A candidate forum Saturday in East St. Louis was notable as much for who didn’t show up as who did.
None of the endorsed Democratic candidates in the upcoming March 16 primary were on hand for the forum, which was sponsored by the East St. Louis chapter of the NAACP. Many in the crowd of 50 who attended the event said they were surprised and disappointed.
Stanley Franklin, president of the local NAACP, said he was told that the candidates in the St. Clair County Courthouse did not receive letters inviting them to participate in the forum until a few days before that the candidates had already made other plans. Devon Moody Graham, who sent out the invitations, said the mailing went out in plenty of time.
Others said this is an example of how Democratic candidates take East St. Louis for granted and don’t feel they have to court the vote there.
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“I don’t believe the Democratic Party of St. Clair County felt they had to show up because they were not being challenged in the primary. I think they believe all they have to do is show up at a Freedom Fund Banquet and buy some tickets and ads,” said Carl Officer, a Republican candidate for coroner who was not present but spoke later. “They take for granted the people in the NAACP and only show up one day for the dinner.”
Besides Officer, others who were not on hand included Mark Kern, running for re-election as County Board chairman; Calvin Dye, Democrat for coroner; Republican state representative candidate Bob Romanik and his Democratic counterpart, Latoya Greenwood.
Romanik, reached by phone afterward, said he was not there because he thinks the NAACP “doesn’t represent the proud black community.”
Rodger Cook, a Republican who is running against Kern for County Board chairman, was there along with his son, Dallas Cook, a candidate for St. Clair County clerk. The current clerk, Kahala Clay, who is running for re-election, was not present.
Others who were on hand were James R Moore, a candidate for the Fifth District Appellate Court; Ed Cockrell, a Republican candidate for the St. Clair County Board of Review; Ronald Duebbert and Lanina A. Cason, candidates for circuit judge; and Jason Madlock, a Centreville resident, who is running for a seat on the County Board in District 24, and Courtney Johnson who is running for state representative as an independent.
Moore said he received a notice from the NAACP and drove from Carterville, Ill., about a hundred miles away, to be present, only to find out that candidates could not make statements, only announce who they were and then mingle with the crowd.
“I did not feel disappointed because I got to have my say with everyone there,” he said. “I believe in racial equality and racial fairness in the courts, in particular, and I wanted the people to know that.”
Franklin said, “The candidates that were there were only there to introduce themselves and announce the office that they’re running for. When we conduct the political forum in November, they will be able to share their platform with the community. This platform was structured to be a meet-and-greet for those who are running unopposed. It was an opportunity for the people to see them, put a face with a name. If they wanted to have a sidebar conversation, that was available. If somebody had particular questions after the forum, they could do so.”
This platform was structured to be a meet-and-greet for those who are running unopposed. It was an opportunity for the people to see them, put a face with a name.
Stanley Franklin, East St. Louis NAACP president
“I felt as though the candidates (who did show up) were muzzled. I think it was very unfair for the candidates who showed up. We could only introduce ourselves and say what position we’re running for and tell the folks thank you for your vote,” Duebbert said.
Regarding the endorsed Democrats who did not appear, Cason said, “It was expected that they wouldn’t show up. People have always taken the votes in East St. Louis for granted. They think the status quo shall remain. It’s up to us to let them know that’s not the case anymore.”
Instead of a forum, the event resembled more of a town hall meeting. Individuals got up and voiced their concerns. The candidates could only listen. They were not given the opportunity to respond. The people talked about jobs, economic development and safety and security for the people of East St. Louis. They talked about having quality education and educators.
Alvin Boldin focused on the unions and talked about how minorities are locked out of them. “The unions have refused to meet with us and we’ve made all kinds of overtures. They have us locked out and that is not fair. Our people need jobs, too.”
Norman Ross said he thinks the St. Clair County Democrats should make a serious effort to support East St. Louis by bringing improvements to the area, including the communities that border the area.
Peggy LeCompte, a former educator with East St. Louis District 189 , said she dreams of a time when all communities will be totally represented, with every community having a seat at the table of economic opportunity. “It’s going to take all of us working together to bring about educational, political cultural and economic equality.”
Vernon Jenkins, a 17-year-old who registered to vote at the event because he will be 18 in November, said he is tired of people getting elected and then not seeming to care about the problems young people face such as no jobs, jobs that pay minimum wage, issues with police officers and more.
Katrice Wilks said she wants to see a transformation for the people of East St. Louis, prison reform, more schools and fewer people going to jail.
Some of the speakers talked about the neglect that they continually have to live with and the lack of economic development.
Debra Taylor spoke about the importance of having a quality education for the children in East St. Louis and the need for jobs for the people in East St. Louis and surrounding communities.
Carolyn P. Smith: 618-239-2503