2023 Mayoral Election Overview: Benny White

Jay Deegan, Editorial Editor

This Q&A is a part of Central Times’ 2023 mayoral election coverage. To see interviews with all candidates in the race, click here

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Bio: Benny White is a Naperville City Councilman, first elected to his seat in 2017. Previously, he had been appointed to the District 204 Board of Education in 2012, was elected to the post in 2013 and served on the board until 2017. In 2015, White was appointed to the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners where he served till 2017.White served as a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. army for 22 years before retiring in 2008. Currently, White serves as the director of the JROTC program at Joliet West High School.



Q: Why did you decide to run for mayor?

A: The main reason I’m running is to continue to keep Naperville the safest community in America, and to also embrace the great diversity of our community and to create an atmosphere for everyone to thrive and be successful. It all started from me serving 22 years in the Army, being a West Point graduate, and really having had an opportunity to have the Army values instilled in me. I talk about loyalty and duty and honor, integrity, personal courage, selfless service, those are the things that the folks in the army or military really live by, after serving my country and having the opportunity to serve my community. After having the encouragement from a lot of people as well as me, my family, and so on. I’m willing to step up and hopefully be the  next mayor of Naperville.


Q: How would you describe your platform? 

A: I have three priorities. As I run, the first one is public safety and public health. Naperville has been named the best, safest city in America. We have the best professionals when it comes to policing. Our firefighters and paramedics have been absolutely fantastic. One of our challenges that I’m seeing, however, is that we are finding that there are a lot of people who are not going into policing or being a firefighter, and it’s happening across the country, it’s not a Naperville specific thing. But the pool of people wanting to do those jobs has shrunk tremendously. Over the last few years I had served on the board of fire and police commissioners where we were responsible for hiring the police officers and firefighters for our community. On a testing day, there may be 800 people to show up, who want to compete for the few slots that were available to serve in Naperville. And at the end of the day, we might have, you know, 250 people who are on a list. Right now that list is less than 20 people, because people don’t want to do it for various different reasons. So that’s a challenge for us to sustain those types of rankings and ratings that I’d mentioned before. So we’re gonna have to be more proactive in going out and doing active recruiting to bring people in. Going into different communities, obviously Chicago would be a great opportunity to sell people on Naperville  who are interested in law enforcement.

Economic development and opportunity is number two. With economic development, we do a really good job of bringing in businesses to Naperville, we need to continue to do that, especially attracting businesses in the District 204 area of the community. We recognize 204 residents are paying higher taxes than the residents in the District 203 area. And that’s primarily because there’s a better ratio of commercial development in the 203 area. And when you have a lot of commercial development, the commercial businesses would absorb some of the tax burden compared to what the residents would normally have to absorb. When it comes to opportunity, we have to look at housing choices, and know what kind of housing we have. Do we see that as an issue here in the community right now? You heard me discuss the great firefighters we have and the police officers, but many families move to Naperville because of the great school systems. But as I asked those individuals where they live, in fact, better yet, I asked them where they don’t live. And you’ll find that it’s not in Naperville, because it’s just so expensive to live here. A lot of this comes down to sustainability. How do we sustain that community? Housing is a sustainability issue. So I’m huge into that. Sustainability isn’t just energy and green space, which are awesome things that we have to improve on. But it takes an overall type approach to keeping the community thriving. 

Finally, good governance. People need to be able to trust their government officials. I’m the son of a police officer. My mom was a professional. But my parents really instilled just great values in me that helped to make me the man that I am today. Being a 22 year veteran that talks about my values, Army values, those are the things that make me who I am, and more folks to know that they can trust me. So that’s kind of what I’m looking at.


Q: What is your vision of Naperville 10, 20, 30 years from now?

A: Well, that we are a thriving community. We always have to be looking ahead by doing research and analysis on future things that are coming up, that we need to be in front of. An example might be looking back in the 70s, they decided to build underpasses under the railroads, which back then I’m sure was a much more expensive option than just letting cars go over the train track. But after working in Wheaton, and living in Naperville, I see a huge difference. Will people be driving the same way now then they will be in the future? Autonomous driving is becoming more and more popular, will it be more of a norm in the future? If that’s the case, will we need all the parking that we have right now? I want us to be able to take advantage of the new technology for our future, so that it will allow us to continue to thrive and go forward. I’m totally convinced that as soon as the community thinks it’s reached its goal and stopped working, that’s exactly when we start to go the negative way. We need to have the mentality that we’re never satisfied with where we are. You’re always looking ahead. We have a bicentennial coming up very soon. In eight years. We will be 200 years old. We’ve got to be looking at that as well putting things in place, maybe start some committees that will start doing the planning for that bicentennial.


Q: There is minimal affordable housing in Naperville. What actions would you take to raise the affordable housing stock?

