PORTAGE — Voters in the city have plenty of incentive to show up at the polls this election season with races in all but one of the council districts.
There are Republican and Democrat battles for the two at-large seats and seats in the 1st, 3rd and 4th districts. The 2nd District features a battle between a Democrat and member of the Green Party.
Incumbent Democratic Councilman Collin Czilli is unchallenged in this bid for re-election in the 5th District.
The four candidates seeking the two at-large seats are Democrats Ferdinand Alvarez and Debbie Podgorski and Republicans Austin Bonta and Victoria Gresham.
Alvarez, 29, is a recent law school graduate studying for his Indiana Bar Exam, who said his top priorities are public safety, responsible growth and fiscal responsibility.
Podgorski, 54, is the operations manager and owner of DJ's Guns & Gunsmithing, who said fiscal responsibility and transparency are among her top priorities.
"We must live within our means outside of a major emergency," she said. "The city cannot continue to afford spending money outside of the approved budget by the City Council in the way that it has been done recently and in the past. We will never be able to get ahead if we continue on this 'Rob Peter to pay Paul' mentality."
Bonta, 29, is co-founder and manager of SoundTide Music School.
"I will apply my experience as the owner of a successful business to help put Portage on a firmer financial footing," he said.
Gresham, 53, who serves as a deputy at the Porter County clerk's office, said her priority is developing a balanced city budget.
"I will recommend that we re-examine and/or redefine our city’s strategic plan and revisit it often to make certain that we are staying on track with its main vision so that the right priorities are funded properly," she said. "In addition, we need to increase our financial reserves with a sound investment plan that will allow our overall operating costs the flexibility to maintain our day to day operations without jeopardizing the quality or safety of our city services provided to our community."
The 1st District race pits Republican Dennis Wells against Democrat Gina Giese-Hurst.
Wells, 51, is a a mortgage loan originator.
He said his top priority for his district is street, sidewalk and stormwater improvements, while his priorities for the city as a whole are public safety and fiscal responsibility.
Hurst, 52, is a radiographer at Portage Community Hospital, who said her priority is to "Reach out to my District, Listen to my District, Speak for my District!"
The 2nd District race pits incumbent Democrat Patrick Clem against Green Party candidate Michael Cooper.
Clem, 54, works for U.S. Steel, United Steelworkers Local 1014, who said public safety is his primary issue.
Cooper, 48, a pastor, said he would like to address the city's lack of mature structures and procedures that is hurting the community as it grows.
"This includes how we manage and recruit city employees with a dedicated city Human Resources professional, how we oversee our taxpayer’s money with a focus on community services and development, and how we make strategic economic investments with our local business to continue the expansion of manufacturing, logistics and hospitality sectors," he said. "This is a pivotal time in our city and I will put forward the progressive values to keep Portage leaning forward for all our residents."
The 3rd District race pits Republican Antonio C. Gutierrez against incumbent Democrat Scott Williams.
Gutierrez, 42, is a residential/commercial painter, who said he intends to ask for an audit of all city departments.
"We need to know where every penny of the taxpayer's money is going," he said. "Find out where we are not using taxpayer's money wisely. Make cuts where needed without affecting city services that would damage our citizens quality of life."
Williams, 71, who started and heads up an educational and training company for small businesses, said long-range financial stability has to be the priority for the city.
"The taxpayers deserve, and must insist, that the city operates within its means," he said. "New dollars cannot be spent, or committed to be spent, that the city does not have or expect to receive through its various revenue sources."
The 4th District race pits Democrat Brian Gulley against incumbent Republican Bill Fekete.
Gulley, 33, is a union autoworker at Ford's Chicago assembly plant.
"My top priority would have to be restoring professionalism and decorum to city government," he said. "Everything we need to accomplish as a city, from living within our budget to being more transparent, can only be done if we work together and respect one another."
Fekete, 89, who is retired after working 38 years at the Anderson Co., said his priorities include updating infrastructure in the older sections of the city, eliminating flooding east of Willowcreek Road, supporting needs of first responders and city department heads, maintaining the quality of life in the community and cleaning up vacant lots in his district.