By J. PATRICK PEPPER
DEARBORN — Other than the obvious financial struggles facing the city, there are few things mayoral candidates John O’Reilly Jr. and Michael J. Prus agree on.
Their differences were apparent from the start of a sparsely attended candidate forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters Dearborn-Dearborn Heights last week. The forum moderator, LWV-DDH President Mary Bugeia, asked the men questions on some of the foremost challenges and problems currently facing the city allowing answers from both candidates on each question.
The first question asked what the city could do to offset declining tax revenues that have crippled city finances.
Speaking first, incumbent O’Reilly touted work already undertaken by his administration with an emphasis on the city’s partnership with Ford Motor Land Development Corp. As the city’s largest single property owner, Ford Land has millions of square feet of unused office and manufacturing space the city has been helping market to potential businesses.
O’Reilly said he would look to continue those efforts if he is re-elected.
Prus took an opposite tack. He said he would look to grow small businesses rather than large businesses through a business incubator program. The program would offer subsidized office space to businesses in exchange for professional service contracts that would terminate after a year, he said.
“The mayor wants to start with big businesses, but we all know small businesses are the path to growth,” Prus said.
On the subject of foreclosures, Prus said he would like the city to get into the real estate brokerage business. Prus’s plan involves working with the University of Michigan-Dearborn to help place students in foreclosed properties that could be converted to rentals.
O’Reilly said he favors using existing programs like the federally funded Neighborhood Stabilization Program. He said NSP efforts to date have resulted in the reduction of a 12-month housing supply to a five-month supply.
When the candidates were asked about corruption in the now-defunct Building and Safety Department, tensions rose. Throughout his campaign, Prus has said he would replace all management that was involved in corrupt activities, seeming to imply that O’Reilly has not taken adequate steps to that end. He has voiced his opposition to O’Reilly’s decision to move former department Director David Norwood to a new position in City Hall rather than terminating his employment.
But O’Reilly called Prus’s accusations of corruption “reckless” and countered that he initiated the FBI investigation that eventually resulted in criminal bribery charges against a former building and safety employee. The mayor also said the city has instituted checks and balances to prevent further such instances.