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Sparks fly over candidate’s campaign mailer

Terry Link

Terry Link

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Updated: March 5, 2013 6:31AM

A mostly cordial first encounter between the three Democratic candidates for mayor of Waukegan was not without its spirited exchanges on Sunday, with the most combative moment arriving when current City Clerk Wayne Motley held up a campaign mailer issued by one of his opponents, state Sen. Terry Link.

“We need to stop this,” Motley said, holding a black flyer with the words “gangs” and “crime” in bold lettering, a piece that criticized the reduction of police department rosters in recent years. “This piece has done more to harm our community than you can ever imagine. This piece tells me, ‘I don’t want to live in Waukegan.’ I look at this, and I’m scared to death, and I’m a (retired) policeman.”

Turning to Link, seated beside him, Motley added, “Terry, you’re my friend, but you should be ashamed of yourself. This is not what you do If you want people to come to Waukegan, you do not tell them how dangerous it is.”

The standing-room crowd at Fiamico Ristorante on Sheridan Road on Waukegan’s east side erupted with a mix of catcalls from Link supporters and applause from Motley’s backers, and Link stood behind the message when his turn to comment arrived.

“If I have to apologize for a piece that I sent out because it’s the truth, then I don’t want to ever send out a piece,” Link said. “If you think the crime rate isn’t high in Waukegan, (investigate) the results of what’s actually going on in Waukegan. ... If you open up that piece, you’ll see that I’ve got some things to resolve it, some things to change it. I haven’t heard that from anybody today.”

Link later added that “I don’t care if it upsets the apple cart. I’ll push the apple cart across the road and down the hill to get things done in this community.”

The pugnacious exchange came as the three candidates closed out a 90-minute question-and-answer session that, along with discussions of the crime rate and numbers of patrol officers, focused on issues that included economic development, property taxes and education. The field of candidates, which includes 1st Ward Ald. Sam Cunningham, sought from the outset to separate themselves from their rivals when asked why they’re running for mayor.

“I’d like to give you the political answer, but I’m going to give you the Waukegan answer,” said Cunningham, describing himself as a product of the city’s south side and public-school system who takes “pride and pleasure (in) being a leader in the community. ... What we need now is strong, decisive leaders. Not just a mayor, but a leader, to move our city in the direction that we think is better.”

“We are facing one of the most critical elections that Waukegan has ever faced in the history of its time,” Link said in his opening remarks, “because the direction of this city needs to have the oars changed. And this is no reflection on any one individual or group of individuals, but you need a different perspective of what we’re going to be doing in this city, and that’s what I can offer.”

“I think I prepared myself to be mayor 38 years ago when I joined the Waukegan Police Department,” Motley said. “I worked the mean streets of Waukegan for 26 years, three months. I know what’s out there, I know what’s happened in the city, I know how it got to this situation. I sat (in the City Council) for the last 12 years when we discussed issues and didn’t get to the right solutions.”

While Motley added that he didn’t have a vote on those issues, Link sought to turn that observation against him, saying later that “no offense to my opponent here, but I have never sat down for 12 years or 12 minutes and not said a word, If I see wrong, I’m going to speak out on it. ... I’m not going to wait until it’s my turn, I’m going to make it my turn.”

Cunningham took more than one jab at Link’s plan to serve simultaneously as mayor and state senator. After Link drew applause for saying that he would hire a city manager, Cunningham said later that “I don’t need no manager coming here to run our operations. You elect me as mayor, (not) to bring in somebody else so I can be someplace else.”

Motley and Cunningham also traded barbs over who had more influence on a reduction in crime on Julian Street in the 1990s, but each candidate also took time to strike notes of harmony. Link joked with Cunningham at one point, saying he agreed with him on taking pride in the city and “usually he and I don’t agree on anything.” Describing his rivals and friends of his, Motley pledged to work with both men no matter who wins on Feb. 26,

In his closing remarks, Cunningham reflected on some of the sharp words deployed during the forum, the first of a half-dozen scheduled over the next three weeks featuring the Democratic candidates.

“We get upset sometimes, people might say this, we might say that,” Cunningham said, “but at the end of the day, it’s about Waukegan.”

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