A forum starring Janesville’s five city council candidates remained tame and ran smoothly Tuesday night at Hedberg Public Library.
The forum, sponsored by the local League of Women Voters chapter and JATV, featured the four incumbents running for re-election—Sue Conley, Jim Farrell, Doug Marklein and Tom Wolfe—and the race’s lone newcomer, Jan Chesmore.
The incumbents touted the city’s progress over the past few years. They referenced projects that have happened under their leadership, such as downtown revitalization, or alluded to efforts still underway, such as General Motors redevelopment or changes at the Janesville Mall.
Chesmore prefaced some of her answers by saying she didn’t fully understand the issue because she had not served on the city council. On other questions, she gave roundabout answers that deviated from the main topic.
Chesmore admitted she had a lot to learn about the council’s inner workings. Running for local office could be intimidating, but she said she was committed to learning and thought the council could use another female voice.
Currently, Conley is the only woman on the seven-person council.
Each candidate was asked the same questions and had one minute to answer. There was no debate and little room to refute another candidate’s answer.
Chesmore staked her most vocal criticism of the council on downtown revival efforts. She compared ongoing projects to plate spinning—too many things happening at once. One project at a time would be better, she said.
Such an opinion ran counter to the views of most city officials and council members, who have spent plenty of time the past few years hyping downtown infrastructure and beautification projects.
Wolfe said downtown projects were being done according to plan, despite a feeling among some residents that construction is making the area a mess right now.
The rest of the incumbents effusively praised downtown.
Marklein said the neighborhood was on the cusp of private investment.
Farrell said downtown condos could make the area attractive for young workers.
Conley said she hoped the new festival street would be used regularly for cultural events.
Similar responses were common among the incumbents. At times, it was hard to distinguish their answers from one another.
But they also demonstrated an understanding of some of Janesville’s most pressing issues, such as homelessness, affordable housing and the city’s slice of state shared revenue.
Those were issues Chesmore either admitted she was unfamiliar with or showed a superficial understanding of the subject.
The five candidates are running for four open council seats. Election Day is April 2.