Des Plaines council candidates divided on support for COVID-related restaurant rules

Des Plaines City Council candidates are split on whether city hall should have enforced temporary bans on indoor restaurant dining and bar service ordered by Gov. J.B. Pritzker because of rising COVID-19 infection rates.

Nine candidates recently discussed those limitations and other issues with the Daily Herald during remotely held endorsement interviews.

Seats representing the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 7th wards will be on ballots for the April 6 consolidated local election. All carry 4-year terms.

Despite pleas from local restaurateurs, the city council voted 5-4 in November to enforce operational restrictions for restaurants and bars because of escalating coronavirus cases in the region. Mayor Matthew Bogusz broke a tie.

Conversely, officials in Arlington Heights, Mundelein, Naperville and Elmhurst protested the restrictions, and mayors in Libertyville and Itasca said they wouldn't enforce them.

In the 1st Ward, Gloria Ludwig is running a write-in campaign against incumbent Mark Lysakowski.

Ludwig, a former Des Plaines city clerk, said enforcing the unpopular restrictions "is a difficult call." She questioned how businesses will be able to survive if they aren't allowed customers.

The council should collaborate more with the Des Plaines Chamber of Commerce and local businesses to help them recover from the economic crisis, Ludwig said.

Lysakowski didn't participate in an endorsement session and hasn't responded to interview requests.

In the 3rd Ward, four candidates - Eugene Fregetto, Shawn T. Killian, Sean Oskerka and Norbert J. Paprocki - are competing to replace incumbent Denise Rodd, who isn't seeking reelection.

Fregetto said he supported shutting down nonessential businesses and indoor dining last spring. Once businesses reopened in the summer, however, they adapted to new health regulations and learned how to operate safely, he said.

As such, he opposed banning all indoor restaurant dining in the fall. "(It) was very cruel," he said.

Fregetto would've preferred allowing restaurants that met COVID-19 safety standards to continue indoor service.

Oskerka wholeheartedly agreed with the decision to enforce the restrictions.

"We need to follow the experts," he said. "Unfortunately, tough decisions do need to be made."

Paprocki supported enforcing the restrictions, too.

"I think we have to go with the science and what the doctors say, and open slowly," he said. Paprocki suggested the city allow restaurateurs to serve patrons outdoors on sidewalks and roadways to boost business.

Killian supported the restrictions but said the city must create a plan to help businesses "so that they can still be there at the end of the pandemic."

The 5th Ward contest features incumbent Carla Brookman and challenger Jennifer Nutley.

Brookman opposed enforcing the fall indoor dining ban and defended that stance to the Daily Herald.

"The last shutdown was devastating (to) our local restaurants," she said. "Many of them aren't going to recover."

If Pritzker wants restaurants closed, state police should enforce the ban, Brookman said, not local police.

Nutley supported following the state mandates. However, more brainstorming is needed to help struggling restaurant owners, she said.

"These are our neighbors, and we need to support them," Nutley said.

In the 7th Ward, Christopher Wozniczka faces Patricia L. Smith. Incumbent Don Smith isn't seeking reelection.

Patricia Smith expressed sympathy for restaurateurs but didn't give an opinion about whether the dining mandates should've been enforced. She said she suspects tents used for outdoor dining contributed to the infection rate last fall.

Wozniczka said he'd listen to health experts if elected alderman. However, a balance is needed between safety and the economy, he said.

Before closing businesses, Wozniczka said he'd want to work with owners to find a solution that takes everyone's needs into account.

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3rd Ward aldermanic candidates, upper from left, Eugene Fregetto and Shawn T. Killian and, lower from left, Sean Oskerka and Norbert J. Paprocki
5th Ward aldermanic candidates Carla Brookman, left, and Jennifer Nutley
7th Ward aldermanic candidates Patricia L. Smith and Christopher Wozniczka
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