Tuesday, February 26, 2019 Melanie Jongsma

As seen in The Lansing Journal

LANSING, Ill. (February 24, 2019) – In preparation for Early Voting (which begins March 18) and Election Day (April 2), the Lansing public will have an opportunity to meet the four candidates who are running for three spots on the Village Board—Saad Abbasy, Mike Fish, Larry Thomas, and Jerry Zeldenrust. (The links will open bio information about the candidates.) Beginning at 6:30pm at the library on Tuesday, March 12, the library will host its sixth candidate forum.

An election-year tradition

The Lansing Public Library’s first Candidate Forum was in 2009, when four mayoral candidates and six trustee candidates were vying for votes. Albrecht, who considers the library a community center rather than simply a book museum, invited all 10 candidates to share their campaign platforms, and she invited the community to attend, listen, and submit questions. Thus began a tradition that Albrecht has maintained for every election year since. In most years, the library forum is the only opportunity for Lansing voters to meet all their options and compare them side by side.

In previous years, the slate of candidates has been so large that Albrecht has asked people to write their questions down and turn them in to library staff during the introductory remarks. The staff then would organize the questions into categories and eliminate duplicates, so Albrecht could ask as many as possible, allowing each candidate a minute or two to answer the same question. With 8 or 10 candidates to choose from, this was Albrecht’s format for giving Lansing residents an opportunity to hear from all of them equally.

This year, because there are only four Village Trustee candidates, the process can be less formal. Albrecht will give each candidate two minutes for introductory remarks, and she will ask one or two general questions for all four candidates to answer, but the rest of the evening will be a “meet and greet,” during which attendees can approach specific candidates individually with questions one-on-one.

Candidate preparation

The entire event is only an hour, so the candidates are carefully considering what information to highlight in their two-minute opening statements. Candidate Mike Fish, for example, said, “I hope to touch on a short version of the Village Voice Party platform.” Candidate Saad Abbasy hopes his passion for Lansing will come through.

All four candidates have been campaigning—at their own events, at a variety of community events, and by knocking on doors and talking to people. These interactions have helped prepare them for whatever questions might be posed by participants at the library forum. In addition to meeting with potential voters, Candidate Larry Thomas has had conversations with “youth and kids,” hoping to “gauge our village from various standpoints.”

Youth and experience

The four Trustee Candidates bring two complementary assets—youth and experience—to the municipal election ballot. All four have lengthy resumés showcasing a variety of relevant experience, in Lansing and beyond. The two youngest candidates, Abbasy (34) and Thomas (35), have related to the needs of young families, young businesses, and young people getting involved in community. At 65 and 55, Fish and Candidate Jerry Zeldenrust are both retired, with decades of service to established Lansing organizations.

Voter preparation

“My hope,” said Zeldenrust, “is [voters] research who they are confident putting their trust in as individuals: candidates who will make informed, responsible decisions about matters that will affect all our lives in many ways.”

Albrecht affirms that the March 12 forum is a good way to conduct that research. “It’s a hard choice,” she said about this year’s candidates. But seeing them, hearing them, watching them, and asking them questions can help clarify the decision. “I’ll be curious to see if we get a good crowd at the event,” she said, recognizing that voter interest declines in years when it’s not a mayoral race. Typically the library forums have drawn 100 people or more, and Albrecht would love to see even higher attendance. “An informed electorate,” she said, referring to Thomas Jefferson’s quote, “it’s the best defense of democracy!”

The Lansing Public Library is located at 2750 Indiana Avenue in Lansing, Illinois. The opportunity to meet the four candidates running for Village Trustee is Tuesday, March 12, at 6:30pm in the stage area on the upper level.

Early Voting begins at the library the following Monday, March 18.