Livingstone College hosts city council candidate forum

Published 12:06 am Thursday, October 26, 2023

SALISBURY — On Oct. 24, the night before many Livingstone College students would go to the polls to cast their early vote for this year’s election, the Salisbury City Council took part in a candidate forum to impart what they think are the major obstacles the city is dealing with and why people should vote for them.

The questions that were asked were geared towards what is relevant for college students living in Salisbury today.

  • How are HBCU institutions and students best impacted by local city government and how will you, if elected, further that impact?
  • What perspective do you add or will add if elected or re-elected?
  • What are the top three issues facing the city of Salisbury that as a city council member can be directly addressed and how do you plan to address them?
  • Why college students should care about the referendum on the ballot for staggered four-year terms.
  • Why should Livingstone students vote for you in this upcoming election?

“We want to make sure that everything that is asked of the candidates is impactful for a college student, in particularly, a HBCU student,” Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Terri Stevenson said.

Student Government President Matthew Clinton and Miss Junior Denayih Coleman were the moderators at the forum and they were the ones who asked the candidates each of the selected questions.

Mayor Karen Alexander talked about how students have the option to come to speak at city council meetings and how that gives them a chance to be heard on subjects that matter to them. She also described the planning and logistics for largely attended events in the city and how public safety is paramount over everything else.

Council member Harry McLaughlin is the owner of McLaughlin’s Grocery and he said his experience as a local business owner and meeting with customers gives him several viewpoints on what people are going through as regular citizens. Mayor Pro Tem Tamara Sheffield has been working for Frito-Lay for years and what she does at her job correlates to what the city council tries to accomplish.

“I have managed budgets larger than our city budget just at my business alone at Frito-Lay,” Sheffield said.

According to city council candidate Shanikka Gadson-Harris, public safety, affordable housing and visible leadership are the top three issues Salisbury is encountering. By partnering with the police department and having worked at the East Spencer Housing Authority, Gadson-Harris thinks making Salisbury better as a whole will improve people’s prospects once they head out to the workforce after graduating from college.

“We want you guys to finish school, we want you guys to obtain a career, something that you’re going to do for a long time and be a benefit to your society, a benefit to our community and I hope it would be in Salisbury,” Gadson-Harris said. “All of us have a responsibility to be leaders in our community and visible leaders at that.”

Council member Anthony Smith grew up with those who participated in the civil rights movement and said their activism was instilled in him as he got older. He uses that mindset when he is on the city council, when they analyzes the yearly budget, he makes sure whatever is distributed is done as fairly as possible.

“How are these resources redistributed equitably in this community?” Smith said.

Council member David Post stated public safety, advocating for renters’ rights and enticing people to work and live in the city is what Salisbury needs to focus on so the city can live up to its full potential. As an ex-Livingstone faculty member, Post asked the crowd at the forum to go beyond inquiring the city council on what they can do for the people.

“What impact can you have on us?” Post said.

On this year’s ballot, there will be a referendum where voters can decide whether or not to have staggered four-year terms instead of the current two-year term system. Everyone but Post agreed that there should be four-year terms in order to give those in office enough time to achieve their goals, to ensure all of council won’t get voted out at once, and to match other local municipalities. Post argued that being on city council is a “part-time job” and the demand is not at the same level compared to Congress, which also has two-year terms.

When it comes to why Livingstone students should vote for them, each candidate gave passionate responses. Alexander mentioned being an incumbent mayor brings “consistent governance” to Salisbury. Sheffield was blunt about her values and what she is fighting for.

“I believe in people over politics,” Sheffield said.

Smith said he assembles people with his advocacy and will continue that course. Post stressed to the audience that the only thing that matters in the election is to get the most qualified candidates elected.

“Vote for the people that are going to make this city the best place for you to live,” Post said.

Gadson-Harris said she brings many perspectives from working in housing and being the first person in her family to go to college.

“Sitting on the city council is not just about me. It’s about you, me, us. Our city, our council,” Gadson-Harris said.

McLaughlin connects with people all over Salisbury and when constructive dialogue occurs amongst residents, positive outcomes can happen.

“That’s the thing we need to have, to be able to engage with individuals and that’s an opportunity to be there to listen,” McLaughlin said. “Be the voice for those who don’t have a voice.”

Ne’Khia Ray is the student government association vice president and a junior criminal justice major at Livingstone College. She liked all of the candidates responses to the questions and has met some of the candidates at previous events. Housing is a key subject for her and she would like council to attempt to solve this problem.

“They were talking about preparing students for the world, but what about preparing the world for students? They were talking about sustainable income and affordable housing, but how do you keep affordable housing sustainable for college students?” Ray said.