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Candidates take questions, give answers

The mayoral forum held Thursday night at the Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center hit the candidates with a gamut of hard questions ranging from the city’s economy to getting the city a new cable provider.

The candidates were given one minute to answer the question, and the first candidate who answered was given a 30 second rebuttal time (the candidate chosen to get the question first was picked through a double round robin selection process).

Below are some of the highlighted questions from Thursday night, as well as a summary of the candidates’ answers:

How would you help prepare the schools to prepare Suffolk students for the 21st century?

Linda T. Johnson said the schools had already begun to do that via magnet school, and modeling and simulation classes coming into schools. She added she would take different projects in the facility, to make sure all of the students are educated for the 21st century, to stay and work in the city.

Roger Leonard said he would focus on the teachers, because they act as “ambassadors” for a lot of material that can be brought in the classroom. He also voiced his support of expanding the role of the Internet in the classroom.

Tom Powell called for proactively communicating with those in charge of education as well as developing and promoting more work with the Workforce Development Center, The Pruden Center and local community colleges.

Michael Debranksi said two things were necessary to prepare students: technology improvements and connecting with business and industry leaders in the community to draw them into the schools to find out what their needs are.

Andy Damiani said the focus should not be on equipping everyone for the high-tech jobs, but also for retail, as well as educating more on local government and community partnerships.

Dwight Nixon said we should understand the importance of comparing math and science skills because high tech jobs are critical in those areas. He also suggested partnering with the private sector to better education.

How would the candidates bring affordable housing to Suffolk?

Powell said affordable housing is defined as what a person can afford. He then said the city could be proactive in grants to take care of this issue as well as encourage incentives for growth.

Johnson called affordable housing a very difficult piece that all the cities are tackling. She supports infill housing, but to make sure it works and that it is compatible in the community. She also praised Habitat for Humanity, calling it a “huge success.”

Debranski said affordable housing is one of the main problems that we face in Suffolk. He said he would work with the housing authority to locate houses and areas that people can enjoy and appreciate, then educate people on using the facilities.

Damiani said it was time to reduce the paperwork and “legal stuff” small, independent builders have to go through to build houses in the city.

Nixon agreed with Damiani, saying the city needs to find developers who can develop the houses necessary as well as needs to be sensitive to the needs of those who cannot afford housing and accommodate them.

Leonard said the city would have to take a “holistic” approach to the problem, because one program alone isn’t going to solve the problem. He encouraged partnerships with organizations like Habitat for Humanity as well as with the developers themselves.

What are the candidates’ plans for transportation especially with the CenterPoint development project being a possibility and the Kings Highway Bridge closing?

Debranski said we needed to extend the lines that public transportation lines feed now and follow the growth in the city. He also said we have to look in much more detail to the transportation plans and the CenterPoint plans specifically because he is concerned that the city will enter into an agreement that will cost millions.

Nixon called CenterPoint a great project, but the city will have to look at putting a good transportation plan in place. He suggested getting more buses on the roads and using the light rails.

Damiani said that transit does not work in Suffolk, nor in the Hampton Roads area, because of a lack of head ways.

Leonard said the transportation issue would have to be solved by the commonwealth, not just Suffolk alone. He stressed the highways are a big problem and the city needs to take a look at where “we’re going to get our biggest bang for our buck.”

Johnson said Route 58 needs help, with or without CenterPoint coming. She said we need to be realistic. Light rail is what we all want and need but the economy is in crisis, so it’s not very realistic right night. She, too, stressed partnerships to make it better.

Powell simply said the city needs to be proactive with the issue, and make sure the people are not hurt like they were when the Kings Highway Bridge shut down.