Mayoral candidate Angela Shea

Kankakee school board member Angela Shea 

KANKAKEE — With seven weeks to make her case to be the Democratic Party nominee to become Kankakee’s next mayor, Angela Shea indicated the city has misspent money and not cared for people in need of help.

During an hour-long Zoom meeting on Sunday evening, Shea introduced herself to the audience as well as took after the mayor on at least three fronts as she begins her campaign to defeat the first-term Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong in the Feb. 23 primary.

The winner of the primary will face the winner of the Republican Party primary between Kankakee 6th Ward Ald. Chris Curtis and Kankakee Valley Park District commissioner J.J. Hollis in the April 6 municipal election.

Shea criticized the mayor on three fronts:

• Hiring of the Evergreen Park law firm of Odelson & Sterk, Ltd., rather than finding local attorneys.

• Spending more than $1 million to upgrade four blocks of streetscape in downtown Kankakee.

• Failing to use the nuisance abatement to rid the 400 block of South Lincoln Avenue of a nuisance property.

There were about 30 people who participated in the Zoom meeting.

Shea, a Kankakee School Board member, reasoned the city is exporting hundreds of thousands of dollars when it hired the Odelson & Sterk firm. The area, she said, would have been much better served if that money would have remained here.

“They can stay up the road,” she said of the law firm. “[If elected] they will no longer see Kankakee money. We will have our own local attorneys.”

In fact, she said, she would hire one attorney to handle city business. She said if attorneys with certain expertise are needed at some point, then someone would be hired for that situation.

“But we don’t need to pay for expertise 24/7. We are not getting our money’s worth. We want to grow our community. I would rather pay a local attorney $100,000,” she said.

Wells-Armstrong was contacted for a response to Shea’s criticisms, but declined. She said she has previously addressed the matters Shea brought forward.

The issue regarding the downtown upgrades had been a point of contention for some when it was planned and developed. The money which funded the upgrades came from the then-expiring downtown Tax Increment Financing District. The money had to be used in the area it was collected and if it wasn’t used prior to the district expiring, the money would have been returned to the taxing districts in the area they were collected.

Thus, the money had to be used in the downtown area. The money funded street resurfacing, sidewalks, benches, lighting and a bike lane.

While acknowledging the upgrades are nice, Shea compared them to putting “lipstick on a pig,” meaning there are areas in more desperate need of assistance.

“I hate to call my city a pig,” she said during the Zoom meeting.

She said the city’s front-door areas, most notably East Court Street at the Interstate 57 interchange is in need of significant attention and that is the area which makes the first impression on most people.

“Our front door is actually the 312 [East Court Street] interchange. The hallway is not looking good to get to downtown,” she said.

Finally, Shea was critical of the city’s inaction regarding the South Lincoln Avenue house, which has been the source for numerous police reports. The program has been the site of shootings and community frustration that its occupants had been allowed to continue residing there despite all the problems it has brought to the area.

The Kankakee County State’s Attorney’s office finally stepped in to take action against the house’s owners, she said.

“That property is not acceptable,” she said. “Safe neighborhoods is my No. 1 issue.”