Business development issues dominate RI mayor race

Originally Posted Online: March 30, 2013, 7:46 pm
Last Updated: March 31, 2013, 6:58 pm
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By Eric Timmons,

Incumbent Dennis Pauley is being challenged by Rick Cassini and David Levin in the April 9 election for mayor of Rock Island.

Mr. Cassini, who runs Cassini Tile & Marble in Rock Island, is the newcomer to the race. In 2009, Mr. Pauley defeated Mr. Levin after a recount that ended with a drawing to decide the winner.

Debate over the city's efforts to bring new businesses and jobs to Rock Island have dominated the campaign.

Mr. Levin, a real estate agent, and Mr. Cassini are both critical of the project to bring Walmart to the old Watch Tower Shopping Plaza on 11th Street.

For Mr. Pauley, the deal is one of the signature achievements of his tenure.

The new Walmart Supercenter will generate an estimated $1.4 million in annual sales tax revenue and create hundreds of jobs, he said.

However, Mr. Cassini said he had problems with the "speculative nature" of the project.

The city has been buying properties at Watch Tower and will tear them down to make way for Walmart.

Mr. Levin said the city has paid too much for those properties and that he's worried the deal with Walmart still could fall through.

"I'm the one who sold Watch Tower Plaza to the now former owner for $300,000," he said. "How do you go from $300,000 to $1.75 million?"

There's a similar divide between the candidates on the city's purchase of 90 acres adjacent to Jumer's Casino for $1 million.

Mr. Pauley said the city has a "vision" for the future. He sees the site as one day being home to retail and residential units that will generate millions in tax revenue for the city.

"You have to look far ahead," Mr. Pauley said. "This is a wise investment."

The development's location is crucial, Mr. Pauley said, because it will add amenities next to Jumer's, which could face increased competition in future years from new casinos in Bettendorf and Davenport.

Mr. Levin is heavily critical of the project and shares Mr. Cassini's view that there are better locations for the development in southwest Rock Island.

The project involves levee modifications that require permission from Milan, the Big Island Conservancy District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which the city does not yet have.

"I would halt any further expenditures until we got some idea where Milan is at on this project and a little more input from the Corps of Engineers as to whether or not they could come through," Mr. Cassini said.

A third business project in Rock Island is the proposed arrival of Fareway at the site of the old Audubon school.

"We showed them several options, but they wanted the Audubon site," Mr. Pauley said.

Mr. Levin was the real estate agent who represented Fareway, and although there's opposition from some members of the community to the plan to tear down the old school, he spoke positively of the proposal.

"I don't mind it being torn down," Mr. Cassini said. "What bothers me is they're going to rape that lot. You're not going to find all those mature trees standing there when this project is finished."

The new mayor will have to deal with a plan to build a new police station, which was included in a long-term capital improvement plan recently approved by the city council.

Mr. Levin said he had made an issue of the need for new police and fire facilities four years ago. He said Mr. Pauley has come to the party late.

"He's just brought it up in the last few months about a new police station," Mr. Levin said. "My belief is we missed the boat and we should have done it four years ago."

Mr Pauley noted that he established a focus group to look the police department's needs early last year.

All three candidates, however, agree that the police department needs a more spacious and modern building.

"The police facility should be improved, but whether or not its viable right now, I would have to have a whole lot more information before I say absolutely yes or no," Mr. Cassini said.

Another big issue for the mayoral candidates is the need to keep the city's streets in good shape.

Mr. Pauley said the city has a "very aggressive" plan to improve the city's infrastructure and points to the $45 million wastewater project. Mr. Cassini and Mr. Levin both want an increased focus on street maintenance.

The mayoral election in Rock Island is non-partisan and the mayor is elected to a four-year term and paid an annual salary of $15,000.

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