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District 5 City Council candidates came face to face with community members at the Oak Park Neighborhood Association's monthly meeting Thursday.
Four of the five candidates met with residents at the Sacramento Food Bank to discuss their political plans in an open forum. Approximately 40 people attended to ask questions and gain more insight on their potential representatives.
Candidates running are Terrence Johnson, Leticia Hilbert, Patrick Kennedy, Jay Schenirer and Henry Harry. Hilbert was absent from the meeting.
Chairs formed a half-circle and faced the seated candidates. Questions were collected from the audience and presented by members of the neighborhood association's board of directors.
Attendees asked questions regarding candidates' approaches to projected housing and development plans, reconciling the negative stigma toward Oak Park, whether the candidates intend on being receptive to the community and other topics.
The candidates were asked to address key areas they would like to improve in Oak Park.
"I would like to see the Broadway corridor and the partners of the Housing and Redevelopment Agency move forward in the queue for development," Johnson said. "I think that even though it's a tough time, by the time those things come to completion we will have a better economy. We will have a viable, competitive, economic corridor that will bring people in. It will be a destination. Get it going, get it done, make it happen. I know there are things that slow it down, I'm the chair of the Redevelopment Advisory Committee, so I know some of the things that go on. I think we need to put pressure on them to perform to the expectation level of the community."
Schenirer spoke on the topic of housing as well.
"A lot of wonderful things are happening in the neighborhood," Schenirer said, "but we have far too many vacant lots, far too many properties in disrepair. We have an opportunity now where there are banks who will need to give out loans. Credit will loosen up over the next year or 18 months, and I think we need to get a cohort of residents here in Oak Park who are ready to purchase homes when that happens. This is the opportunity and the time to do it. It's about thinking ahead of the curve and not being reactive later on when money starts to become available."
Concerns for District 5 youth arose frequently during the forum.
"I think the issue around youth is paramount, and I've been working on it for 17 years now," Schenirer said. "I helped write a framework for the city for our former mayor. First is safe places for young people to be when they're out of school. Second is getting kids involved in the community. Third is getting kids jobs, internships, skills and funding that their families need. I think we really need to focus very deeply on what young people are doing in the neighborhood so we can prevent them from getting into trouble early on, save ourselves money from the back end of this and create a better community."
Oak Park Neighborhood Association President Michael Boyd asked, "I've been in this community for more than 40 years, and the issues haven't changed much. We're not talking about overnight success, we're just talking about more success. What are you going to do specifically for Oak Park to alleviate some of the problems you've noticed?"
Harry responded: "I've worked with the Oak Park Foundation, we've mentored kids, we've been on the ground with them, we've hosted forums trying to get them in the right direction and we're out on the streets running with them. I think as a City Council member you have to come back, you run with these kids, you inspire them. You want to know what I'm going to do in the future? I'm going to use the power of City Council to mentor them. I'm going to use the voice of City Council to help the school board work better with education. Look at what I've done in the past, and you'll see what I'm going to do in the future."
Kennedy spoke on his concern for a better image of the community.
"I want to go back to the stigma of a negative Oak Park," Kennedy said. "When I was president of the neighborhood association out here, it was one of the things that drove me crazy. We know that what bleeds leads when it comes to the media. They love to report negativity. What we need to do is turn that around by being cheerleaders among other things. We need to straighten the media out. That's what I would do when I was neighborhood association president. When that would happen, I wouldn't let it go, I would call not only the reporter, but the editorial staff. And soon we started to see it happening less and less. We need to focus on those things that are positive. We don't have that leadership right now that's doing that. And being the cheerleader is something we need, and I look forward to doing that."
The association board members recognized and related to most of the crowd, adding jokes and familiarity when possible. The candidates mingled after the debate finished with a crowd that seemed to appreciate the open forum.
"It was very informative," Ciana Yniguez said. "The only candidate I'm familiar with is Terrence Johnson because we both live in the community. It was really good to hear the other candidates. I don't have very much information on them, so I made sure I was going to be here tonight to hear them speak."
"The debate went really well," Oak Park resident Gene Bennett said. "The candidates spoke to the people without speaking down to, or over, anyone. I felt they were all very sincere and respectful. I enjoyed the format. Rather than having them give a platform speech or point-by-point explanation of what they would do, I liked the question-and-answer format. It didn't help me choose a candidate because I felt that any one of them would represent Oak Park very well."
Primary elections will take place on June 8.
More information on the candidates can be found here.
1) Sacramento Food Bank exterior
2) Community members gather in the District 5 open forum
3) Free information related to Terrence Johnson available by the front door
4) Free information related to Henry Harry and Jay Schenirer available by the front door
5) Meeting attendees listen to the candidates
6) Candidates (L to R) Patrick Kennedy, Henry Harry, Jay Schenirer, Terrence Johnson
7) Candidates (L to R) Henry Harry, Jay Schenirer, Terrence Johnson
8) Candidate Patrick Kennedy
9) Candidate Jay Schenirer
10) Community members listen to the candidates
11) Community members listen to the candidates