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Election 2020: Meet candidates for County Board Districts 5, 8, 9

Editor’s note: This is Part 1 of a three-part series introducing candidates running for a seat on the DeKalb County Board. A video of the full candidate Q&A, along with profiles on all local candidates, can be found on the Daily Chronicle’s Election Central website at

Daily Chronicle editor Kelsey Rettke sat down with DeKalb County Board candidates running to represent District 5 (DeKalb Township), District 8 (DeKalb and Cortland Township) and District 9 (DeKalb Township). Candidates for District 6, Craig Roman, and District 7, Terri Mann-Lamb, were unable to attend, but both are incumbents and running unopposed.

Those interviewed stressed the significance of being elected to local office in 2020, a tumultuous year filled with economic hardships because of the COVID-19 pandemic and all its ramifications for county residents and budgetary effects (the county faces a projected $2 million budget shortfall). Other key topics candidates hope to address include access to health care, coronavirus testing and a vaccine, social service reform and more.

District 5

Kiara Jones,


Kiara Jones is the incumbent for District 5 and a full-time single parent to three children. Jones said she’s running to continue being a voice for her community. Jones was appointed to fill the unexpired term of Sandra Polanco in April and serves on the Economic Development Committee.

“Being a part of the County Board gives me the opportunity to be a voice for my community,” she said. “Living in a lower-middle-class family, I, too, can relate to my neighbors. I know what resources and opportunities that we need that will help bring value to our community and will better us all.”

Jones said she believes the two most pressing issues for District 5 residents are child care and health care, especially as many continue to work from home or have children who aren’t physically in schools. She stressed the importance of following COVID-19 guidelines.

When it came to the budget and property taxes, Jones admitted she “has very little knowledge exactly where the taxes go, who they go to,” but believes the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office budget should be reviewed to bring equity to the Black community.

“DeKalb is not a dangerous, bad place; it’s just that there’s a lack of resources here,” Jones said. “I’ve marched here quite a few times. The community would be so much better if they actually just sat down and listened and planned on giving us exactly what we ask, what we demand.”

Sasha Cohen,


Sasha Cohen is a Libertarian candidate vying against Jones to represent District 5. He said he believes the most pressing issue for the district is a lack of economic opportunity.

“Poverty brings with it a lack of social mobility [and] access to education, child care, fresh and healthy food,” Cohen said, who lives on Edgebrook Drive in DeKalb. “We are incredibly far away from cheap, healthy food outlets. There are a number of vacant lots that community activists have proposed turning into community centers or grocery stores.”

When asked whether he believes there’s room in the budget for cuts, Cohen said there has to be.

“The hard reality is that there has to be wiggle room in the county budget because we have a year where so many people have lost their primary source of income, their secondary sources of income, and simply meeting property tax obligations is going to be immensely difficult for many residents,” he said. “I don’t want to see the county put liens on homes and would like to see some form of deferral for those who’ve lost their jobs.”

Cohen said he absolutely believes the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office budget should be reprioritized to meet other needs. He said he also supports decriminalizing drug possession and that the criminal justice system should treat addiction as a mental health issue.

“We heard the calls and the demands of those who have been marching for justice in our streets for almost 200 days now, and it is high time that we listen, implement a radical and transformative change,” he said. “Small reforms around the edges are not going to lead to a just society. They may make people feel good, may make nice campaign slogans. I would like to start by reallocating a sizeable portion of the sheriff’s budget toward mental health services, particularly as it relates to addiction, drug crimes.”

Cohen said he would advocate for a property tax deferral program at the state level if elected.

District 9

Neill Mohammad,


Neill Mohammad is a DeKalb native who works as a consultant for hospitals in the private health care sector and said he’s running (unopposed) to represent District 9 so he can contribute to addressing local issues.

Mohammad ran an unsuccessful congressional campaign in 2018 for the Democratic nomination for Illinois’ 16th Congressional District. He came in second to Sara Dady of Rockford, who then lost to incumbent Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, in the November general election.

