If there was an overarching theme to the competing messages at the forum for village president and trustee in Brookfield on March 10, it was trust.
Who do Brookfielders trust to steer the future of the village – a slate of PEP Party candidates with long records of community involvement as volunteers and in local government, or a slate of newcomers, almost completely unfamiliar to voters, led by a presidential candidate who has lived in Brookfield since just 2014?
PEP candidates over and over at the forum, moderated by the LaGrange Area League of Women Voters, emphasized the importance of their long ties to the village and their records of community involvement.
“At the end of the day,” said PEP’s incumbent presidential candidate Kit Ketchmark, “when it comes to choosing who sits on your village board and all the issues they face, it really comes down to leadership, to dedication and to trust.”
Common Sense Party presidential candidate Roberto “Bobby” Garcia, meanwhile urged voters to seek “a fresh set of eyes, a fresh perspective.”
Between 75 and 100 people packed the council chamber at the Brookfield Village Hall to get a closer look at the candidates squaring off on April 4. Early voting begins March 20, and it was for many voters their introduction to Common Sense Party candidates.
The party has kept a relatively low profile since filing nominating petitions on the last day of the filing period in December.
Garcia created a political campaign committee with the state board of elections on Feb. 28, and only on March 9 did the party have a fully functional website. The party’s candidates, so far, have not submitted answers to questionnaires sent to Garcia by the Landmark in mid-February.
Though the party’s candidates appeared at one village board meeting in February and have been out knocking on doors in the last couple of weeks, people attending the forum got an incomplete picture of just who the newcomers are.
Two of the party’s three candidates for village trustee did not attend the forum. Only Sherry Lada, a home care nurse employed by Hines VA Hospital, Brookfield VFW member and Little League volunteer, appeared alongside PEP’s trustee candidates Edward Cote, Michael Garvey and Nicole Gilhooley.
According to forum moderator Jean Klotter, Common Sense Party trustee candidate Kathleen Hillmann has a schedule conflict. Garcia’s wife, Jennifer Robles, read a brief prepared statement from Hillmann.
Edward “E.J.” Frantzen, the party’s third trustee candidate, turned down the request to appear at the forum, according to Klotter, a member of the League of Women Voters.
Garcia said the party’s message revolved around the need for more economic development.
“Bringing new businesses to Brookfield and creating a tax base is important, because nothing is going to move forward without it,” Garcia said in his opening statement. “We will put a plan in place that will help to bring more business here. We look to do it by extending the red-carpet treatment to businesses coming here.”
Garcia claimed that that a “stigmatism” exists in Brookfield, where, he said, business owners aren’t made to feel welcome.
Ketchmark rejected that notion, saying that 99 new businesses had opened in Brookfield since 2013 and pointing to economic development efforts such as the creation of the Community and Economic Development Department, the recent Station Area Districts zoning modernization and record sales tax revenue in 2016.
“Brookfield is on the right track, but we’re not there yet,” Ketchmark said.
By the end of the half-hour segment of the forum devoted to the presidential candidates, Garcia admitted that “I think the PEP Party certainly has done a good job of moving us forward. Unfortunately, I think it’s been at a slow pace, slower than this community is willing to accept.”
Both candidates agreed on many issues brought up during the forum, from the financial infeasibility of funding the construction of a recreation center (though the Common Sense Party’s online platform seeks “to leverage funding for an improved senior center for coordination of social services and recreation”) to the excellence of the police department, the lack of a need for a civilian public safety director and opposition to a proposed Cook County minimum wage law.
Garcia appeared to back off becoming involved in a dispute between the village’s administration and the Teamsters Union, which represents public works employees. The opening salvo of Garcia’s campaign came Feb. 13 when he and members of his slate showed up at the village board meeting to question alleged labor strife and float a theory that Village Manager Keith Sbiral had planted a flier ostensibly threatening Sbiral and Public Works Director Ken Blaauw.
He reprised that theory in a Facebook Live video on Feb. 21 announcing the start of his slate’s campaign.
But at the forum, Garcia took a step back from that issue.
“I was kind of sucked into that schoolyard fight a month ago,” Garcia said. “It isn’t my fight and I don’t believe it’s the village board’s fight. That’s why we have a village manager to settle those.”
There were a couple of notable differences of opinion brought up at the forum. In response to a question about the Brookfield Public Library’s attempt to pass a referendum for a new building, Garcia appeared to suggest a Common Sense Party-controlled village board would block a library referendum from reaching the ballot.
“Our position is while we would love to see a new library, we’re definitely not in favor of sending a referendum or special assessment in taxing the residents of Brookfield again,” said Garcia, who added that he would “look at getting creative with some grants.”
Ketchmark reiterated the current board’s position that the library board, as a separate government entity, is entitled to ask voters to approve a referendum and that the village board should not take a position on it or prevent the referendum question from being on the ballot.
The two also differed on expanding video gambling in Brookfield. Ketchmark said that he doesn’t want to expand video gambling by allowing standalone gaming parlors.
“We don’t want storefront casinos,” Ketchmark said.
But Garcia, whose request a couple of years ago to grant his local laundromat business a liquor license in order to install gambling machines was turned aside by Ketchmark, said he wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to gambling cafes, perhaps putting the question to voters as a referendum.
“Brookfield did not choose to opt out of having the gaming in restaurants and bars as they exist now, so I think that’s a stream of revenue – the machines are already here — I wouldn’t be opposed to,” Garcia said.