Wood Dale mayoral candidates pulling no punches
Incumbent Annunziato "Nunzio" Pulice and his opponent in April's election, Kenneth Johnson, are pulling no punches in Wood Dale's mayoral race.
Johnson, the former mayor who was defeated eight years ago by Pulice, is accusing the current administration of running up debt. Pulice, meanwhile, says the city still is fixing problems created during Johnson's tenure.
"The reason I'm running is to continue what we started these past eight years," Pulice said during a Wednesday endorsement interview with the Daily Herald. "Basically, Wood Dale was kind of floundering and not moving in any direction. We are revitalizing Irving Park (Road and) the industrial park. And we are improving infrastructure."
Johnson, who served three terms as Wood Dale's mayor, says he wants to restore fiscal discipline to city government.
"When I left office, the city had $22 million cash in the bank and zero debt," Johnson said. He claims the current administration has incurred $42 million in debt and reduced cash reserves to $9 million.
Johnson says one example of "wasteful" spending is the $1.35 million the city spent on a new clock tower at Irving Park and Wood Dale roads. He said the city should explore ways to save money, including sharing engineering costs with surrounding communities.
If elected, Johnson said he would reduce water rates by 10 percent within his first 60 days in office.
"We can do that through cost savings," said Johnson, adding that he's prepared to cut staff to reduce costs.
But Pulice, who is seeking a third term, says $32 million of the overall debt comes from a project that upgraded and rehabilitated the city's wastewater treatment plant. Those improvements, completed several years ago, were needed to meet existing and future environmental requirements.
"We decided to do it right," Pulice said.
Johnson said the wastewater treatment plant is "grossly oversized" for the city. He also says the city could have repaired the facility for $11 million when it still had $22 million in the bank.
"We could have paid for the entire process without going one cent into debt," Johnson said.
But Pulice says the $11 million project would have been a temporary solution.
"That's no vision for the city," he said. "We've engineered the plant for the future."
In addition to the wastewater plant, Pulice said the city had to pursue several road projects because Johnson's administration wasn't spending enough money on infrastructure.
"We've spent some money," he said, "but we've invested in the community."
During one feisty exchange on Wednesday, Johnson criticized the administration for having more men than women in decision-making positions. He suggested that it's the mayor's job to solicit qualified female candidates to serve on the city council and on committees.
"That's the difference between you and me," Johnson said to Pulice. "I'm out there promoting and encouraging people ..."
"Promoting your friends to get on the board so they can do your agenda," Pulice interrupted. "We did that. And we got nowhere with it."