With Mobile citizens heading to the polls in just two weeks, the three mayoral candidates faced off for the last time in a debate in a nearly filled auditorium at Davidson High School Aug. 13.
WKRG and the League of Women Voters of Mobile sponsored the only televised debate. Due to the constraints of television, each candidate only had as little as 30 seconds toward the end to give their opinion on things like bringing Mobile together, what to do with the RESTORE Act money and blighted properties.
The debate on Aug. 13 also marked the only time all three candidates — Doris Brown, incumbent Sam Jones and Sandy Stimpson — participated in the same debate.
While the debate was free of some of the one-liner attacks that have peppered the first two, perhaps the most memorable moments of the night came from Brown’s eccentric answers to a few of the questions.
WKRG’s Peter Albrecht served as moderator, and after introductions by the candidates asked what priorities they had for the budget in the next four years.
Jones and Stimpson were in agreement that the most important aspect is public safety while Brown said she would want to build a better city through better housing structures.
Jones also said services for the community should be a priority and then had a laundry list of other important things — the arts, recreational facilities, infrastructure, etc.
“Our budget is based on the plan for the city and our plan for the city is to provide the best services possible with the resources we have,” he said.
Stimpson began by saying if public safety is important to the administration, then the police officers should have been given a raise in the last six years. He then said infrastructure is a major concern and should be a top priority.
“When I look around and see the flooded streets and see the right-of-ways not being properly maintained, I just wonder where are the priorities,” he said.
The candidates next handled the idea of taxes specifically the sales tax increase that is expected to expire in 2014. Brown and Stimpson said they would not extend the tax beyond 2015. Stimpson said it was not a wise move to have raised the city’s sales tax increase from 4 cents on the dollar to 5 cents.
“I think it was a mistake to put the tax in. Today in the state of Alabama of the top 50 metropolitan areas, Mobile’s businesses are taxed the highest,” Stimpson said. “That burden is making people drive outside the city limits to make purchases.”
Jones spent his time defending the sales tax increase, but neglected to say whether or not he would extend the tax in 2015.
“During the worst recession in the history of the city, the city developed a plan and we had to do a lot of things to make sure we didn’t have to lay off anyone and that we didn’t cut services,” Jones said. “As a result of that, Mobile was listed in Forbes as one of top 10 cities to recover from the recession.”
Mobile was included in a Forbes article listing the best and worst cities for recession recovery in 2009.
The candidates also weighed in on where they would place BP RESTORE Act funds, which can be used on environmental projects that promote tourism or economic development.
Stimpson said he would not spend the money on building I-10 bridge over the Mobile River like Jones suggested during the July 10 debate (http://classic.lagniappemobile.com/article.asp?articleID=6577&SID=1). Jones advocated using some of the RESTORE money for matching funds in building the bridge.
“My priority would definitely be for the environment because that’s where the most harm was done,” Stimpson said. “I’ve heard it said the money should be used for the bridge and I think that is a terrible idea. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to direct monies toward the environment, toward tourism and toward economic development.”
Jones quickly shot back saying without the bridge there wouldn’t be much tourism in the city.
“I don’t think you’ve had any movement to fund the bridge, but you’ve certainly had movement to provide the matching share with the government to fund the bridge,” he said. “Without the bridge, there is no tourism in Mobile. Without the bridge, there is no traffic moving period.”
Perhaps the lightest moment of the night was when Albrecht asked the candidates to evaluate their opponents and include at least two positive characteristics.
Stimpson said Jones’ service to the country, county and city are all positive, but then joked that he was concerned about Jones because he is a close friend of Stimpson’s brother-in-law.
Jones returned and said Stimpson is passionate, a good businessman and a good Christian. He also said Stimpson loves the city, but feels he has blind ambition.
“(Stimpson) says he going to do things, but never says how,” Jones said. “Promises are like the wind.”
The night concluded with the candidates making short statements about what they will do for Mobile if elected mayor.
Stimpson said he would take responsibility, and has a vision for the city. Jones said his campaign is about performance and not promises. Brown said the city would see change just four days after she was elected.
Brown stole much of the thunder during the evening with suggestions that she would bring a horse derby, hockey team and homemade cruise ship to the city.
There is still time to register to vote before the election on Aug. 27. The final day to register to vote is Aug. 16 and can be done so at the Board of Registrars. The last day to apply for absentee ballot is Aug. 22 and can be done so via mail or at the absentee election office in Government Plaza. The last day for emergency absentee ballot is Aug. 26 and must be done in the absentee election office.
The municipal election will be Aug. 27. The polls will open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.