Barbs fly at final debate

By Tyler Vincent

With less than a week until the DeKalb mayoral election, candidates Bessie Chronopoulos and Greg Sparrow squared off in a salty final debate before April 3 during the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce’s candidates night at the Egyptian Theatre, 135 N. 2nd St.

Both candidates fielded questions about business, including ones on incentives, tourism and impact fees.

The debate also saw the candidates assuming a harsher tone with each other. Chronopoulos criticized Sparrow over the course of the evening for what she felt was his sole emphasis on development.

“Development is his only issue,” she said. “On April 3, the city will not be electing an economic development commissioner — it will be electing a mayor.”

Sparrow in turn criticized Chronopoulos for what he felt was her indecisive leadership. He has charged over the course of the campaign that the Chronopoulos administration has hurt DeKalb financially.

“What you have here is government-by-committee,” Sparrow said. “It didn’t work in the Soviet Union, it didn’t work in the old Eastern Bloc countries, and it isn’t working here. Committees are fine, but there comes a point where you have to make a decision.”

In response to Sparrow’s allegations, Chronopoulos maintained during the debate that the city’s economy is fine.

“In October of 2000, Moody’s Investor’s Service awarded DeKalb an Aa3 rating,” she said, referring to a report that stated DeKalb possessed a “stable and growing local economy, sound financial operations … and an above-average but manageable debt-burden.”

Sparrow dismissed the report.

“That was in October 2000,” he said. “Now it’s April 2001, and we are facing an uncertain economy. Personnel has been stretched. Her own Blue Ribbon Committee said we need six firefighters right now. And if we need six firefighters, then we probably need six police officers.”

In addition to the evening’s business theme, the Peace and Fairview roads mall proposal also was a hot topic. The mall was in the planning stages when Sparrow was voted from office in 1997, and was rejected by Chronopoulos when she became mayor.

“We’ve had 23 years of trying to get a mall,” Sparrow said. “Four years ago, I thought we had one. Now we are looking at getting 100 percent of nothing rather than 25 or 50 percent of something.”

Chronopoulos disagreed, saying the plan was wrought with “outdated development.”

“Had it gone though, this city would have been left with a lot of bricks and mortar on its hands,” she said.

Sparrow also fielded a question about a controversial DeKalb landlord-tenant proposal, which he opposes. The plan would add to tenants’ rights locally, but some say it’s biased against landlords.

“I don’t see where it’s a major issue,” he said, adding that plenty of laws already are in place to protect tenants. “If there is a problem with health and safety [in a residence], call me at city hall and I will get on it with staff and make sure those laws are enforced.”

Chronopoulos neither has endorsed nor dismissed the proposed ordinance, but did form a fact-finding committee — with tenant and landlord representatives — to investigate the matter.

Sparrow closed by emphasizing his campaign’s theme of renewing DeKalb’s financial stability.

“Fiscal affairs are not in order,” he said. “We don’t have a wave of economic development after the previous one. Development is not something you turn on and off like a faucet. It’s like ocean waves. I want to get us back on the right track.”

Chronopoulos closed by claiming success in her policy of community-centered government.

“The success of this administration has proven the effectiveness of community-driven government,” Chronopoulos said. “He takes credit for everything that has gone right in this city and blamed me for everything that has gone wrong.”