The five candidates looking to replace former Davenport 6th Ward Alderman Jeff Justin don't unanimously agree on much, but what they all possess is a willingness to listen and help their neighbors.
Rich Clewell, Dale Gilmour, Ben Jobgen, Sean Liddell and Chris Webster will square off during the Oct. 10 primary election to determine which two candidates will advance to the Nov. 7 regular election.
While they share which ward they reside in, there are vast differences in the candidates' viewpoints, including how the ward was represented in the past and why they are running for public office.
Gilmour and Jobgen wre not satisfied with the level of representation, which factored into their political aspirations.
“I don’t think the 6th Ward has been represented well,” Gilmour said. “It was more like a good at-large alderman versus a 6th Ward alderman.”
Case in point was how the City Council handled the Costco Wholesale rezoning on 53rd Street and what representation they received from Justin and Gene Meeker, who was appointed to fill the seat once Justin resigned from office to move to Florida in July.
Jobgen said while Costco's arrival in Davenport was a good thing, its choice of a poor location was compounded by what was perceived as the City Council dismissing residents' concerns about traffic, neighborhood access, public safety and stormwater runoff.
“What (Justin and Meeker) should have said was 'I hear what you’re saying and the data provided Costco may have been done at an inopportune time to collect data,'” Jobgen said. “What (Justin and Meeker) should have said was 'I’m going to dig further.'
“I would desire to be that voice. I have no personal agenda and just want what’s best for the ward and the city.”
For the other candidates, their desire to seek public office stems from their past experience.
Webster, the Emergency Medical Services coordinator for Genesis Health System, has 22 years of experience in public safety and emergency preparedness to go along with participation on a number of different boards.
Among the candidates, he is the most knowledgeable candidate when it comes to public safety and infrastructure, which he targeted as areas of improvement.
“It really comes down to the concerns of voters and those appear to be public safety and infrastructure,” Webster said. “Compared to my experience, other candidates don’t know how the city operates with police and fire.”
For Clewell and Liddell, they possess the most board or political experience out of all the candidates.
Liddell was an alderman for the city of Moline for five years before his tenure was cut short with his move to Davenport.
“I'm not going in because I'm angry,” Liddell said. “I'm going in because I enjoy public service, and it feels good to help people and help them solve whatever their issues are.”
For Liddell, public service experience matters and allows him to hit the ground running while the other candidates are just getting their feet wet.
Clewell spent 16 years on the Davenport Community School District board and while he said there were both areas to take pride in and some issues, primarily the status of Superintendent Art Tate, that were left unresolved, his focus lies on helping pushing forward Davenport's vision for the future.
Clewell said he believed Davenport has the right goals in mind, but because its age structure is flat, it's success has ties to the health of the school district, growing the arts community while also needing to focus on attracting younger talent to the area.
“I want to be at table, not on the menu,” Clewell said. “I want to make Davenport the city we want to live in."
How to represent the people
One aspect that has been missing in the 6th Ward during Justin's tenure was regular ward meetings. While the candidates have a difference in opinion on how best to implement them, a return in some form of communication seems likely.
Liddell, an IT professional by trade, said regular meetings were important, but there were also other tools available, such as Facebook, that could be implemented to engage residents.
“I would be for re-establishing in-person ward meetings because they are great avenue for connecting with the people they represent,” Liddell said.
Liddell's sentiments were echoed by Jobgen, who suggested the city "embrace technology" and explore closed applications or a bulletin board where residents could post and see answers from their alderman.
Jobgen also suggested the use of polls to see “Is this a vocal minority or the majority that have this position on the issue?”
Gilmour, who attends more city and ward meetings than any other person in Davenport, said that re-instituting meetings would be one of the first things he would do, given that it is difficult to understand what's going on in the 6th Ward due to its distinct geographic boundaries.
“No one can know what’s going on everywhere, and you need input from the residents,” Gilmour said.
For Clewell and Webster, input they have received thus far indicated less interest in regular in-person ward meetings, but that does not take away their importance.
“I haven't heard that people are all that interested in getting together to discuss their problems,” Clewell said. “I’m very interested to see what their response is to having that meeting because most people don't have a lot of concerns.”
Webster used Costco as an example of the perfect application of a ward meeting to see what was on the minds of residents.
“Since the 6th Ward doesn’t tackle a lot of things, look at meeting when large issues come up,” Webster said.
Webster said representation for the ward provided an opportunity for Davenport to improve on one area it struggles in: effective, efficient communication.
“We should be looking at having a better online presence, having an outlet for communication, whether that’s Facebook or a blog that we can communicate better,” Webster said.