According to the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce’s Local Affairs Director Shayla Beaco, the Chamber’s annual Pork & Politics in the Park is a member-centric event, allowing small business owners a chance to take a break from their often hectic schedules to meet elected officials and candidates for office and discuss any legislative issue of interest. But perhaps the candidates for office – identified by their white Pork & Politics aprons – have more to gain by meeting some of the movers and shakers of the community and explaining why they are more qualified or better suited to do the job than the other guy, or girl.

Indeed, at this year’s event Aug. 6 at Battleship Memorial Park, as many as 25 political candidates accepted invitations and were eager to work the crowd. All three candidates for Mobile’s mayoral race were there, but in a larger field, so were several hopefuls wanting to represent City Council District 2.

Just a day after their qualifying period ended, most of the 11 party-affiliated candidates for Alabama’s District 1 in the U.S. House of Representatives were also present, as was James Hall, who is running independently.

“I’m running independently because of my disenfranchisement with the Republican Party,” he said. “I think people can identify with that and if I get elected, I won’t be accountable to anyone but the voters.”

For Hall, an event like Pork & Politics gives him the opportunity to explain his position to people who may enroll in an influential word-of-mouth campaign with their co-workers, employees or business associates.

“Because everyone is associated with the Chamber, I think they are naturally more committed to the community and what they think means a lot,” he said. “So I came to introduce myself and let everyone know I’m not a politician, I’m just a regular guy willing to represent them and take a common sense approach to government.”

David “Thunder” Thornton, a retired oil industry employee and small businessman, is also one of the congressional candidates who stands to benefit from the personal interaction of Pork & Politics. It also gave him a moment to explain the origin of that nickname – it was given to him by football teammates at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire.

“It’s nice to come out and see so many old friends and meet so many new friends,” he said. “I won’t speak about the other candidates, but in my own campaign, I tell everyone I’ve never been on the dole of the government and I’ve offer more personal and professional integrity.”

Sharon Powe, one of nine Republican candidates including Thornton who qualified for the special primary election Sept. 24, also saw Pork & Politics as an opportunity to introduce herself to potential voters.

“You may not have heard of me, but that’s why I’m here,” she said. “If you were to look at all the candidates, I would stand out as a Jeffersonian conservative with quite possibly the most conservative values and principles. And as a minority female, I believe I would really shake things up in Washington.”

Howard Waters was also there, campaigning for a seat that won’t be contested until next June. Waters wants to replace Sam Cochran as Sheriff of Mobile County. Waters was a 26-year deputy before his retirement and currently serves as a constable in the Grand Bay area.

“It’s never to early to start campaigning,” Waters said. “I have different ideas for the sheriff’s office than the current sheriff and hopefully people will know who I am and what those ideas are when it comes time to cast a ballot.”

In the congressional race, if a runoff is necessary, it will be held Nov. 5 and the winners from each party will meet in a special general election Dec. 17. If no runoff is required, the general election will be Nov. 5.

Meanwhile, the Mobile Chamber of Commerce will also host Gov. Robert Bentley at 8 a.m. Aug. 27, Mobile’s municipal election day, at its annual Forum Alabama event, which Beaco said was an opportunity for Bentley to provide members with a general legislative update and status report about issues important to south Alabama.