Candidate profile: City of DeKalb mayor

By Northern Star Staff

The following is the response to a Northern Star questionnaire sent to local candidates for the 2021 consolidated election. Answers have been lightly edited for clarity and consistency.

Name: Cohen Barnes

Occupation: Owner of SundogIT. A technology firm headquartered in downtown DeKalb at 230 E. Lincoln Highway

Education: Graduated from NIU with Bachelor of Arts Degree

Eagle Scout 1984
Graduated DeKalb High School 1987
US Army 1987-1990,1991 (Airborne Infantry) (Desert Storm)
Graduated Kishwaukee College 1992 (Associate of Arts)
Married Amy in 1992
Graduated NIU in 1995 (Bachelor of Arts – English)
SundogIT 1996 – Present
DeKalb Fiber Optic 2004-2012
Ben Gordon Center Board of Directors
City of DeKalb – Economic Development Committee 2005 – 2007
City of DeKalb – Citizen Finance Advisory Committee 2009 – 2010
City of DeKalb – Citizens Community Enhancement Commission – 2007-2016
Chair of DeKalb County Tribute to Heroes – 2007 – 2015 (Chair for quite a few of those years)
Co-chair ReNew Our Schools 2007
Member Communiversity Cares
President of DeKalb Chamber of Commerce 2010
DeKalb CUSD #428 School Board Member 2011-2015
Inducted into DeKalb Chamber of Commerce Hall of Fame 2012
Adult Boy Scout Leader of DeKalb’s Troop 33  2014-2018
President of #ProudlyDeKalb 2015 – 2020
President of the DeKalb Corn Classic 5k/10k 2018 – Present
Co-Chair DeKalb County UNITES 2020 – Present
President of the DeKalb County Economic Development Corporation 2018 – 2020
Kishwaukee Hospital Philanthropic Advisory Council 2018 – Present
Belonging Steering Committee 2020 – Present

Why you are running for the position:

My story I believe to be very unique. I have such a love for this community that has been so good to me, my family, and the business I run. I grew up here. I went to Elementary, Middle and High School here. From Kishwaukee College to get my associate’s degree to NIU where I received my bachelor’s degree. I am a Barb, a Kougar, and a super proud Huskie. All the way through my soul. The only time I left this community is when I went to serve my country in the United States Army as an Airborne Infantryman in Ft. Benning GA for over 3 years. But I returned here. This is the community that has meant so much to me for so long. I married the love of my life here 28 years ago while both of us were attending NIU. And together, we raised 2 kids who also went through our entire K-12 public school system. I am a local business owner and am part of an incredible team there. I am a commercial property owner and am proud to have invested in a building that lay vacant for years in the center of downtown and breath life back into a building rich with history. I am invested in this community. I will be here, I will stay here, I will work hard to provide increased opportunities for everyone that lives in DeKalb.

Goals you want to accomplish if elected:

Economic Vitality– Sustainable Economic Vitality is about creating an environment where we not only retain our existing people and businesses, but we attract them to our community as well.  As more businesses and people choose to call DeKalb their home, our tax base diversifies, city services improve with the additional tax revenue they bring, and employment opportunities abound.  To further enhance economic development in DeKalb, as Mayor I will focus on three areas.

  1. I will build a culture of  “yes” at the City of DeKalb.
    •  If it is a good thing for our residents and businesses, we will find a way to do it quickly and more efficiently than we have in the past.
  2. Retention of People and Businesses
    • I’ll work with Northern Illinois University, the DeKalb CUSD #428 school district, the DeKalb Park District and all our taxing bodies on how the City in its role can give people even more of a reason to want to stay in DeKalb.
    • I’ll work with organizations like the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce and the DeKalb County Economic Development Corporation on how the City in its role can directly improve the impact on business retention.
  3. Public/Private Partnerships to Attract People and Businesses to DeKalb
    • I will work with Northern Illinois University, the DeKalb CUSD #428 school district, the DeKalb Park District and all our taxing bodies collectively with the private sector to create ways we can, together, further, enhance the appeal for people and businesses to choose DeKalb as their home.
      • Direct Experience: President of the DeKalb County Economic Development Corporation – City of DeKalb Economic Development Committee – City of DeKalb Citizens Finance Advisory Committee – President of DeKalb Chamber of Commerce – City of DeKalb Citizens Community Enhancement Commission – Business Owner

