Editor's note: This story was updated to correct the political affiliation of two aldermanic candidates. Sixth Ward candidates YaQuantis Adams and Kelly Johnson are running as Democrats.
KANKAKEE — Three candidates for two separate aldermanic posts for the Feb. 23 primary held court on Tuesday at the Kankakee Public Library in candidate forums hosted by the Kankakee County Branch of the NAACP.
David Baron, 2nd Ward Democratic candidate for the Kankakee City Council, answered questions from a panel along with 6th Ward Democratic candidates YaQuantis Adams and Kelly Johnson. Lisa Richardson, a 2nd Ward Democratic candidate, declined to participate.
The forum was moderated by Theodis Pace, president of the Kankakee County Branch of the NAACP.
The aldermanic candidates squared off after city clerk Democratic candidate Stacy Gall answered questions from the panel. Gall’s opponent, Lashaan Lott also declined to participate in the forum.
Baron, a Kankakee native, said he’s running for alderman to give people under 40 a voice.
“I want to run to be a fresh perspective,” he said. “I want to run to be able to talk about new ideas, a new economy, new trends, new economic development we can bring to the table.”
Baron, a local attorney, also said he wants to fight against the negative perceptions about Kankakee and to address the homicides and shootings.
“We have to come together to push back against the naysayers with a united voice,” he said. “... If we have a united voice, we will be able to achieve strong neighborhoods and safe streets. It’s something I hope to do as alderman.”
Adams, a lifelong resident of Kankakee, said she wants to bring her passion to the city council.
“I want to speak for those who don’t have a voice,” she said. “I want to facilitate that for those that may not know how to go about business as usual. ... I’m there to be an advocate.”
Johnson, who’s lived in the 6th Ward for 10 years, is concerned about the direction Kankakee is going and wants to make a difference.
“Kankakee is my home,” she said. “My family and I have a vested future in Kankakee and in the community as a whole. I will be an independent voice for Kankakee. I am not a politician. ... I am a concerned citizen who will work for what is best for Kankakee and the 6th Ward. When elected, I will serve with honesty, integrity, reliability and accountability.”
All three candidates were asked if they support the Riverwalk initiatives currently underway.
Adams said she supports the development.
“The Riverwalk will bring tourists. It will bring tax dollars, and it will help beautify our area in which we live,” the 6th Ward candidate said.
Johnson said she supports the project but has some reservations.
“I feel like there’s some things we need to take care of in the community first before we invest those funds into the Riverwalk,” she said. “I understand it will bring tourism, but if we have high crime rates, folks are not going to want to come down to the Riverwalk. ... If they don’t feel safe, they’re not going to come.”
Baron said he was in full support of the development.
“The Riverfront plan is ambitious,” the 2nd Ward candidate said. “It’s not something that is going to take place in the next four years. It’s going to take place over the long haul. We need to take steps now to put the things in place to make that happen.”
Baron said he serves on the Riverfront Society and is working to raise private funds for the project.
“There’s private money out there, and we just have to go get it so we can save money for the taxpayers, while being able to enjoy and utilize what is one of our greatest assets,” he said.
All three candidates were asked if they would or would not support a proposed downtown homeless shelter. In September, the Kankakee City Council rejected a conditional use permit for Fortitude Community Outreach to operate a seven-night-a-week homeless shelter in the former St. Paul’s Lutheran School property, 240 S. Dearborn Ave.
Adams said she would need more information before being for or against the shelter.
“The biggest issue is we do need to find some transitional housing or something for people who are less fortunate,” she said.
Johnson said she doesn’t know enough about the situation to support or not support the shelter.
“My thought is why can’t Fortitude work hand-in-hand with the Salvation Army,” she said.
Baron said homelessness is more than just a Kankakee problem.
“We have two competing moral imperatives here,” he said. “One is to make sure that we shelter the homeless, and the other is to revitalize a community that has been kicked a number of different times. ... I don’t think we’ve exhausted options enough, and I think we need to do a little more research to see what is available.”