Candidates spar over council unity

Published 10:53 pm Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Not even the question of how to find unity amongst City Council members could unify Suffolk’s six balloted mayoral candidates Tuesday.

During the final mayoral forum prior to the Nov. 4 election, candidates for the city’s highest elected position disagreed on whether unanimous council decisions are even a goal toward which they should strive.

When moderator Cheryl Richardson asked candidates about how they would provide unity in the face of recent 4-3 council votes, it was clear that there was even disagreement about her premise.

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Andy Damiani said that 4-3 votes are to be expected with a city like Suffolk, which has a borough system, with each member elected to represent one borough.

“There’s nothing wrong with a 4-3 vote,” he said. “The idea is just to get it passed. A 4-3 vote is just as good as a 5-2 vote.”

Michael Debranksi said he would want a more cohesive body leading the city. He said he has had a background through coaching, teaching and leadership to help bring people together for a united goal.

Tom Powell and Dwight Nixon both agreed that their role as mayor would be to unify the council.

Powell said he would encourage council members to put their individual agendas aside and remember that every decision they make represents the city of Suffolk.

“Let’s listen with an open mind and when our votes are passed, let’s stick with that decision for the city of Suffolk,” he said.

Nixon said there is diversification in the city, but there should be unification on council.

He added that he would use a teamwork mentality at all times on council.

“I would put teamwork in place,” he said. “Teamwork makes the dream work.”

Linda Johnson disagreed.

“You’re supposed to be independent thinkers up there,” Johnson said. “To say it needs to be 7-0, frankly there’s something wrong.”

Roger Leonard said he thought it was surprising more decisions were not split, and that too much of Council’s current decision making goes on behind closed doors.

“Democracy only works well when it is open,” he said.

Two other questions during the forum proved to be less divisive.

The candidates were asked how they would create an even playing field for minority business owners and how they would take care of citizens without indoor plumbing.

All agreed that the city is doing a good job of creating and maintaining diverse workforces in the city. They also said they would continue to find partnerships and avenues to keep such diversity, while ensuring equality in hiring and the grant/bid process.

Similarly, all the candidates said the problem of citizens living without indoor plumbing was a complex issue. Each promised to bring attention to and make a priority of the issue in order to find some resolution for it.

The forum was held at Tabernacle Christian Church and sponsored by the NAACP.

Only about 40 people showed up for a chance to ask candidates a question, which was less than half of the attendance of last week’s forum at the Suffolk Center for the Cultural Arts.