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GENEVA – The hotly contested Geneva mayoral race has added a little more sizzle to the pan in the past week, as 5th Ward Alderman Tom Simonian bragged that incumbent Mayor Kevin Burns has no support on the council, prompting three sitting aldermen to issue public endorsements of support for Burns to win a fifth term in the April 4 consolidated election.
The turning point for 1st Ward Aldermen Tara Burghart and Mike Bruno and 5th Ward Alderman Craig Maladra was the latest Simonian campaign mailer, which stated Simonian had the support of nine current and former aldermen and that Burns had the support of none.
In statements, all three said they had maintained a posture of neutrality as sitting aldermen, but believed they had to speak out to counter Simonian’s mailer.
“We should not interpret the neutrality of others as an indication of displeasure with the job that Kevin has done as mayor over the past four years,” according to Maladra’s statement. “I can’t recall such politicking by elected officials in the 20 years I’ve lived in Geneva.”
In his statement, Bruno called the Simonian mailer “patently false” and “corrosive.”
“Some campaign information suggests that there is no support for Mayor Burns,” according to Bruno’s statement. “This is patently false and exemplifies all that is bad about Chicago-style or Illinois-style politics. This corrosive action makes it necessary for me to write this when I would much rather be publicly neutral. Though [Burns] did not seek my endorsement and while we do not we agree on everything, I do support him.”
Burghart, who is serving her first term, noted that if Burns were running against another candidate, she would keep her vote private and would not be issuing a statement.
“But when a postcard is mailed city-wide that says Mayor Burns has ‘zero’ support from former and current aldermen, I felt like I would be remiss not to speak,” according to Burghart’s statement. “Mayor Burns has my support.”
Simonian said he had asked for endorsements from each aldermen.
“They [Burghart, Maladra and Bruno] refused to give endorsements and remain neutral,” Simonian said. “They got upset … that I’m saying Kevin has no support. No one has publicly come out and supported him. … Now they are only supporting him because they are angry about my mailer.”
Former Mayor Dick Lindholm endorses Simonian
Sitting aldermen who have given endorsements of Simonian via YouTube videos are 2nd Ward Aldermen Don Cummings and Richard Marks, 4th Ward Aldermen Ron Singer and Jim Radecki, and 3rd Ward Alderman Mary Seno, as have former Aldermen Dorothy Flanagan, Ray Pawlak and John Carlson.
Seno, Singer and Marks are also all running for re-election April 4.
And now the voice of former Mayor Dick Lindholm, who served from 1965 to 1973, was added to the Simonian endorsement list.
Lindholm cites Simonian’s business background – as Lindholm himself had during his terms – as essential to serving as mayor.
“No mayor can do anything if he doesn’t have a solid council behind him,” Lindholm said in his video. “The present mayor … does not enjoy that support. We are indeed fortunate that Tom Simonian has stepped forward to fill the void that the city has experienced for the last 16 years. … He has that business background that is so essential to running a city.”
Other endorsements, such as Radecki’s, also cite Simonian’s business background as a reason to support him for mayor.
“One of the reasons that Tom jumps out as a candidate that I’m going to support [is] he challenges the status quo,” Radecki states in his video. “He’s applied some of his basic knowledge and principles from his business background. He’s run several successful businesses, and he takes that type of approach with government. I think that’s refreshing.”
A vision for Geneva
In their statements, Bruno, Burghart and Maladra each countered Simonian’s vision of Geneva.
“The city of Geneva is a sound municipal organization,” Maladra stated. “Our decisions are grounded in planning and foresight. Our staff is experienced and skilled. Together we have weathered the storm of the Great Recession, coming through with a strong financial position reported in quantitative financial statements that have been reviewed by independent auditors.”
Taking a cue from the idea that government should run like a business, Maladra stated that the city actually mirrors the tenets of well-run businesses in that it has a clearly defined mission and goals, well-trained and empowered staff, sound management oversight of every department, and is committed to ethical standards.
“This is due in no small part to the leadership of Kevin Burns,” Maladra stated. “He works to build consensus on policy; he appoints and manages qualified personnel to handle the day-to-day aspects of running the business that is city government; and he represents the city at public events knowledgeably and professionally.”
Bruno stated that the city’s professional staff does the “day-to-day heavy lifting in a municipality.”
“As I knock on doors, the most consistent comment I hear is ‘Geneva is great.’ Kevin Burns will continue to look at the horizon," Bruno stated. "His opponent needs you to believe that Geneva is broken, when it clearly is not.”
But Simonian cited a city budget that went from $63 million in 2010 to $92 million in 2016 and needs to be reined in.
Burns said that the city's general fund – the only fund that affects property taxes and which pays for nearly everything – has increased by only 1.5 percent annually in the same timeframe.
The general fund was just over $14 million in 2007, and went up to $16 million by April 30, 2016, according to the city’s annual financial report.
Burns further countered that a full two-thirds of the city's budget are enterprise funds that pay for themselves based on electric, water and wastewater use.
But for Simonian, all the money comes from the people.
“Money in, money out – call it any funds you want or group of funds you want, at the end of the day, someone has to pay that money and that’s the citizens of Geneva,” Simonian said. “It’s money out of their pockets.”