As election nears, DeKalb City Council candidates make final pitch to voters

How local candidates are campaigning to differentiate themselves from the competition ahead of the April 4 election.

Election 2024
Stickers await people who cast their ballots on the first day of early voting Thursday, May 19, 2022, at the polling place in the DeKalb County Legislative Center in Sycamore. Any registered voter in DeKalb County may choose to vote early, in person or through the mail, ahead of the June 28 primary election.

Editor’s Note: To read more about candidates running for DeKalb City Council, visit www.shawlocal.com/daily-chronicle/election to find Shaw Local News Network questionnaires submitted by the candidates. All candidates for DeKalb City Council have been invited to submit answers to Shaw Local questionnaires.

DeKALB – With two weeks to go before Election Day and as early voters cast their ballots, those vying for a spot on the DeKalb City Council are busy making their final pitches to voters.

The consolidated election will be held April 4. Early voting is underway. DeKalb City Council terms are four years.

Incumbent Carolyn Morris is running unopposed in her reelection bid seeking a second term as DeKalb’s First Ward Alderwoman. DeKalb wards 3, 5 and 7 have contested races.

“I’ve been in DeKalb almost all my life and in the 3rd Ward within the block of where I grew up for probably the last 50 years, so people know me.”

—  Tracy Smith, DeKalb City Council Ward 3 candidate

Fifth Ward

Bids for DeKalb’s 5th Ward aldermanic seat is a contest that has drawn considerable interest this election season as incumbent Scott McAdams wages a reelection campaign facing off against write-in challengers Derek Van Buer and Thomas Riley.

Earlier this year, some of McAdams’ political opponents, including Van Buer and another DeKalb resident, Mark Charvat, called into question McAdams’ candidate paperwork, alleging his candidacy was invalid due to improperly bound papers. The objection petition was thrown out by the city’s Electoral Board in January, although an appeal has been filed in DeKalb County court seeking a judge’s ruling on whether to uphold the decision and keep McAdams on the ballot. That appeal won’t be heard until days before the election, at 10 a.m. March 29 in front of Circuit Court Chief Judge Bradley Waller.

McAdams said he feels good about his chances of getting reelected. He said he’s been hard at work fielding phone calls from potential voters as the election nears.

“I always thought that if I waited until the election to ask for their vote, it was too late. I wanted to earn their vote in office,” McAdams said. “I’m hoping that’s the case. I’m getting good reviews and I’m getting good vibes from the people that I do talk to. So, I’m pretty confident that it’s going well.”

DeKalb City Council Ward 5 alderman Scott McAdams (right) waits for candidate filing to open as mayor Cohen Barnes (left) and city manager Bill Nicklas watch the door Monday, Dec. 12, 2022, at City Hall. McAdams, who is running for re-election, was among the first candidates in line Monday at 8:30 a.m. when filing opened at City Hall.

McAdams, who studied public relations in college, said he believes he’s the best-equipped candidate for the job. He said he’s not deterred by opposition.

“A lot of the same issues that come up in campaigns come up in public relations,” McAdams said. “This is literally what I studied to do in college. It feels natural. It feels comfortable.”

Riley said he’s focusing on ramping up door-knocking as the election nears, getting campaign literature to hand out to 5th Ward voters.

“It’s important that I give them some type of information,” Riley said. “I do know a lot of people in my ward, but I still want to get out there and reintroduce myself.”

Riley addressed a concern that’s cropped up online throughout the course of his campaign, alleging if elected, he would vacate his aldermanic seat to allow for McAdams to be appointed to the vacancy.

“At the very beginning, I was going to let the mayor appoint somebody that was going to do it,” Riley said.

Riley, who said he’s campaigning as an independent instead of as a Republican – although municipal races are nonpartisan – said he wants to reassure voters that he has their best interests in mind.

“I do plan to [sit] for the entire four years if I get in,” Riley said. “Since my wife has some medical issues, I’ll have somebody come in and take care of her while I’m gone.”

DeKalb resident Thomas Riley poses for a photograph March 17, 2023

McAdams has faced his own share of health problems over the past year. In summer 2021, the sitting alderman suffered a heart attack. In December, he underwent another procedure, according to a public GoFundMe account he’s set up for cardiac rehabilitation. He said he’s not concerned for his long-term health, however.

