Editor's note: Story was amended Jan. 30 to correct an error in the size of Roselle's budget shortfall.
Longtime Roselle Mayor Gayle Smolinski is defending her record against two challengers in the April election who say the city's approach to downtown development lacks vision.
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Candidates James Banks and Jim Schelling told the Daily Herald Editorial Board they would work to unite residents and involve them in setting a path for growth.
"In getting out there and talking with people, that was probably the number one complaint: What's going on with downtown?" Schelling said. "That's definitely one of the perceived problems of the residents."
Smolinski, who's been mayor since 1993, is seeking her sixth term in the April 9 election. She said a "lack of understanding" feeds into the idea the city isn't doing its best to attract merchants.
"People who say there's no vision or we haven't moved forward or we need change might have been sleeping for the past 20 years," she said. "There certainly has been a lot of change, and it's always been a balancing act of keeping the small-town feel, keeping the community that people move to town for, and yet growing our own economy, the way we look, and the way we do business."
Smolinski pointed to the addition of a downtown Starbucks in recent years as one long-sought victory. The city spent five years trying to recruit the coffee giant, she said, adding Roselle can be a tough sell for major commercial establishments because of its proximity to Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, Stratford Square Mall in Bloomingdale and the bustling Barrington and Irving Park roads.
Although Roselle faces a $56,000 budget shortfall this year, Smolinski said it continues to see revenues increase thanks to a downtown tax-increment-financing district that expired in December, boosting annual taxes from $30,000 to about $1.5 million.
"I consider that growth," she said.
But Banks, a lawyer and former Chicago police officer, contended little else is being done and said the city needs to be "more proactive in getting businesses into our community."
"I've been here 10 years, and I waited 10 years for that Starbucks," he said. "Mayor Smolinski said she was trying to get them in there for five years, but what about the five years before that? We have a clock tower that can't tell time and a lot of empty storefronts. We're really lacking in vision for a nice downtown."
Schelling, a manager for chemical maker Rochester Midland, and Banks each said they would use their community ties to increase transparency and get more residents involved in the decision-making process.
Roselle village board member Ronald Baker, who also is running for mayor, did not participate in the editorial board session and did not return calls and emails seeking details about his candidacy.