How to grow economy divides Aurora mayor candidates

At a time when big box stores are closing, online shopping is changing the retail landscape and suburban downtowns remain tricky places to keep storefronts filled, two candidates for Aurora mayor are promoting what they say should be the city's economic development strategy.

Alderman-at-Large Richard Irvin says the city should formulate an economic development plan for each of its 10 wards, then take action to recruit desired companies and give them incentives to open in Aurora.

City Assistant Chief of Staff Richard "Rick" Guzman says the city should create plans for specific corridors that might bleed from one ward to another and should promote its natural and cultural beauty as strengths from which to build.

Irvin and Guzman are the presumptive mayoral candidates in the April 4 election, after placing first and second in Tuesday's primary, according to unofficial totals from the Aurora and DuPage County election commissions.

The front-runners beat candidates Linda Chapa LaVia and Michael B. Saville in a race that also included five write-ins - Jeffrey Houghtaling, Daniel Hoffman, Thomas Benedetto, David James Howard and Eva Rodgers.

Write-in votes from Aurorans in Kane, Kendall and Will counties will not be counted until the vote is canvassed around mid-March, according to the Aurora Election Commission. But the write-in candidates claimed only 4 votes from Aurora residents in DuPage County, making it highly unlikely their total from the rest of the city will alter which candidates advance.

Irvin and Guzman both relaunched their campaigns immediately following Tuesday's primary. Improving Aurora's economy is at the heart of both their plans to move the City of Lights forward.

Irvin said business development won't happen if city officials sit and wait. So as mayor, the 46-year-old attorney says he would create an economic development plan for each ward and make sure each alderman is actively working on fulfilling it.

The plans will stop what he called a "piecemeal" approach to creating a positive business environment and will help the city take advantage of the "multicultural mix" that makes it well-suited for growth.

"We have to create a synergy where all our businesses work in tandem with each other to feed off each other," Irvin said. "If we create an economic development plan in each ward ... and we feed it into the whole of the city with synergy, then that's how we bring the city business."

Guzman said Aurora needs to promote its strengths in diversity, culture, art, architecture and the scenic Fox River as it looks to entice businesses.

"These are the very kinds of things that no amount of money alone can buy and Aurora has those things, so it creates opportunity," Guzman said. "It creates potential."

Plans designed for commercial corridors in need of increased vibrancy, such as West Galena Boulevard, are the way to go, says Guzman, 39.

"You can actually get more people involved and invested in a plan," Guzman said. "And it makes more sense, I think, to target (development) based on the strategic corridors as opposed to the lines that were drawn by the redistricting committee."

Aurora's next mayor will be the first elected leader to follow Mayor Tom Weisner, who resigned last fall after 11 years in the job because of health concerns. Acting Mayor Robert O'Connor is running for re-election to his typical post as an alderman-at-large.

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  Aurora Alderman-at-Large Richard Irvin is calling for economic development plans to be created for each of the city's 10 wards as he seeks to become mayor in the April 4 election. Bev Horne/
  Aurora Assistant Chief of Staff Richard "Rick" Guzman, a candidate for mayor in the April 4 election, says the city should create economic development plans for specific corridors and promote its natural and cultural strengths. Bev Horne/
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