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Five mayoral candidates define positions on casino

In post mortem spring legislative sessipresented Waukegan  City Council Elias Mossos McGuireWoods Consulting said late-May demise casino bill was

In a post mortem on the spring legislative session presented to the Waukegan City Council, Elias Mossos of McGuireWoods Consulting said the late-May demise of a casino bill was something of a blessing for Park City, North Chicago and Waukegan. | File

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Updated: March 26, 2013 9:46AM

The three Democratic hopefuls for mayor entered the homestretch Sunday with a forum that, for the first time during the campaign, included the two independent candidates who will face the winner of Tuesday’s primary.

The larger field generated a few extra sparks, with state Sen. Terry Link and Mayor Robert Sabonjian targeting one another at several points during the 90-minute session at Most Blessed Trinity Parish’s Fr. Gary Graf Center on Grand Avenue in Waukegan. One notable exchange came over the issue of whether or not the candidates support a casino in Waukegan, with Sabonjian saying that his personal opposition to state-sponsored gaming would not get in the way if the city wins a license.

“When I ran for mayor of Waukegan (in 2009), I made it very clear that I wasn’t a big supporter of casinos,” Sabonjian said. “But a casino is inevitable. I believe it is. ... The City Council is interested in having the casino in Waukegan. So if it comes, we want to make sure (that) it’s located in a part of Waukegan that needs development — that’s our lakefront. If we put the casino out at Fountain Square, it will not help the Waukegan School District. It will help Gurnee, Woodland and others. If we put it at our lakefront, all the revenue would go toward our school district.”

Sabonjian also reiterated comments he made last week about how the State Senate no longer has a standing Gaming Commission, which Link had chaired, and that “the casino effort has been moved up to the senior leadership of the Senate and the House.” When Link’s turn came to address the question, he said “I have never flip-flopped” on gaming and added that “the mayor is trying to switch around in words” how the issue has played out.

“I’m the sponsor of this bill. I passed it four times out of the State Senate and two times out of the Illinois House,” Link said, adding that he took “great offense” when Sabonjian mentioned that a casino would need to be free of mob influence. “At no time in any of those pieces of legislation did it lessen the authority of the (Illinois) Gaming Board or anyone else and make it mob-friendly.

“And let me tell you a little hint. I’m part of that senior leadership in Springfield — we will be introducing a new bill either this coming week or the following week, and I will be a sponsor of the bill,” Link said, reiterating past statements that Park City became the proposed location for a casino over Waukegan because Sabonjian “was very clear that he would not issue a liquor license when I talked to him.”

As for the other three candidates, independent candidate Susana Figueroa said she does not “want to see a casino become the basis of our economic growth,” 1st Ward Ald. Sam Cunningham he supports the concept because “the first priority of the mayor and the council is revenue,” and City Clerk Wayne Motley said he not only supports a casino but “it needs to be in Waukegan.”

Later, Sabonjian took aim at Link after the state senator repeated a statement made previously during the campaign that he has spoken with “two or three” businesses interested in coming to the city if he’s elected mayor. Sabonjian drew applause from the crowd of more than 200 people when he said “those businesses aren’t here to serve the mayor, they’re here to serve the people of Waukegan. What is the delay?”

“Who cares who’s mayor? If you’ve got something, you’re a senator, you’ve got something to bring to this city — bring it,” Sabonjian added. “Don’t wait. Bring it now. We might have been able to get those businesses breaking ground this summer. Who knows? But if you hold on to something like that just for your own purposes, it doesn’t help the community at all.”

The five candidates also fielded questions about generating more revenue, their plans for foreclosed properties, how they would assist the immigrant community and how they would deal with crime. On the latter issue, Sabonjian and Link again traded blows, with Link saying that the police department has become “overworked and understaffed” under Sabonjian, and the mayor looking to debunk a claim in a Link campaign mailer that 40 police officers have been laid off under the current administration.

Moderator Jackie Herrera-Girón stressed to the crowd that Tuesday’s primary ballot will only feature Cunningham, Link and Motley, and the winner will face Figueroa and Sabonjian in the April 9 consolidated election. Most Blessed Trinity has also positioned itself to have the final debate in that contest, with a candidates forum on April 7.

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