Mohammad identified numerous local effects of the COVID-19 pandemic as the most crucial issue facing his district and the county as a whole, including child care, and stressed the significance of the DeKalb County Health Department in helping to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine when one becomes available.

“I see the health department playing a role in that,” he said.

He said County Board members should continue to be stewards of the budget and doesn’t believe there is any wiggle room in the budget.

“We’ve had broad bipartisan consensus behind previous budgets,” he said, adding that budget shortfalls for local governments already are affected by a lack of federal aid. “So I shudder to think about cutting more. I think we’ve cut a lot in the previous years. The health department asked for a lot a few years ago, and that was defeated. Probably could have used a more robust health department right about now.”

He said that during his congressional campaign, he learned DeKalb once was referred to as a “sundown town” – a phrase commonly used to refer to all-white neighborhoods that historically had discriminatory local laws and resorted to violence or intimidation to disenfranchise minority residents.

He said he supports taking another look at budget priorities as they relate to the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office.

When it comes to property tax relief, he said the County Board should take a look at who is claiming economic hardship.

“I want to distinguish between those who are actually suffering economic hardship and those who are taking advantage of that issue to claim economic hardship,” he said. “I think the County Board’s got a role to talk to that issue.”

District 8

William Cummings,


William “Bill” Cummings is a retired Northern Illinois University accounting professor who said he’s running to represent District 8 because he’s at a stage in his life where he wants to give back to his community.

“This is a tough time we’re in,” he said. “This time of COVID-19 and other issues in our society, it does affect us locally. We have an important role. We have a lot of people now who are out of work who were not before, and this puts a great burden on all of us, certainly, to help those who need help.”

Cummings said the largest issues facing District 8 are adequate health care, especially in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, along with high property taxes. Cummings said looking for ways to increase revenue could be one way to lift the tax burden but whether there’s any room in the budget for cuts remains to be seen.

“The trouble with the time we’re in now is it’s kind of a double whammy because our revenue is being stressed,” he said.

Regarding the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office budget and local calls for prioritizing police budgets to reallocate funding to social services instead of policing, Cummings said he believes some could be redistributed to mental health professionals.

“I believe there’s probably a need for more training in our sheriff’s department,” he said. “And that costs money. We expect a lot of our police and sheriff’s deputies these days because a lot of what they do does involve people who are in a mental health crisis. Reallocating involves personnel. Most budgets in government are personnel dollars. So when you talk about reallocation, we’re talking about shifting personnel dollars, and that’s people’s jobs.”

Christopher Porterfield,


Christopher Porterfield came to DeKalb in 1971 as an undergraduate transfer and now is a retired NIU administrator. As the incumbent representing District 8, Porterfield is seeking reelection to continue his civic responsibility, he said, and identified the COVID-19 pandemic and issues of social justice surrounding the local Black Lives Matter activists as the most pressing for his district.

He also said the County Board – for which he serves on the Health and Human Services Committee – needs to do a better job of explaining to voters what their property taxes are used for within the county budget.

“We’ve made a good faith effort from the county’s side,” he said. “But we need to do a better job explaining how the budget is developed and how if you get more money here, that means you aren’t getting more money over there.”

He said he doesn’t think there’s much wiggle room in the budget but supports looking at reallocating money from the sheriff’s office if needed, including limiting standard, traditional police interaction and replacing that with counselor interaction.

“But you can always talk about prioritizing,” Porterfield said. “If we’re going to get serious about protecting people, helping people that are in need, we may need to change some things, and I think that’s reasonable.”

He echoed comments made by District 9 candidate Neil Mohammad that the County Board should have approved a request years ago by the DeKalb County Health Department for an expansion, which would have involved a larger staff.

Porterfield also said he’s in favor of deferring payment for residents’ second installment of property taxes.

“I’m in favor of looking at that again,” he said. “I think that anything else is going to come from the state.”

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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