After the Democratic mayoral debate hosted by the Stephenson County Democratic Party, I reached out to both Ronnie J. Bush and Walter Hayward to further address some common questions. Read about my interview with Mr. Hayward here.

While Hayward does not have political experience, he has a lifetime of experience in advocacy, especially youth advocacy. Hayward explained that he worked for Freeport School District as a paraeducator for eight years and has coached basketball and football. He worked at the Sleezer Youth Home, a home that provides care and services for at-risk girls, for nearly twelve years. Hayward served as a board member for the Illinois Interagency Athletics Association (IIAA), an organization that works with at-risk youth to promote self-esteem, teamwork, self-confidence, and sportsmanship. Hayward has also been an active volunteer at the Boys and Girls Club. The club awarded him the Volunteer of the Year award for starting a basketball program called the “Kobe World Ballers.” The basketball program gave local youth “something positive to do” after a tragic accident killed Darryl “Kobe” Cleveland, a beloved student at Freeport High School. Hayward told me that regardless of whether he becomes mayor or not, he will continue his basketball program as a way “to give back.” “I’ve done nothing but advocate and really try my best to be there for Freeport youth,” he explained.

Hayward also elaborated that his freshness to the political scene “is a positive” and that he will translate his background in youth advocacy to being an advocate for the entire community. He said that he will utilize the “same mentality” he had from his years of advocacy if he is elected as mayor. Hayward explained that “there has been a lot of ineffectiveness throughout the years” in city government. He said, “I don’t think experience is a big deal in regard to the political scene” because there has been “a lot of the same old stuff going on.” “We can’t afford to keep going through the same motions every year” by electing the same people who go into office and “don’t make change,” Hayward elaborated. He also expressed that, “politicians forget the reason they are there. They take for granted the people that put them there. I am not going to do that. I never take anything for granted. I’m an advocate and I’m going to do that to the best of my ability.”

During Social Justice Committee meetings this past summer, the committee discussed hiring a social worker for the Freeport Police Department. Hayward asserted that it would be “very beneficial” for the police department. He explained that his background is in “social services” and has worked with people with mental health issues and trauma. Hayward said he would like a social worker hired not only to assist police on a “case-by-case” basis, but also to help “train” police officers. Hayward said he is “definitely on board” with ensuring a social worker is hired for the Freeport Police Department. 

Many citizens of Freeport have expressed animosity towards some members appointed to the Social Justice Committee and the mostly performative tendencies of the committee. Hayward reflected these critiques and said that a lot of things the Social Justice Committee did was “smoke and mirrors.” Hayward explained he had attended some of the meetings and saw that there were many community members there “voicing their grievances,” but believes “none of those things were addressed at all.” Hayward said he first wants to “sit down and have a conversation with everyone” on the committee and “possibly make some changes.” Hayward said he “would also make sure there were younger people” added to the committee because the social justice movement in Freeport was “orchestrated and organized by our young people.” “Why would you not want their voices to be heard on that committee?” Hayward questioned. He also said that he plans to make the Social Justice Committee permanent, rather than a temporary commissioned committee. 

Additionally, Hayward told me that he was asked if students should have diversity programs in schools. Drawing upon his career and volunteer experience, he replied, “To be honest, I do not; young people are not the problem…young people are woke. It’s the adults that have the issue, in regard to race. It’s the adults that have the old ways.” Hayward further explained that he is “encouraged by the youth.”

I asked Hayward if he would be interested in working with Freeport High School’s new career pathways program as a way to diversify the Freeport Police Department and the Freeport Fire Department through recruitment. Freeport High School’s program is designed to give high school students a career direction that provides them with experience and connects them to community members outside of the classroom. Hayward explained that he would “definitely” like to reach out to Freeport High School along with his program, Freeport Youth Initiative (FYI), to diversify the police and fire departments. Hayward explained that FYI consists of an “adult board” that works to implement programs and suggestions proposed by the “youth advisory board.” Programs include “job training, college applications and college visits, mentoring, and various other things.” He also explained to me that young people do not have a lot of interest in becoming police officers because of the “negative stigma” that has developed from recent events and racial profiling, which Hayward explained his son had experienced. Hayward said, “We have to find some way to encourage kids to want to grow up and become police officers.” He said he is “excited to partner with the school district and also bring in FYI,” as he sees this as a way to not only diversify police departments, but to also expand and develop youth programs.

Hayward also wants to incorporate FYI into city government as a way to put young people onto committees. He wants young people to “feel that they have a voice” and wants them to “get excited.” He also discussed starting “a youth advisory board” because “young people know what they want more than we do.” “We can help implement the things they want, but they know what they want and need,” Hayward elaborated.

Many citizens of Freeport are concerned that a Democrat may not be able to beat Mayor Miller and her money. Hayward is not so pessimistic, as he explained to me that “Jodi won by 2,200 votes.” He believes that Jodi Miller’s record will “speak for itself” because she “could be a lot more effective than she is.” He told me that “the mayor has more power than what has been played off lately.” Hayward explained that “we need to get minorities and young people voting.” “Your voice needs to be heard whether you vote for me or not,” he said.

Many Freeport citizens are concerned about the overwhelming influence that the most wealthy residents have on elected officials. Hayward also exhibited this concern; he explained that it is an issue “that truly needs to be addressed” and comes down to “accountability.” “When it comes to big money in Freeport…, we all know that there are issues and serious conflicts of interest,” he said. Hayward explained, “there is no reason for the county clerk’s office” and a “voting area” to be held in a building owned by a politician. Hayward was referring to the Stewart Centre, which is owned by Illinois State Senator Brian Stewart, who owns many buildings that are rented out to businesses and offices. Hayward argued that Freeport has a lot of “empty buildings that could be utilized” such as “the Voices building.” He stated, “I will bring these things up to our elected officials, such as aldermen and county board members, but I will need the support of the residents of Freeport…to hold us all accountable.” Hayward explained that elected officials must be held to “a high standard” so that they do not get “comfortable” and so that they “do what they are supposed to do to make Freeport better.”

Hayward asserted that he can win the Democratic primary and the general election. He said that “it’s time for change” and that he “has not seen the effectiveness of [Ronnie Bush’s] experience,” despite that Bush has “been in politics for years.” “When it comes to experience in advocacy, I have just as much if not more than Bush,” Hayward stated. After the primary, Hayward said that he will be “advocating for people to come out and vote” and that “we need to get new people to come out and vote.” “If people really want change, together we can do it,” Hayward concluded.

“Farah Tolu-Honary is a graduate of Freeport High School and now studies political science and international relations at Beloit College. Issues most important to her include climate change, income inequality, and foreign affairs.”