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Josh Bergeron: City Council candidates get first facetime with voters at forum

A Salisbury City Council forum organized by the group Rowan Concerned Citizens last week showed that, while all incumbents are running for re-election, there’s a good group of challengers, too.

There’s never a true “winner” in forums, particularly when there’s no interaction between candidates. And some candidates would admit that they’re not top-notch public speakers.

But everyone had a moment that, for better or worse, will resonate with voters.

From Giannina Monzon, who said she’s just a citizen running to help her city, to Mayor Al Heggins, who proudly said Salisbury is addressing issues of racism and slavery, here are some of those moments:

Gemale Black, the youngest candidate at last week’s forum, was well-suited to address a question about bringing young people to live in Salisbury and keeping young folks who are already here.

Black said he’s comfortable in Salisbury and that the city has a lot to offer, but many of those offerings are clustered downtown.

“A lot of younger people cannot come downtown because they don’t have a ride downtown,” Black said. “They can take the transit, but the transit stops at nine o’clock … So, we need to outskirt some things into the community.”

Heggins had a number of good moments. She’s a polished public speaker. But there’s one moment that will surely stick with those who attended the forum because of their loud, positive reaction.

“We know that we have this special condition here in the South that looks at Confederate symbols and what these symbols mean,” Heggins said. “And when we talk about ‘leave the past in the past,’ that’s not always the easiest thing to do. How many women were told in their lifetime because they were rape victims, ‘leave the past in the past.’ That’s why we have this tremendous ‘Me Too’ movement going on right now because women got so tired of being suppressed and their voices not being heard.”

In responding to a question about fair lending practices, Councilman Brian Miller perfectly described a well-functioning city council.

“Part of what works with a council is when we collaborate with one another. We actually bring ideas and we talk about stuff. We do it in a manner that helps build consensus. … We’re all here representing different parts of our community, but we ought to be able to work together.”

That answer came as Miller said that he had not personally witnessed discriminatory lending during his career in banking while also saying he wasn’t denying discriminatory lending occurs. And, Miller said, Heggins is more experienced in the area of discriminatory lending.

Monzon introduced herself to the forum attendees with a few short sentences.

“My name is Giannina and I’m new,” she said. “And I’m a concerned citizen. So, I think I’m in the right place.”

Monzon said she stands for a few things: innovate ideas, truth and fairness, collaboration and diversity on the council.

“I’m not a politician. I’m a concerned citizen, and I care about our city,” she said.

In responding to a question about a separate mayor’s race, Sheffield got personal when she said that “precedent does none of us any good.”

“Precedent keeps us suppressed,” she said. “If it were precedent, I would not be able to work for a good company. I would not be able to work for the city of Salisbury and represent you as a city council member because I’m female. I would not be able to be married to the person that I love.”

If a separate mayoral election referendum doesn’t receive the support of voters in November, Sheffield said she would like to pass a policy ensuring the top voter-getter in a city council election becomes mayor.

Challenger John Struzick’s answer about Confederate symbols will resonate positively with those who disagree with Heggins and negatively with those who do.

It’s not practical, Struzick said, to change names of streets associated with the Confederacy. And changing the names of streets won’t make bad memories go away, he said.

“It is what it is. It was what it was. We just have to try to advance, to move on,” Struzick said.

It’s old hat by now, but local elections are the most important because of the impact that offices such as city council have on our daily lives. Voters should ensure they have a chance to hear candidates for their town or city council race at least once before casting their ballot in November. For Salisbury voters, the next chance to hear candidates will be 5:30 p.m. Oct. 10 at the Norvell Theatre on Fisher Street.

Josh Bergeron is editor of the Salisbury Post. Email him at josh.bergeron@salisburypost.com.


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