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Mutual respect marks candidate forum at library

Small crowd attends to meet all four options and ask questions

by Melanie Jongsma

LANSING, Ill. (March 14, 2019) – Library Director Debbie Albrecht counted 75 people at Tuesday night’s candidate forum hosted by the Lansing Public Library. Though previous forums have seen larger crowds, Albrecht was not surprised by the lower turnout this year. For one thing, it’s a non-mayoral election, which many Lansing residents consider less important. And, partly because of that, only four candidates are under consideration for the three municipal spots. In comparison, two years ago the library forum had 11 people on the stage—two Mayoral candidates, two Clerk candidates, and seven Trustee candidates—which draws a larger crowd.

The crowd at Tuesday night’s candidate forum was small but engaged. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)


Before introducing the candidates, Albrecht reminded people that Early Voting begins at the library on Monday, March 18, at 9:00am. Though Early Voting is available through April 1, the day before Election Day, Albrecht encouraged people not to wait. “Please don’t come on the last day—there’s a line!” she said. “The whole rest of the time you’ll get in and out really fast.”

Juan Estrada read bios of the three Library Board candidates. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
Albrecht had hoped that Tuesday night’s forum would also provide an opportunity for residents to meet all three Library Board candidates, but Candidate Lillian Ball was not able to be present. Instead, library staff member Juan Estrada read the bios all three candidates had submitted, and Albrecht introduced Candidates Geoffrey Erlenborn and Judy Koch, who were present and made themselves available for questions at the end of the evening.

A final announcement before the main event let people know that TF South would be hosting a forum on March 27, 6:30pm, to introduce voters to the six candidates running for District 215 School Board. That forum will take place in the Grand Lobby of TF South High School (18500 Burnham Avenue).

Village Trustee candidates

Candidates Saad Abbasy, Larry Thomas, Jerry Zeldenrust, and Mike Fish had drawn numbers to determine their order of speaking. Each gave a two-minute introduction summarizing his qualifications and hopes, and the presentations seemed to gain a favorable reaction from the crowd. “Hmm, we’ve got some strong candidates,” said one listener after the introductory speeches.

Library Director Debbie Albrecht (far right) introduces Lansing’s four Village Trustee candidates: (from left) Mike Fish, Jerry Zeldenrust, Larry Thomas, and Saad Abbasy. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

Albrecht then posed three questions, giving all four candidates an opportunity to provide an answer, and varying the order of answerers. Those answers are summarized below, sometimes using direct quotations, and sometimes condensing and compiling main thoughts.

1. What is Lansing’s biggest challenge and biggest opportunity?

  • Mike Fish mentioned Fox Pointe as an opportunity, while upgrading Torrence Avenue and Ridge Road to be ready are a potential challenge.
  • Jerry Zeldenrust said Lansing’s biggest challenge is money, particularly for fixing streets and sidewalks, and Fox Pointe presents an opportunity to attract newcomers to Lansing businesses.
  • Larry Thomas stated that diversity is one of Lansing’s biggest challenges, and he expressed disappointment that more African Americans were not present in the audience. He sees Fox Pointe as an opportunity to involve more demographics in community life. His answer received applause from the audience.
  • Saad Abbasy pointed out that bordering Indiana represents a challenge for Lansing as we try to attract businesses and residents. Offsetting this challenge are the positives associated with our location—expressway access, a municipal airport, an actual downtown, Fox Pointe, and a variety of local businesses. His response also received applause.

2. Outline your week’s preparation leading up to a Board meeting.

  • Zeldenrust: It’s always on your mind—as you’re driving through town, doing your research, talking to citizens, checking your emails. It starts at one meeting and goes to the next.
  • Thomas: Preparation starts immediately. It starts when you’re out there being part of the community, conversing with the public, so you can bring ideas to the Board.
  • Abbasy: When I get a Board packet as part of the Planning and Zoning Board, I spend as much time as needed for me to know what I need to know to represent the residents. I talk to residents, but I’m also familiar with our ordinances, so I know how they apply to each situation.
  • Fish: Board meetings begin from the time you’re sworn in to the end of your term. It’s a Board meeting every day, 24/7. I believe in being the ears of the people; I’m here to listen.

3. Why are you the best candidate running for Village Trustee?

  • Thomas said, in part, “I’m not the best. I’m one of the best. …What I can offer to Lansing is exactly what Lansing needs. The demographic is changing, we need representation that is more representative of that demographic. We need new ideas. We need youth.”
  • Abbasy’s answer included these thoughts: “I love this town. I’ve invested my money into this town—I’ve bought a home. My children are growing up in the schools in this community. I know this community. I’ve spent time getting involved and volunteering—my entire life—through the churches, through the youth organizations. …Lansing is part of my identity, and I’m proud of that.”
  • Fish cited his long experience with Lansing: “Just look at my record. Look at what I’ve done. …I’m retired; I could have moved anywhere in the United States. I’m staying here. This is my roots. I believe in the people here. I love this town.”
  • In addition to referring to his long-time experience in the community, Zeldenrust encouraged voters to do their homework and “look at the track record of people who are running.” Because a Trustee is “somebody that you have to put your trust in,” he affirmed the need to vote for people who have earned that trust.

Meeting and greeting

Albrecht closed the formal presentations by thanking people for “caring enough about Lansing to come out.” She invited people to stay and meet the candidates and ask their own questions. Candidate Abbasy reported later that people approached him with a wide range of thoughtful questions—about economic development, residency requirements, street resurfacing, and more.

Candidate Larry Thomas (right) answers questions from two Lansing firefighters during the meet-and-greet portion of the forum. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

The introductions, Library Board bios, and Village Trustee candidate presentations took about 45 minutes, and residents stayed for approximately another hour to speak with the candidates. It was after 8:00pm when Albrecht patiently shepherded the remaining candidates and members of the public out the doors, so she could close the library.

Early Voting begins at the library on Monday, March 18, 9:00am. The library is located at 2750 Indiana Avenue in Lansing.

Melanie Jongsma
Melanie Jongsma
Melanie Jongsma grew up in Lansing, Illinois, and believes The Lansing Journal has an important role to play in building community through trustworthy information.