Local candidates discuss University

By Charles Menchaca

Candidates running for the 103rd Congressional district and the office of Champaign County state’s attorney spoke Wednesday night at a forum in the Levis Faculty Center in Urbana.

The forum, sponsored by the Union of Professional Employees, allowed five local candidates to make a speech and field questions from the audience, all within one hour.

State representative candidates included incumbent Naomi Jakobsson, D-Champaign, Republican Deborah Frank Feinen, and Thomas Mackaman for the Socialist Equality Party. Republican John Piland, the incumbent Champaign County state’s attorney, and Democratic candidate Julia Rietz were also on hand.

The candidates each gave a brief autobiography and quickly discussed various issues. Union of Professional Employees president Mark Leff requested that the candidates only use five minutes for each speech.

In her speech, Feinen noted the lack of funding for education. She said the University budget has not been able to hold with inflation, and that the current budget adjusted for inflation is at the level that it was in 1980.

“I believe passionately that we have to do better,” Feinen said.

Jakobsson said she was able to stop funding cuts for the University for the first time in three years.

“That’s not how we treat a flagship university,” Jakobsson said.

Jakobsson also said she wants to make sure the community has affordable health care.

“These have been my priorities, they will continue to be my priorities,” Jakobsson said.

Mackaman was the only state representative candidate to mention his opponents. Both Jakobsson and Feinen neglected to mention the war in Iraq, Mackaman said.

“I’m going to say things the representatives of the other parties don’t want to mention,” Mackaman said.

Mackaman also said there is a social crisis in the state due to the lack of insurance and affordable housing. He said the Socialist Equality Party is a party for the working class to address these issues.

Rietz commented on Piland’s performance in her speech. The state’s attorney’s office is not making decisions in the interest of the community, Rietz said. She mentioned cases including the burglary involving University basketball players in fall 2003 and the recent eavesdropping charges against two Champaign men, one of which has been dropped.

“I value a strong, effective and fair justice system,” Rietz said.

Piland’s speech focused on the contributions he has made to the University. “I want to go after the small minority of the population that is committing the majority of the crime,” he said.

“We work hard to be effective in fighting crime,” Piland said.

Audience members asked 30-second questions on topics ranging from Chief Illiniwek to felony charges given by the state’s attorney’s office.

Leff said the forum was meant to educate the campus on important issues. Between several baseball games and the third presidential debate, Leff said he was pleased with the audience turnout.

“What this shows is this race really matters to people in this community,” he said.