating mood that breaks through this atmosphere of mutual recrimination and mutual mistrust. Who can harness this ill-willed energy into something much more productive? Unfortunately, some of the moderators’ questions proved distinctly unproductive in this respect.]

The second moderator wanted to know how each candidate views the Yarbroughs.

[The candidates’ responses were revealing. Their answers ranged from the angry to the disappointed. But they all seemed genuinely sincere and many of their complaints extremely valid. And after this point, their responses began to converge; the candidates began to agree with each other to such an extent that it made me ache for what could have been. Why, I asked myself, were they running against each other when a) they agreed on so much, despite their other disagreements, and b) each candidate’s greatest immediate goal was getting rid of the incumbent? This question sat in my stomach for the rest of the night like bad Chinese food. I couldn’t have been the only one in the audience growling inside.]

Trustee Perkins said that her list was so long that she would not go into it. Instead, she focused on the fact that her candidacy for mayor was challenged by the Yarbrough people and that the Mayor was often disrespectful to her. “He treats me very badly…” Even though Trustee Perkins was challenged by Mrs. Gooden, she said that, “There’s no question who’s doing the challenging.” Trustee Perkins’s implication was that, because she challenged her candidacy, Gooden was doing the Mayor’s bidding.

Trustee Guzman said that he’s been “very surprised and very alarmed” by the way the Mayor has conducted the Village’s affairs. He lamented the Mayor’s mismanagement and lack of leadership. He seemed genuinely disappointed above all. Guzman mentioned that, while he was Trustee under the late Mayor Ralph Conner, the Village was able to authorize the creation of a Comprehensive Plan. One of the problems with the Plan, Guzman said, was that it excluded Loyola Medical Center, one of the Village’s staple institutions. It wasn’t clear to me to which Mayor’s administration he was attributing this omission (Conner’s or Yarbrough’s). Guzman noted that the Village has since obtained $150,000 to update the plan to include Loyola. Trustee Perkins said that the Comprehensive Plan, like other ostensible development projects, was done by someone close to the Yarbroughs.

[This is the moment when Mrs. Gooden became collateral damage (a military term that refers to “damage to things [or persons] that are incidental to the intended target”). As of this writing, there is no material proof (as far as I know) that Mrs. Gooden is collaborating with the Mayor—only circumstantial evidence (hearsay, speculation). Of course, there is no material proof that she isn’t, either. But the accusations coming from her opponents (some of which are understandable), apparently constituted reason enough for Nicole Trottie, effectively the moderator of the moderators, to skip over Mrs. Gooden in order to ask a follow-up question about where the Comprehensive Plan stood to date (Perkins and Guzman’s answers were recounted above). When one of the moderators noted that Mrs. Gooden hadn’t divulged her views about the Yarbroughs, Trottie said that she’d get back to Gooden. Since she was discussing the Comprehensive Plan, she thought that she’d engage the people she felt were closest to its implementation and who had the most knowledge about it. This, of course, was a prejudiced assumption. It could have turned out that Mrs. Gooden’s knowledge of the plan surpassed both Trustee Perkins’s and Trustee Guzman’s (this didn’t turn out to be the case, but the principle is more important). Why deny any candidate for Mayor the opportunity to discuss something so important to the Village’s future development? When Trottie did get back to Mrs. Gooden, it was to ask her a loaded question.]

Trottie wanted to know about Mrs. Gooden’s connection to the Mayor.

[It may very well turn out to be the case that Mrs. Gooden is collaborating with Mayor Yarbrough to sabotage his challengers’ campaigns, but there is no material proof (again, of which I’m aware) suggesting that this is true. There’s a reason why our criminal system is based on the assumption of innocence before proven guilt. Since the deck of hearsay and circumstantial proof was already stacked against Mrs. Gooden’s candidacy before the forum began, Ms. Trottie’s question had the affect of doubling down on the unproven allegations and opening the door for even more unsubstantiated shots at her character. This was another instance of feeding the atmosphere of castigation and mutual mistrust that so pervades Maywood’s political environment. Although the question is a valid one to ask of Mrs. Gooden on the campaign trail, in a less public, less esteemed setting, it had no place in a forum meant to inform voters of the details and specifics of the candidates’ often vague promises. It was a disappointing distraction. And God forbid Mrs. Gooden is actually innocent of the charges.]

Ironically enough, Gooden’s response to Ms. Trottie’s questions was one of the high points of her performance. She said that she had a right to challenge her opponents (a right that long predates her use of it) and she utilized it, just as Trustee Perkins utilized her right to sue the village (Mrs. Perkins along with several other citizens courageously brought a lawsuit against the Village after it refused a FOIA request that they made for meeting minutes and a line-by-line budget, among other documents. See this article for more information). Mrs. Gooden then smartly redirected the discussion back to the question about the Comprehensive Plan, to which she was effectively denied a response. However, her comments on the Plan weren’t particularly insightful (she merely said, in essence, that “none of the things in there have been implemented”).

[There is actually much more that needs to be said regarding both Mrs. Gooden’s defense of her right to challenge and Trustee Perkins’s ideas on the ethical implications of challenging candidates. Both women make strong cases. See my upcoming profile of this year’s campaign in a few days for more details.]

I’ll post part III of this series on Monday.

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