A: I would love for us to work on initiatives to improve the ratio of our affordable or workforce attainable housing, whatever [word] we want to use. It’s right now it’s at seven and a half percent, the goal is to get it to 10%. So we just have to come up with innovative ways. In order to do that we have passed an ordinance for affordable housing that will incentivize developers to come in and build here in Naperville and provide some affordable solutions. The other piece is that we have to define what affordable looks like for Naperville because the actual number that is used by buy hood, it basically uses one number for all Chicagoland. And there’s different parts of Chicago that are just different from each other. And it just doesn’t work for Naperville. The property values out here are high. So to put the number that they would want us to have on that just really wouldn’t make sense for us. But we can do a better job of making it affordable for whatever Naperville is, more or less. And you know if it’s just a little bit higher than what that number is, but it’s reasonable for Naperville, then that’s what we need to look at.


Q: What is your vision for Downtown Naperville?

A: There’s things that we have to do from an infrastructure standpoint, to keep the community moving forward. The Washington Bridge is probably going to take a couple of years to finish up. And that’s not a pretty project. But without that bridge being intact, you could just imagine the traffic flow issues we would have from north to south. And obviously, the main reason we need to be doing that is from a safety standpoint to ensure that folks going across that bridge are able to do it in a safe manner. I think one thing we need to look at as well is we need to have parking that is handicap accessible. We have handicap parking, but it’s really not conveniently located. It meets the legal authority and ordinances, but if you go to Water Street you don’t see handicap parking. If you want to go to one of those restaurants, you just can’t do it, unless you go in the garage. I have an elderly in-law with me that can’t just get around and do that. So I think it’s something I would like for us to take a look at. I don’t want to make it all handicap and then all of a sudden, it’s just a lot of spots down there that people aren’t using. So you need to find a happy medium and study it and figure out what’s the right answer for that as well.


Q: Over the last few years, the Ogden Avenue Corridor has been greatly improved. Are there any large scale corridors or areas of improvement you would like to see through if elected mayor?

A: What we call our IADA corridor, off Diehl Road, I think that could be an IT corridor for our community. But instead of just one big company coming into a particular building, you can bring in different companies to ensure space up there, have a hub for companies to come in and set up and they use it to network and to train and, and to excel as a business.


Q: What’s your view of the current fiscal state of the city, and possible improvements you would like to see fiscally?

A: We actually have done a really good job balancing our budget. We’ve in fact increased our reserves. We had a goal of getting it to 25%, and I believe it’s at 27%. We’ve paid down our debt. We wanted to reduce it by 25%. We’ve actually reduced it by 33%. So another good news story, the financial principles that have helped to guide this community have really come to fruition and I’m really proud of the fact we’ve been able to do that. We’ve maintained our tax rate throughout the time I’ve been on the council. And in fact, this last budget that we did, we actually decreased the tax rate here in the city. So that’s a great thing. Sometimes it may not feel like that. Because we know taxes are high, and they’re higher because our property values are so high. But if you look at our actual tax rates for the city, they are some of the lowest in DuPage County. And people need to also understand that city taxes are just a small part in comparison to the overall tax that you pay.


Q: Over the last few years, our country has become more partisan. Have you seen anything reflective of this in your race for a non-partisan position?

A: This is my fourth nonpartisan election, and I’ve been reelected for many reasons, but what people appreciate is the fact that I’m an independent thinker, and I always put not a “D” or a “R”, in my decision making, but an “N”, which is Naperville. That’s always at the forefront of my decision making. I’m a huge proponent of diversity, equity and inclusion. I’ve done a lot of work since I’ve been on the city council and on the school board. When it comes to that, my record will show that as well. I say that because when we talk about diversity, we talk about diversity of thought. Naperville has traditionally been more of a conservative town when it comes to the leadership here. As you’re hearing people talk about, we’re getting more partisan. Well it’s a lot easier to say we’re more partisan, because what we’ve been used to in the last few years for most of the time is one party. But now that we’ve grown in so many ways to a much more diverse community, you’re getting different thoughts that come to fruition as well. So I think that’s part of what makes our community great is that we understand what our diversity is, the diversity of thought, and we’ve got to get our hands around it. I kind of contribute that the partisan talk around here really is that we’re just becoming more diverse and have that diversity, diversity of thought, compared to maybe what it had been years ago.


Q: What role do you want to see young people play in the city of Naperville if you were to be elected mayor?

A: I’d really like our young people to be involved in what we’re doing from a government standpoint. We talked about sustainability. Well, part of sustaining a community is we have to start working with our youth, and getting them involved in government as much as possible so that they understand how all this all works. We’ve got to work early on in getting them on the commissions and committees, maybe even start a youth council that can advise the City Council on what they are thinking. This is a win-win for everyone.


Q: How have your experiences in the army influenced your positions and leadership style of today?

A: My sweet spot is leadership. That’s what I’ve been doing. Even my doctorate is in values driven leadership. And I’ve been able to apply that experience to almost know everything I do. If you look at my resume, without a doubt I am the most experienced person running in this race. I have been on that school board. I have been on the board of fire and police. I’ve served on the Council for the last six years. In fact, I’m the second most senior council member that’s on the council right now. With that experience, I understand the intricacies of inter governmental relationships. I understand that when I make the decision at the City Council, I can understand the impact of what it might do to our schools because I’ve been on the school board. I have that perspective, I have relationships on both of those bodies of government, which I think pays dividends for our community.


For more on the 2023 mayoral election, click here.