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Aurora’s 4th Ward candidates tackle Hesed in first forum

Candidates running for 4th Ward alderman including KevMatthews (center) speak residents during candidate forum Wesley United Methodist church Monday February

Candidates running for 4th Ward alderman, including Kevin Matthews (center), speak to residents during a candidate forum at Wesley United Methodist church on Monday, February 18, 2013. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 19, 2013 1:52PM

AURORA — They talked downtown, vacant buildings and growing business — but some of the most interesting candidate responses Monday night dealt with Hesed House.

Moderator Rick Slocum was tasked with keeping nine candidates — seven 4th Ward aldermanic candidates and two At-large opponents — limited to 1-1/2 minute responses to audience questions at Wesley United Methodist Church.

On Feb. 26 — next Tuesday — only the two candidates with the two highest number of votes will move on to be 4th Ward contenders on the April 9 ballot, according to Linda Fechner, executive director of the Aurora Election Commission.

When asked if elected, what their relationship would be with Hesed House, Aurora’s homeless shelter in the 4th Ward, candidates responded, in order:

Mike “Leo” Leonardi, 4th Ward candidate, said Hesed House has made great strides to improve business at the shelter.

“I don’t think that stuff should be looked upon as a problem,” he said. “Hesed House should be supported... We should back [Hesed Executive Director] Ryan Dowd and do as much as we can to help those people.”

Kevin Mathews, 4th Ward candidate, said he met with Dowd last week, and said Hesed House does a lot of good work.

“We have our comprehensive plan for the downtown, and Hesed House’s location there is incongruent [with that]. As a community we need to come together and decide where we want [Hesed] to be located,” Mathews said.

Charles “Chuck” Norris, 4th Ward candidate, said when he was a kid, Hesed House at times put a roof over his head. He said the homeless would like a place to be during the day with access to computers.

“We’re forcing these people to walk around in the neighborhood and scare people,” Norris said.

William “Bill” Donnell, 4th Ward candidate, said he worked across the street from the shelter during his decades-long career with the park district. Dowd addressed Donnell’s concerns about the homeless in parks by teaming up with him to create a code of conduct, he said.

“It’s a valuable service for the second-largest city to have,” Donnell said. “I’m in full support of Hesed House.”

James “Jay” Leonardi, 4th Ward candidate, said he mowed the lawn at his family’s business next to Hesed House while growing up. He said that Hesed House should have its own health care support system to take the burden off of taxpayers.

“One of the big things I see with Hesed House is I don’t like to see our young children and our mentally ill integrated together,” Leonardi said.

Mavis Bates, 4th Ward candidate, said the homeless shelter needs to move toward a 24-hour shelter program. Currently, the emergency shelter serves homeless during the evening hours and overnight.

“I don’t think it’s right for these people to have to get up, get out and go into the cold,” Bates said. “We could have [job] training for these residents.”

Duanne Kleckner, 4th Ward candidate, said he wished he could employ every Hesed homeless person at his small business.

“There’s a need for it, but should it be here?” Kleckner asked. “We want better for our town, and they deserve better, too.”

Alderman Bob O’Connor, At-large incumbent, said he’s been supportive of Hesed House from the beginning.

“It is a diverse, large community,” O’Connor said. “I think that they’ve made great strides in the last few years.”

Alderman Rick Lawrence, At-large candidate, said other communities around Aurora are not doing their part to help the homeless. Lawrence is the current 4th Ward alderman.

“Hesed House should refocus. If they’re going to help children and families, do that. Don’t mix men, drug addicts, sex offenders into that same setting,” Lawrence said.

The seven 4th Ward candidates will square off in a second forum at 7 p.m. Thursday night in the gymnasium at Freeman Elementary School, 153 S. Randall Road, Aurora. The forum is hosted by the Boulevard, West Park and Blackhawk neighborhood groups. For information, call Fran Shaw at 630-896-9540.

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