The candidates for village president in Wheeling disagree about the severity of vacancies in the town's celebrated Restaurant Row.
Challenger Mark Smith voiced concerns about those vacancies Thursday during a joint Daily Herald endorsement interview.
Incumbent Pat Horcher responded by saying there are only three notable restaurant vacancies along that strip of Milwaukee Avenue -- and one is about to be filled.
Smith, a real estate developer and builder with Wheeling-based Smith Family Construction, is making his first bid for elected office.
Smith called Wheeling "an incredible town" and lauded the developments that have occurred over the past 20 years.
But he decried the losses of businesses in town in recent years, especially on Restaurant Row. He cited Twin Peaks, Golden Chef and the Ram Restaurant & Brewery as examples, as well as a Sam's Club on McHenry Road that closed in 2018 and a TGI Fridays restaurant on Lake-Cook Road that closed last year.
Smith said he fears Wheeling is "rolling in the wrong direction."
If elected village president, Smith said he could look at the issues Wheeling faces from a different point of view. He suggested a task force be created to help the businesses on Restaurant Row.
Horcher, a florist with the Wheeling business that bears his family's name, was elected village president in 2017 and is seeking a second term. He served as trustee from 1995 to 2011.
Horcher acknowledged Golden Chef's closure in 2019 but said a new restaurant, Yu's Mandarin, is set to open in the building at 600 S. Milwaukee Ave. this year. Additionally, the building at 781 N. Milwaukee Ave. that last was home to Twin Peaks until it closed in 2019 is under contract with a new owner who has plans for the site, officials have said.
Horcher also said three new restaurants opened on the row last year.
Although running independently in the April 6 election, Horcher has teamed with incumbent trustee candidates James Ruffatto, Mary Krueger and Mary Papantos and clerk candidate Debbie Acevedo to promote their campaigns via a Facebook page called Keep Wheeling Rolling.
Smith is part of a candidate slate called Moving Wheeling Forward that also features trustee candidates Donald Lee Waller, Kim Scanlon and Laura Rodriguez and clerk hopeful Kathy Brady.