Kankakee Ald. Dennis Baron won’t seek 9th term
KANKAKEE — Kankakee Alderman Dennis Baron believes there should be term limits.
“No one should be allowed to seek a ninth term,” the 66-year-old 6th Ward alderman cracked.
Baron, of course, was joking. However, the veteran Republican lawmaker and the city’s most senior council member in terms of years served will not be seeking re-election come the Feb. 26 primary election and the April 2 general election.
When Baron’s eighth term comes to a conclusion in May 2019, it will be his last.
“I didn’t have an eight-term plan,” he said. It just worked out that way, he noted.
Baron had been thinking about stepping back from elected life and he recently came to the conclusion the time to step away had finally arrived.
The thought began creeping into his mind shortly after earning his eighth term in 2015.
“The time had come in my mind to let someone else serve. This was not a snap decision,” he said.
Regardless of how much thought Baron has put into this decision, it will be somewhat awkward this coming May to see the council assembled and Baron not being at his customary seat.
‘Our local statesman’
“When we think of statesmen, we think of those on the national level,” said Kankakee Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong. “There is no question that Dennis Baron served as our local statesman. ... I don’t even want to think about May 1 when he’s no longer here. He will be missed.”
While Wells-Armstrong and Baron may not have had a long political relationship, the pair’s friendship dates back about 25 years when Baron was her son’s youth soccer coach.
The mayor said she had heard rumblings about Baron stepping away so she simply asked him if what she was hearing was true.
“When he told me it was, I had to hold back tears,” she said.
Baron joined the council after defeating then-incumbent Ald. Betty Durrell in the Republican Party primary and then two candidates in the April 1987 general election.
When Baron completes his four-year term this coming spring, he will have served 32 years and attended more than 750 council meetings.
He has no plans to find a candidate to run for his council position.
“I’m stepping away from elected politics. To recruit someone to take my place would not be stepping away,” he said.
When his tenure concludes, he will have served under four mayors, Russell Johnson, Donald E. Green, Nina Epstein and Chasity Wells-Armstrong. He states he worked with all four equally well. He wanted to make it clear the change in the administration from Epstein to Wells-Armstrong in May 2017 had no impact on his move.
Baron’s seatmate for the past 10 years, Republican Chris Curtis, said becoming the senior 6th Ward council member will be a heavy load.
“I still feel like I’m a newbie,” Curtis said. “I’ve talked with Dennis on a lot of issues, and he’s been a great adviser to me. He’s been an outstanding seatmate.”
The only point of contention is their views on college football. Curtis was born and raised near Michigan State University. Baron earned his law degree from the University of Michigan.
Curtis noted he was surprised by Baron’s decision, but at the same time, he wasn’t.
“The time has come to enjoy the fruits of life,” he said.
Former 40-year Kankakee alderman, Steven Hunter, served more than 25 years with Baron. He said if someone wanted to construct an alderman, Baron would provide the blueprint.
“He has so much humility. Even if he didn’t agree with my position, he was still willing to sit down and discuss it. They are going to have to look near and far to find someone like him,” Hunter said. “These are going to be gigantic shoes to fill.”
Former two-term Mayor Nina Epstein served as Baron’s seatmate representing the 6th Ward together for eight years. He was then one of her chief allies during her two-term mayoral tenure.
“I truly valued his judgment. He was such a great sounding board when I was mayor,” she said. “But there comes a time when someone else can represent the city. Others need to step up and take on this responsibility.
“The only way to be involved is to throw your hat in the ring. Social media is not the way to be part of the community.”
One term became 8
A 1969 graduate of Bishop McNamara High School, Baron has spent virtually his entire life in Kankakee and its 6th Ward. He graduated in 1973 from the University of Illinois before attending law school at Michigan.
He served two years on the Kankakee Planning Board before deciding to seek the ward seat.
He won that race and the following seven.
There have, of course, be many up and downs for the city during his tenure. Budget battles, murder rates, lost businesses and unfulfilled projects just to name a few.
But the hometown boy never wavers on his belief in Kankakee.
“I’ve never been more positive about the city of Kankakee than I am right now. We are in a (national) growth economy. Now how do we shift people to Kankakee? The people living here are here by choice,” Baron said. “I served because I wanted a city my family could grow up in. My thought was always ’If I’m here, I want to be a part of this.”
His future plans are much like his current plans. He will continue his law practice. He has no thoughts of retirement. He son, David, joined the firm more than a year ago.
An avid traveler, he said there are many trips running through his mind and that of his wife, Deb.
But what will occupy his time on the first and third Monday of each month when he will no longer be behind his city council desk?
“Maybe playing tennis. I have to identify something during that time slot.”