Candidates had a lot to say about the districts they hope to represent during last week’s candidate forums.
Hosted by the Kokomo Perspective, Kokomo Tribune, Greater Kokomo Chamber of Commerce, and League of Women Voters, the forums featured opposing candidates in both Kokomo Common Council District 2 and District 3. In each race, the focus predominately remained on public safety, while issues such as sidewalk and street infrastructure also played central roles in the evening’s discussions.
Up first were the candidates in District 2. Here incumbent Democrat Bob Cameron faces Republican challenger Lynn Rudolph.
The forum featured a tone somewhat unusual for this year’s public discussions, where the candidates on stage shared a jovial attitude that garnered laughs from the crowd. But, that didn’t stop disagreement between the Democrat and Republican.
Both lifelong residents of Kokomo, Cameron and Rudolph kicked off the evening’s round of questions by addressing the idea that, while the city council can’t control hiring practices within the fire and police departments directly, they potentially could through the budget process. So, they were asked how they felt about potentially increasing the city line items for the departments in order to up staffing levels.
Rudolph called the police department “severely understaffed” and agreed budgetary appropriations could be used as a tool to change that issue. But, added Rudolph, increasing police staffing levels likely would be a slow process and that garnering even five new officers a year would be a sizable hurdle.
He also referenced local crime levels and said increased police staffing could stem a crime issue he saw as on the rise.
“The police department is severely understaffed right now, and I’m concerned because we have a culture of violence that is starting to grow in Kokomo. And we cannot tolerate it,” said Rudolph.
But the issue of police staffing played a central role in disagreement between Rudolph and Cameron. Rudolph indicated the council hadn’t held the mayor accountable for utilizing the funding allocated to the department to hire the full amount of officers that were budgeted for. While Cameron contended the council couldn’t force the mayor to hire more officers, Rudolph argued more could be done by the council.
“I do not buy that the council cannot do anything with the mayor. I do not buy that,” said Rudolph.
Cameron disagreed and said the council had been allocating enough funding for more officers and firefighters, but the final decision wasn’t up to them.
“You put the money in the buckets, and they move it where they want to … You can’t bully people,” said Cameron.
Rudolph also said he believed “violence has started” that isn’t just relegated to District 2 and referenced the shooting death of a 19-year-old that occurred late last month on the city’s northeast side.
Cameron said he also saw an issue with violence, and that he’d visited with citizens recently in a park within his district. The residents, he claimed, were “scared,” and he pledged that those residents would get the “same amount of safety as in Highland Park.”
The debate about rising crime levels has reached a fever pitch as of late. Multiple candidates across the political spectrum have said they believe crime is on the rise and attribute the issue to a decline in KPD officers, with the department employing about 80 officers. Comparatively, in 2006, the department operated with 106 officers.
At this point in the year, data has not been released concerning violent crime rates in Kokomo for 2019. Statistics released by the city detailing crime rates for last year indicated violent crimes dipped in 2018, with 364, versus 417 in 2017. The solid number available in 2019 comes by way of the local murder rate, with four homicides recorded so far this year. Last year four were recorded, and the previous year there were six. Aggravated battery dropped 24 percent in 2018 from the previous year, according to statistics previously released by the city.
The District 2 candidates also differed on what they believed to be the second-most predominant issue in the district, aside from already-voiced concerns about public safety. Here Rudolph focused on road infrastructure while Cameron referenced blight elimination.
Rudolph claimed he’d heard widespread discontent from the district’s citizens concerning bumpouts. While he said he’s not in favor of “tearing them all out and starting again” due to the likely cost associated with such a move, he said certain areas likely need to be addressed.
Cameron said continuing blight elimination should remain central within District 2. He championed the implementation of the city’s urban infill program and said such work even could help stem the drug issue by via the removal of “crack houses.”
The race in District 3 this year features two newcomers to local politics after long-time Councilwoman Janie Young announced she would not seek another term in office during this year’s election.
The Republican hoping to replace her is Ray Collins, and he’s opposed by Democrat Cathy Cox-Stover.
The forum between the District 3 candidates began with them being asked what they believed the biggest issue was facing the district they hope to represent.
Cox-Stover believed public safety should be the top priority while infrastructure was a close second.
“I think we need to clear those alleys more, work on that infrastructure, and with that I think it would help us safety-wise too,” said Cox-Stover.
Some alleys that hadn’t been maintained, she said, such as one that’s come to be known as “the cove” after becoming overgrown with foliage, have become problem areas for crime.
Colllins, too, said public safety was a priority and also called for improvements to sidewalks and lighting in public spaces. Additionally, he saw a need for speedbumps in Indian Heights after seeing cars speed through the area while campaigning.
From the topic of problem areas, the conversation shifted to the candidates being asked what they believed the district’s greatest asset was that could be leveraged for gain in the area.
The candidates also were asked how they would react if they were to find out the city budget wasn’t being utilized as it was intended to be if they were a member of the Kokomo Common Council.
Collins said he would “vigorously” pursue the issue if it were to arise if he were a councilmember.
“I have the right to ask questions,” said Collins.
Cox-Stover concurred, and said she would ask questions because the money in question consisted of the tax dollars of the citizens of Kokomo.
Both candidates also said they wanted to continue the city’s free trolley system but to varying degrees.
Cox-Stover said the program would need to remain free due to the stipulations attached to the federal funding the system utilized.
Collins said he supported the program’s continuation and its status as a free service but said he couldn’t fully promise that it would remain free because one couldn’t predict what the future holds.
“I’ll never say never to something having a charge,” said Collins.