Candidates tackle issues, big question

Published 10:44 am Thursday, October 23, 2008

Last night, about 100 people came out for the third mayoral roundtable forum featuring the six balloted mayoral candidates: Andy Damiani, Michael Debranski, Linda Johnson, Roger Leonard, Dwight Nixon and Tom Powell.

Each candidate was given two minutes for opening remarks. Following their remarks, Moderator Ross Boone asked two candidates a question prepared for the forum. The questions were chosen randomly from a list that was given to each candidate in advance to prepare, and were given two minutes to answer.

During this hour, candidates faced off on issues varying from the city’s role in workforce development to city budget cuts.

Email newsletter signup

Interestingly, the candidates tended to agree with each other on the question asked. For example, both Nixon and Powell said the city had a strong role in using the schools and community colleges for workforce development. Both Debranksi and Johnson agreed the CenterPoint project would be good for the city of Suffolk, but there are still unanswered questions that need to be discussed, especially discussing transportation and job development. And, both Leonard and Damiani agreed that cuts would have to be made following state cutbacks – although Damiani was more general saying the city has had to make cuts before and survived, while Leonard more defiantly said the city should look for cuts now.

Following those sets of questions, each candidate got what Dean McClain, the director of the Suffolk division of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce, referred to as “the pop quiz” question. Each candidate was asked a question that had been specifically prepared for them, but had not been provided to them to prepare an answer.

The following questions were asked:

4Johnson was asked whether she stands by her campaign claim that she helped raise the city’s fund from dangerously low to excessive despite reports from former city councilmen saying the funds were not that low. “Absolutely, unequivocally yes,” she said. She added that reports featured people who were not around during the city’s financial low-points.

4Damiani was asked how he would lead today’s Suffolk, since his campaign revolves so heavily around his experience more than 20 years ago. “For one thing, you learn from the past,” he said. “I’ve kept pace. I’m not living in the past. I’m a businessperson. I’m living in today.”

4Powell was asked if he changed his campaign by looking for more incentives in downtown, and slowing down growth in North Suffolk. Powell said he did not change his campaign, and that he sees Suffolk’s four areas (agricultural, North Suffolk, downtown, and villages) like his four children – all have different needs but area under the same roof. “We’re one city, not two cities and we need to join together.”

4Leonard was asked he planned to the lead the same body and city staff he has spent so much time criticizing in the past. Leonard said he would simply lead by merit, always working for the best idea – not the only idea presented. “(Democracy) is supposed to be messy and controversial,” he said. “It’s supposed to be difficult.”

4Debranksi was asked why he was running for mayor when his career and expertise has been in education. “That’s a great question…,” Debranksi said. “And, actually, my expertise is in leadership.” He added he is running to address the concerns he sees in the city as well the ones seen by people in the community.

4Nixon was asked how he thought North Suffolk growth was leading to downtown being ignored when downtown is seeing the new Health and Human Services Building, East Suffolk Recreation Center, Police Department Building and Fairground Project being built. Nixon said Suffolk “looks like two different cities” and “you have to look at what the people are saying.” He said the people tell him they want the same family centered projects such as retail stores and movie theaters that North Suffolk has.