“If I was concerned about my health long-term, I wouldn’t have run,” McAdams said. “My primary care doctor and my cardiologist both say my heart is healing from angioplasty.”

When asked if donations to his personal medical fundraiser – which is not affiliated with his election campaign – influence his vote, McAdams refuted the idea.

“Donations to my medical fundraiser don’t influence my vote, just as donations to my political campaign don’t influence my vote,” McAdams said. “There are $144 trillion total dollars in the economy. Money is abundant in America and my vote isn’t for sale. I support development of DeKalb because it’s right for DeKalb.”

Van Buer said he believes city’s 5th Ward is in need of change in leadership, and he believes he is the best-equipped candidate for the job. Van Buer’s father, Frank Van Buer, served as DeKalb mayor from 2005 to 2008.

DeKalb City Council candidate Derek Van Buer

“I want to bring an analytical, honest approach to looking at city problems,” Van Buer said.

Van Buer said he promises to commit to open transparent government if elected.

“I read the strategic plan, I read the comprehensive plan,” Van Buer said. “When you read long term, medium term and short term plans, you’re supposed to go from one to the other and follow it. … Unfortunately, we don’t do that at the city of DeKalb. Every decision is based on some pet project.”

7th Ward

Thomas Boken did not return a request for comment. Boken also did not participate in a recent 7th Ward forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of DeKalb County and Northern Public Radio’s WNIJ.

John Walker – who hopes to fill the seat soon left by longtime 7th Ward alderman Tony Faivre who is not seeking reelection – said he’s been preparing for his spot on the DeKalb City Council for years.

Over the past four years, Walker said he’s been doing his due diligence working to understand everything he needs to know about the city’s 7th Ward and what it means to be an alderman. Walker works for UPS, serves on the city’s Citizens’ Police Review Board, works as a youth mentor and also heads up a local business advocating for DeKalb area tenants’ rights.

Walker announced his campaign in August.

“I was excited about debating and being able to show off what I knew,” Walker said, addressing his inability to debate his lone opponent during the campaign season due to Boken’s seeming absence.

DeKalb Ward 7 aldermanic candidate John Walker speaks Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022 to those on hand for his meet-and-greet held at the Red Roof Inn & Suites in DeKalb.

Walker said he takes issue with not having any debates lined up between him and his opponent ahead of the election.

“When you don’t debate, then everybody’s ideas is not presented and not just as a candidate but as a man of our town or just as a person of our community and our town,” Walker said. “I like to hear ideas because it helps us grow. When you don’t get to debate against somebody, you don’t get to hear their ideas.”

Walker said he has a campaign team that’s been meeting the past four years, and they intend to ramp up how often they meet as the election nears in the final weeks ahead of April 4.

Walker said he remains optimistic about his chances of prevailing in the election.

“I don’t know how my chances are but I can tell you this, I did everything I can possibly do to win this election,” Walker said.

3rd Ward

Incumbent Tracy Smith who’s seeking a second term representing DeKalb’s 3rd Ward, said he’s a one-man campaign team, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I’ve been in DeKalb almost all my life and in the 3rd Ward within the block of where I grew up for probably the last 50 years, so people know me,” Smith said. “I’ve got a large family presence in town. I’ve got six brothers and sisters. My wife is from DeKalb. Her dad ran a local hardware store. … My name recognition is pretty good.”

Third Ward Alderman Tracy Smith speaks Monday, Oct. 24 2022 at the DeKalb City Council meeting.

Smith’s opponent, John Hadley, also was not present at the recent League forum. Smith downplayed any potential impact it may have on how the election shakes out, saying he understands life isn’t always easy.

Hadley did not immediately return a request for comment.

“I’m full time at Voluntary Action Center,” Smith said. “I run all of our operations. I am very busy. Then, I am also doing council work at the same time. In this world, everybody’s busy. I really don’t think I want to speak ill of anybody. Everybody’s always got some reason.”

Smith, a retired longtime DeKalb city police officer, said he believes he has a good shot at getting reelected.

“I’m hopeful but that’s up for the citizens of third ward to decide,” Smith added.