Ward 4 Alderman John Fulgenzi is used to having competition when it comes to politics and business. The alderman, who’s seeking a second term on the city council, has two opponents who have both unsuccessfully run for elected office: John Thomas as a write-in mayoral candidate and Angel Sides for the 13th Congressional District.
In addition to being the incumbent, Fulgenzi has the advantage of name recognition, due to his family’s long political history in Springfield. His daughter-in-law, Annette Fulgenzi, was appointed to the Sangamon County Board in 2015 after Fulgenzi stepped down following his election to the city council. Fulgenzi had served on the county board since 2004, when he was appointed to fill a seat that had been vacated by his son, Jeff Fulgenzi, who is also an elected member of the Lincoln Land Community College board.
The family business, Fulgenzi’s Pizza & Pasta on East Sangamon Avenue, has served as Fulgenzi’s office for hearing constituent complaints and meeting with other city officials.
When Illinois Times scheduled a meeting with the alderman for this story, the interview had an audience as Mayor Jim Langfelder, corporation counsel Jim Zerkle and the city’s communication director, Julia Frevert, finished their lunch with Fulgenzi. Whether it is a phone call or someone dropping in at the restaurant, “I’m available 24 hours a day,” Fulgenzi said.
Even his opponents, Sides and Thomas, have said Fulgenzi is “a nice guy.”
“I like him, I just think he’s a little restricted on his ability to get out and see the problems in our ward,” said Thomas, referring to Fulgenzi’s health issues. Fulgenzi, who has dealt with a stroke and kidney cancer in recent years, has said that while he may not be able to walk door-to-door throughout his ward, he can still respond to constituents and address matters that come before the council.
Thomas, who now owns his family’s business and works as a mechanic at E. E. Thomas Garage, thinks his ward needs someone who will be able to get out and assess the conditions of the ward without help.
As president of the homeowner’s association in Twin Lakes, Thomas said Fulgenzi was absent when there were drainage issues with five roads in his subdivision. Thomas said he never called Fulgenzi about the two inches of ice that built up in cul-de-sacs after a heavy snowfall, but he thinks those are the type of problems Fulgenzi needs to be vigilant about and address proactively.
“Our alderman, he never came out and surveyed the problem or was aware of that,” Thomas said.
Sides, a substitute teacher for District 186, agrees with Thomas when it comes to Fulgenzi not being an effective leader.
“He seems like a nice guy, but he doesn’t have the ability to represent the residents of Ward 4 when it comes to matters of liquor licensing,” Sides said, referring to Fulgenzi’s decision to not vote on ordinances that deal with liquor or gaming since he has both licenses at his restaurant.
Sides describes herself as a progressive candidate who is concerned about the environment, how to add more solar panels to the city as an energy source and advocates for a city-owned internet service and bank.
“I’m not afraid of appearing too progressive, because in actuality, when people are polled they all want the same thing,” Sides said.
Despite their differences, the candidates and incumbent all agree that there are problems around the ward that need attention. However, most issues that concern residents are problems Fulgenzi says he can’t solve since he is just one vote on the council.
“An alderman can only control so many things.” Fulgenzi said.
One issue Fulgenzi has been actively involved in is the creation of the city’s newest TIF district along Peoria Road, a tool Fulgenzi thinks is necessary to restore the historic Route 66, where Fulgenzi’s restaurant sits. Fulgenzi also spoke positively about the recently city council supported $56 million downtown hotel project.
Sides agrees with Fulgenzi that Springfield could benefit from additional tourism revenue, while Thomas takes another approach. He said residents on the east side of town should be relocated since most are living in unhealthy conditions, but he didn’t offer specifics about how this could happen. Thomas said with the houses demolished, the open area could be sold to businesses that use Interstate 55 to transport goods to Chicago and St. Louis.
Fulgenzi said he thinks economic development should be something left to the experts and the city’s economic development commission.
“I don’t pretend to know how to attract businesses. I leave those questions to the pros and make judgments on what’s reported to the council,” Fulgenzi said.
Lindsey Salvatelli is an editorial intern with Illinois Times as part of the Public Affairs Reporting master’s degree program at University of Illinois Springfield. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.