Council candidates work a crowd at the Coleman Library

Northwest voters hit a City Council jackpot Wednesday night as candidates running for Eighth District and At-Large seats crammed into a room at the Coleman Library with about 40 antendees from the neighborhood.

The nine candidates at the forum, sponsored by the Chew and Belfield Neighbors Association, tried to give residents a sense of what they each stood for, while showing off a bit of their personalities.

Andy Toy, who believes council members should work year round instead of having four months of recess at full pay, joked that if he were elected for City Council At-Large, he would be the first “openly Asian-American” on council. Howard Treatman, who is running in the Eighth District, said he is an independent voice with no ties to any political machine.

After introductions, moderators picked a few questions to put to the candidates.

More At-Large

The At-Large candidates discussed what they would do with abandoned properties, how they’d increase transparency and accountability, and what could be done about poor neighborhoods being hit harder by taxes than affluent ones.

Sherrie Cohen promised to take back vacant lands, which she believed should substantially go in the hands of community groups, she said. Changing City Council meetings to weekends and evenings to let people know what is going on is another change Cohen would like to work for, she said.

“We need plain English summaries about what the bills are,” she added. “We need to get the word out.”

At-Large candidate Ralph P. Blakney, who has advocated for senior citizens for 25 years, said putting a freeze or cap on seniors’ tax expenses is necessary. He got applause for that idea.

More of the Eighth

Eighth District Council candidates were asked about whether they would participate in the Deferred Retirement Option Plan, what they would do to benefit the city’s youth and if they support school district superintendent Arlene Ackerman.

Bill Durham said DROP is a benefit to city workers, but that it can be used unfairly, as when elected officials sign on.

Similarly, Greg Paulmier said he wouldn’t participate in the DROP program and that he was opposed to any city official who would. He would rather make changes, such as connecting community centers to schools so programing at every school extends beyond dismissal.

“The school day isn’t over,” he said of this type of community-school partnership. “It just changed gears.”

Andrew Lofton, who focuses on youth programs, would like to keep expanding on the youth work he already does, whether it be track and field or having a young business leader talk to children about entrepreneurship, he said.

And Verna Tyner wants to encourage parents to work more with the school system.

The only Eighth District candidate who missed the candidate’s night was Robin Tasco. 

Local impressions

After reading the names of the candidates in the newspaper, resident Stephen Johnson realized he only recognized some of them. So on Wednesday night, he attended the forum to learn more.

With a spiral notebook in hand, he took detailed notes that he would relay to his family, he said.

Johnson said each of the candidates said something to make themselves appear like they are the one who should get the job. But he doesn’t believe voters should base their decision on just one performance.

“There’s a large African American turnout,” he said. “Would they say the same thing [in another neighborhood]? Go somewhere else to hear.”

The event ended with each candidate getting two minutes to discuss why they were running in this election and why they didn’t run before.

Cindy Bass, who arrived late, ran four years ago.

Since then she has not stopped knocking on doors and talking to voters, she said. And as is the case in the Eighth District, she noted with optimism, several seats on City Council are guaranteed to be filled by new representatives after some incumbents step down at the end of this year. So, by 2012, the leadership at City Hall should look very different.

“This is going to be a brand new day,” Bass said. “I want to go downtown and represent the district.”

 

NewsWorks and its partner organizations will hold a voter forum for the Eighth District April 5 beginning at 6:30 p.m. at the Commodore Barry Club in Mt. Airy. Click here for details or email pcobbs@whyy.org, or atu@whyy.org.

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