A handful of candidates running for Ward 4 and Ward 5 council positions attended a what will most likely be the last of multiple forums held before the municipal primary elections Tuesday.
The Southside-Downtown neighborhood group hosted the event at Elks Lodge downtown, and had a sparse attendance of about 20 audience members, which organizers Julie Parker and Qua Austin blamed on the bad weather. The candidates present included ward four challenges Frederick Jackson, Pierre Bard and Lavonne Latham-Harris and Ward 5 candidates, incumbent Stephen Jones and Republican challenger Mark Ward.
The atmosphere at the event was informal and non-combative, a drastic departure from the previous forums in which candidates traded barbs and, on one occasion, mayoral candidate Selvain McQueen left early after a disagreement with organizers.
Despite the easy atmosphere, the five candidates present did not fail to notice — and in some cases comment on — the absence of Ward 4 incumbent Marty Turner or Ward 5 candidate Gary Jefferson.
“When you go to polls (Tuesday) ,,, there’s only two people on that ballot that day,” Jones said during his closing marks. “Me and Jefferson. Jefferson has not showed up for any other forum, so when you go to make that decision, vote for the right person because I’ll show up.”
Parker said she invited both Turner and Jefferson to the forum and never heard back.
At one point during the forum, an audience member asked Ward 4 candidates — Frederick Jackson, Pierre Beard and Lavonne Latham-Harris — who they would support in the event of a run-off. Each promised to support “the best candidate” and none answered with Turner,
Otherwise, audience members asked questions on topics ranging from economic development to education to crime. Candidates had many of the same or similar ideas — cleaning up dilapidated rental homes and working on programs for children both in and out of schools to keep them out of trouble.
Among Jackson’s ideas was the creation of a community center to get people involved in their neighborhoods and to foster after-school and summer programs helping children with academics and keeping them out of trouble.
“My whole platform is that if we change environments, we change lives,” he said. “I think it’s very important that we bring programs back in the school … Let’s create an environment outside the normal school hours where teachers come in … and help students get test scores back up.”
Beard’s focus was on safety and improving the city’s image.
“The safety issue and crime issue in this region in this city, that’s one of the things that I want to knock out,” he said. “I want to minimize as best as possible.”
Latham-Harris pointed out she’s worked with city officials and others in the community as part of her work as president of the Columbus branch of the NAACP and other organizations.
“I’ve been working in the community for a long time, for over 30 years,” she said. “I wear a lot of hats … I’m on a lot of boards, projects … giving back to the community. … I’m a people person.”
She argued she would be able to work with other city leaders and would be accessible to the public.
Ward ran on his experience as assistant fire chief at Columbus Fire & Rescue, a position from which he retired last year after 30 years with the department. He’s had experience writing policies, putting together budgets and working with other department heads and city employees. His issue was crime.
“We’ve got to reduce crime in Columbus,” he said. “That is the big issue. And I’ve got some plans for that. We’ve got to get in the schools.”
He argued that programs like D.A.R.E., an anti-drug program designed for elementary and high school students, need to be brought back to schools.
“It’s been about 10 or 12 years (since D.A.R.E. was in the schools). Now think about this, that age group that we missed are the ones out committing the crimes now.”
Municipal primaries are tomorrow. A voter guide with profiles of nearly every candidate appeared in yesterday’s Dispatch.