Wednesday, September 28, 2005

District VI Candidate Forum

Bahama Village Voices newspaper sponsored a candidates' forum on Monday evening at the VFW on Emma Street. The two candidates for Mayor and the two Commissioner candidates were invited and both pairs of contenders attended.

The format of the forum was more open than some others that were held earlier, in that members of the public were allowed to question the candidates directly following their opening statements and a round of pre-submitted questions.

What was sad about the forum is that it was not well-attended. Subtract the candidates and their supporters, the press, and the organizers, there were probably no more than a dozen 'average citizens' in the room.

It was, nevertheless, an opportunity to see and hear the candidates up close, to hear there unrehearsed answers to questions they hadn't heard before the forum, and to see how they handled themselves in public.

Mayor Weekley, after twenty plus years in public life is the most practiced in the art of answering any question with a positive spin. Morgan McPherson lacks that skill to the same level. Clayton Lopez is running on his record of service to the Bahama Village community and his commitment to the preservation of the community, which is undeniable, while his opponent, Robert Cobb emphasizes his education and experience in business, development and public service. Cobb has very specific ideas about what ought to be done to provide affordable housing and economic opportunity. Lopez has broad support from the historic residents of Bahama Village, many of them people he grew up with. They, however, now represent only 28% of the voting population in the District.

The candidates devoted too much time to sniping and digging at each other, accentuating the negatives of "my opponent". None of them seemed to know each other's name well enough to say it out loud.

McPherson made the gaffe of the evening, in my opinion, when he suggested that a Chuck E. Cheese in the Truman Waterfront Park.

On the plus side, every one of the four candidates acknowledged that the current plans for the Waterfront Park as they currently stand are not acceptable. Each answered positively when asked if they would support modifications to the plan that reduced the amount of traffic and parking inside the Park, and would have the City re-evaluate the proposed traffic flows to and from the Park. The devil will be in the details, but at least they all recognize that the community doesn't want what is proposed now.

The candidates positions on the question of whether to settle the Ducks case or to go forward with the appeals currently underway were varied. Weekley differed from the other three most strongly. He is a proponent of the appeal, saying that three of four possible outcomes of the appeal are favorable to the City. The others supported settlement with Ducks in one form or another. The Mayor's solution if the outcome should not be favorable to the City is to get the Florida Legislature to pass enabling legislation to put a new tax on tourist vehicles -- trains and trolleys, buses, and such -- so that the judgement would not have to be paid from citizen's taxes.

I asked a question about the transient rentals agreement with TAMPOA, the Truman Annex Property Owners Association. There is a consensus among the candidates (and the public) that the TAMPOA settlement regarding transient rentals creates a huge risk for an explosion of such rentals throughout the City, yet a recognition that the Rollinson's and others in Truman Annex and The Shipyard have a court decision that obligates the City to grant them transient rental rights. The agreement is scheduled for a vote on October 5, the day after the election. If it is voted on then, it will be voted by the current Commission, not the new one elected the day before. I believe that would be a mistake, since the new Commission is the one that will have to implement the agreement if it is approved, or defend against the inevitable lawsuit that will follow rejection.

Seven days to go now. The candidates will be busy this week and weekend.

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