Quality of Life – To have a good quality of life in a community requires a variety of things to be in place.  Some are fundamental like quality housing and feeling safe where you live.  These are core issues I am passionately committed to improving in DeKalb.  Quality of Life is also about enjoying your time with friends and family by having fun activities to do and wonderful places to go.  I believe all these need to be focused on and they can be focused on in parallel.  As your Mayor, I will work to improve the quality of life in our community, so everyone has the opportunity to feel proud to DeKalb their home.

  1. I believe and will work hard to ensure every resident and student feels safe here in DeKalb.
  2. I believe and will work hard to ensure no matter where people live in our community, they have access to quality housing.
  3. I believe and will work hard to ensure all of us in DeKalb have fun and wonderful things to do.
    • Direct Experience:  Downtown Property Owner – tenant is Byers Brewing Company – DeKalb Corn Classic 5k/10k – City of DeKalb Citizens Community Enhancement Commission

Fiscal Responsibility – Government, as in business, cannot spend more than it makes.

  1. I believe in having a city government that is fiscally responsible.  Period.  If we want to expand services, then we need to expand our tax revenue, and that does not mean by increasing taxes. We do that by attracting more businesses and people to our community through our economic development and quality of life initiatives.  We do this by having all taxing bodies come together to discuss how collectively, we can work together to reduce the tax rate in DeKalb.
    • Direct Experience:  Business Owner – City of DeKalb Citizens Finance Committee​

What should students/residents vote for you:

I am a very proud Huskie. My involvement in the overall DeKalb community is extensive, but my involvement with NIU runs very deep.

  • For multiple years, I have been part of the letter writing campaign to attract new students to NIU. As part of that campaign, my letter goes out to thousands of prospective students. In the letter, I share my story going to NIU, my experience as a resident of DeKalb, and I provide my email and cell phone number for them to reach out with questions.
  • Every year, NIU has bus tours for prospective students and parents, and I am a tour guide. We fill a Huskie Bus full of parents and students and I take them around our whole community and share fun facts, important locations, and I get to share my love for NIU and this community. This is always fun and rewarding to be able to share my experiences with our youth and their families hoping they commit to being a future Huskie.
  • Last semester, I was excited to sponsor a student competition and offered a $1,000 prize to the team that created the prototype of a new software design that would be the beginning of a new startup company I want to form. I worked with Luke Sebby with the Office of Innovation, and with Professor Federico Bassetti from the College of Business to create the format of the competition and promote across campus. It was a great experience working with a variety of students interested in participating and super cool to cut a $1,000 check to the student who won the competition.
  • Race continues to be a topic nationally and here in DeKalb and NIU. I was very honored when asked by the University to be a founding member of the Belonging Steering committee to help create the structure of what will become the Belonging Council. To date, the experience has been incredibly impactful for myself as I continue to discover more about who I am and the unconscious biases that I have. I hope to be able to serve in this capacity as long as I can and I hope to help build a community where everyone feels they belong.
  • I am proud to be President of the DeKalb Corn Classic 5K/10K here in DeKalb. Working with NIU and the NIU Alumni Association, we were able to attract over 50% of our runners from outside DeKalb County to come back and reconnect with DeKalb and the University. The course is a collaborative effort to showcase all the best parts of DeKalb and NIU. Check out to see the course and more about the race. Something I am particularly proud of is we have over 200 NIU student-athletes that volunteer every year on race day to help make it one of the largest, if not the largest, volunteer events of NIU’s athletic department.

The Northern Star is publishing the candidates’ responses to our questions as they are given to us. The Northern Star is not endorsing local candidates. To have your profile published email