The outcome of East St. Louis’s mayoral election next month could play a major role in the city’s efforts to boost economic development and public safety. One key issue in the race involves the operating hours of the city’s late-night clubs and liquor stores.
Two-term incumbent Alvin Parks Jr. wants to allow the businesses stay open until at least 6 a.m. to generate extra tax revenue. Parks' name has been taken off the ballot by a court, but he's still running.
"When you bring additional economic development, you bring additional responsibility to protect further that investment, but you also bring resources because you have an increased tax base," Parks said. Those resources can help bolster policing and combat crime to "bring results people want and deserve," he said.
Real estate broker Courtney Hoffman, another mayoral candidate, agrees. The city needs to extend the hours to compete with nearby municipalities, he said.
“If we need to open the clubs up later to get income so we can be able to hire more police, more firemen, then that’s what we should do," Hoffman said.
But the third mayoral candidate, Councilwoman Emeka Jackson-Hicks, maintains the late-night hours are linked to East St. Louis’ exceptionally high violent crime rate. Instead she favors keeping the hours limited.
“In order for us to attract other businesses, we first need to make sure our city is safe," she said.
Jackson-Hicks initiated legislation passed by the City Council three years ago to limit operating hours for the clubs to 2 a.m. on weekdays and 3 a.m. on weekends.
Hoffman, however, disputes claims that the new hours have reduced crime. “It hasn’t changed. It was just a gimmick,” he said. “All our money went to Sauget, Brooklyn and Washington Park. They’re open 24 hours [a day] and we’re taking the loss. We’re taking the hit. It’s not fair to our city and it’s not fair to our citizens.”
The debate over the late-night clubs has drawn U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill) into the race. Durbin, who grew up in East St. Louis, has endorsed Jackson-Hicks, primarily for her position on the issue.
Durbin has also sparred with Parks in the past for not doing more to reduce violent crime in the city.
In addition to Durbin's endorsement, Jackson-Hicks has another advantage in the April 7 election. The Illinois Supreme Court took Parks' name off the ballot for not having enough valid signatures on his candidacy petition. That reversed the judgments of lower courts that had rejected a legal challenge by Jackson-Hicks.
"It is clear that it does give her a tailwind she didn't have previously and the deck is stacked more in her favor than before the state Supreme Court's decision, said political science professor Ken Moffett of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. He said, however, a Parks victory is still possible. “Candidates have won elections being the incumbent, and not formally being on the ballot," he said
Parks has vowed to run an aggressive write-in campaign.