Last week, the candidates for Fayetteville’s elected positions gathered at Sams Auditorium in Fayetteville, for their first, and maybe only, political forum.
Forums are presented to engage the public and feature the candidates in a setting that is favorable for good debate and policy airing. I’ve been observing Fayette County politics for more than 25 years, so here’s how I graded Thursday night’s effort:
• The event — This is the highest grade for Thursday. Kudos to all the political groups and The Fayette Chamber of Commerce for scheduling it on a night where there were no other public meetings. Also, it’s a pleasure to see everybody working together.
My only quibble with the event’s planning is that only through the luck of a phone call on the Friday before the event did we even know about it. If you want more people to come, better advance planning is needed. Grade: A-
• The venue — Sams Auditorium. It’s a central location, but problems were rampant. The biggest issue was no microphone. Candidates had to use their big belting Broadway voices to reach the back of the hall. Compounding the issue was the lack of spotlights. There were four can lights in the ceiling over the stage, and only three worked. The only other lighting on the stage was a ficus tree, and a lone bulb about 30 feet in the air at the back of the stage that looked more appropriate for interrogating a witness. Repeated calls to the school system by board member Leonard Pressburg yielded no help. Grade: F
• The questions — C’mon folks, let’s do better than questions such as mass transit and low crime rates. The political parties created these softball questions that were asked, with the exception of maybe two from the audience. Voters need more information to make an informed decision. Grade: D.
• The crowd — For years, Fayetteville has always had the lowest voter turnout for municipal races. If Thursday’s crowd was an indicator, this year will be no exception.
If you deduct the organizers, the professional politicians and general politicos, there were maybe 60 people there. There are 16,000 people in the city… shame on you. Grade: F
• The candidates — Mayor Greg Clifton vs. Ed Johnson. We all knew Clifton would take credit for Pinewood et al, but at least he acknowledged the work of the City Council. Clifton often rambles and doesn’t stay on topic, and continued that trend Thursday. Johnson was solid, but painted with a broad brush, instead of getting into specifics.
Councilman Mickey Edwards vs. Kathaleen Brewer. Surprisingly, Edwards came across as the best candidate. He spoke more Thursday night than during a year of City Council meetings. Edwards was adamant that Fayetteville did not need pawn shops or stores that bought gold.
Brewer is a “visionary.” I know that because she constantly repeated that phrase Thursday night.
Harlan Shirley vs. Mimi Oddo to fill Ed Johnson’s seat: Shirley is a retired businessman and has the backing of former Mayor Ken Steele. He was generally solid in his answers and wants to keep the city on its pro-business path.
Oddo, who is the wife of Councilman Paul Oddo, seems like a nice, well-educated woman. However, if she’s so gung-ho about serving the city, why didn’t she qualify, instead of deciding to run as a write-in candidate?
Grade for all candidates: C+
If this is the only forum for Fayetteville’s candidates, it’s a shame. Nothing was learned in a dimly-lit room with no sound. Let’s hope everybody learned some lessons and does better at future events.
[John Thompson has covered Fayette, its cities and its politics starting in 1989.]