Langfelder, Buscher draw crowd for mayoral forum; tackle Wyndham, partisanship questions
Hardly an empty seat was found Wednesday evening at the Hoogland Center For The Arts LHS Theatre for an issues-focused, mayoral forum featuring incumbent Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder and challenger and current city treasurer Misty Buscher.
It was the first-time candidates shared a stage in the run-up to the municipal election on April 4, less than 70 days away. Langfelder is hoping to avoid familial history — his father, Ossie, losing in his final election in 1995 — and win a third term in office, while Buscher is looking to become the city's second female mayor in its history.
Bernie Schoenburg, retired State Journal-Register politics writer and columnist, moderated the approximate 90-minute discussion put on by the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce. Questions came primarily from Schoenburg but audience members also submitted questions.
Topics ranged from city affairs such as red light cameras, parking meters, what to do with the Y-block off Capitol Avenue, and more. The conversation also extended beyond the scope of Springfield into county and state issues including challenges to the assault-style weapons ban in the courts and by dozens of county sheriffs.
Heading into the forum, Buscher enjoyed a significant fundraising advantage over the incumbent due in part to labor group support and individual contributions from the Valla family. The incumbent, however, remains confident.
Mayoral Money:In this Springfield race, the challenger has the fundraising advantage over the incumbent
What to do with the Wyndham, downtown development?
It has been more than six months since the possible sale of the Wyndham City Centre first emerged. A sale would have converted the 30-story building into a mix of apartments and hotel rooms.
While the sale did not go through on two attempts last summer, the possibility of redevelopment remains for the city's largest building. Langfelder and Buscher presented varying ideas Wednesday about what should happen.
Related:For Wyndham City Centre and its prospective buyer, another city council vote looms
The mayor had not supported prior proposals presented to city council, but when asked by Schoenburg, he indicated backing a hybrid use of the building including space for apartments, hotel rooms, and a convention area.
"Springfield has always had that challenge of 'what do we do 6 o'clock to 10 o'clock'...and really to have a thriving downtown you need 24/7 living," he said. Langfelder added that he wanted anywhere from 225 to 250 hotel rooms with the rest dedicated to apartment space.
Buscher said conversion of building space is a good idea but not with the Wyndham. Hotels should not be altered to fit apartments, but rather vacant office space should be used to fill downtown housing needs, she said.
The treasurer said she had conversations with business owners near the Adams Street location, who expressed concern over what would happen if the convention space was lost.
"Here's what they told me: 'Misty, if that becomes apartments, we lose conventions we close our shop," she said. "The citizens of Springfield are not the people coming into our shops, buying merchandise on a daily basis. That is the people coming into our town for a convention and the visitors coming to see the Lincoln sites."
The Wyndham was just part of a wide-ranging discussion on downtown development, which also included whether a casino should be pursued in the city and attracting and retaining business.
A second lake in Springfield
According to the City Water, Light, and Power, Lake Springfield provides drinking water to 165,000 people in the city and surrounding communities. With dependency extending beyond the city, both candidates were asked if they would back the decades-long push among some city officials to seek a permit to build a second drinking water source.
Langfelder discussed prior conversations with the Army Civil Corps of Engineers which were disrupted after a change in administration. He expected a decision on the matter within a year.
Past Coverage:U.S. Army Corps seeks Sangamon County residents' input regarding proposed second lake
With approval, Hunter Lake would be created by damming Horse Creek — a 3,000-acre plot south of Lake Springfield and north of Pawnee.
"We have to have a backup water source," the mayor said, adding the Village of Chatham asked the city at least 10 times to supply water despite having its own water source.
The alternative would be damming Sangamon River, which Langfelder said would be "catastrophic to the region."
In her conversations with voters, Buscher said the discussion goes back to the 1960s — years before the 52-year-old treasurer was born.
What is needed in addition to a drinking water source, she said is an area for fishing, horseback and walking trails, and space for camping.
"We have to have a discussion with you, our citizens, because this comes with a price. A very large price tag," Buscher said, also advocating for better care of Lake Springfield. "You need to be told what it's going to cost to build it because the city just doesn't have the money sitting around."
Partisanship beyond the non-partisan race
The mayor's race is a non-partisan one, but both candidates have political ties. Buscher is registered as a Republican, while Langfelder is a Democrat.
The mayor described himself as a "Kennedy Democrat," meaning he was more on the moderate wing of the party, and one willing to work across the political aisle. In 2018, he did not endorse then-Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner or his Democratic challenger and eventual Gov. JB Pritzker in the race since he wanted to avoid any partisanship ties.
When asked who he voted for that year and in Pritzker's most recent race against GOP challenger Darren Bailey, Langfelder said he voted for Pritzker. He also offered he supported President Joe Biden in 2020, but had not determined who he would back in 2024.
Buscher's lips were relatively sealed compared to the mayor's when it came to her voting record and endorsements. As The State Journal-Register reported in 2016, she changed her party affiliation from Independent to Republican and called then-candidate Donald Trump a "refreshing change" for the country.
Who Trump was as a candidate compared to his four years as president were not equivalent, she said.
"I voted for the candidate who I thought was going to bring new jobs, job creation, corporations back to our states," Buscher said. "That person did not govern the way I thought they did with that vote."
Schoenburg asked whether the treasurer was referring to Trump since she had not mentioned his name, to which she confirmed.
On Wednesday, she gave a sole endorsement to deputy treasurer Colleen Redpath Feger in the treasurer race. Redpath Feger announced her candidacy following Buscher declaring her bid for the mayor's office last summer.
Buscher described her own governing style akin the American Bald Eagle emblem — with arrows held in its left talon and an olive branch in its right to represent peace and war indicating she would work with Democrats and Republicans.
"I will govern with a right wing and a left wing so Springfield can soar," she said.
The mayor added to that symbolism by saying governing cannot be done with "strings attached" and that elected officials must work together for what's best for their constituents.
"You don't lose sight of serving the public," he said. "That's what this is all about and that's what is my moral compass with regards to the mayor's office."
Another mayoral forum, sponsored by the Citizens Club of Springfield, NPR Illinois and AARP Springfield will take place on Friday, Feb. 24, 8-9 a.m. also at HCFA.
Other races in Springfield include treasurer, clerk and councilperson in all 10 city wards. Voters wishing to cast a ballot by mail can file an application with the local election authority.
Contact Patrick Keck: firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/@pkeckreporter.
This article originally appeared on State Journal-Register: Springfield candidates for mayor share stage for first time