On March 13 all residents of Gulfport will vote on the Ward 1 council seat. Paul Ray is running unopposed for the Ward 3 council seat and will therefore automatically win.In the annual Meet the Candidates presentation sponsored by the city of Gulfport, the two Ward 1 council candidates took turns answering the same questions on Monday, January 29 at the Catherine A. Hickman Theatre beginning at 7 p.m.
The event, which lasted a little over one hour, followed a question-and-answer format between incumbent and Vice Mayor Dan Liedtke and challenger Bruce Plesser. Members of the Gulfport Area Chamber of Commerce served as facilitators. Barry Rubin, chamber president, moderated while Barbara Banno, chamber vice-president, and Debbie Stevenson, a volunteer, served as reviewers for questions submitted by the audience.
Blank index cards and pencils were made available to about 90 audience members prior to and during the event so anyone could submit questions for possible use.
Candidates were allowed up to one minute for opening statements and responses to each question, then up to two minutes for closing comments. Gulfport Toastmaster volunteers were timekeepers using color-coded folders.
Liedtke won the coin toss to determine who would speak first, and deferred to Plesser, said Rubin.
According to the city’s official publicity poster, the purpose of the forum was to “allow the public to present questions to candidates on topics relative to Gulfport.”
“We kept it on topic to the questions that really affect Gulfport,” said Banno.
Where any questions held back?
“There were questions that were not questions,” said Banno. “And, there were questions that I felt were too personal” or that were repeats.
And, “there were things that didn’t really make any difference,” said Stevenson. Like “questions on the national forefront that we didn’t bring up because I felt like we needed to talk about the city level,” said Banno.
The following is a highlight of answers of selected questions from the debate.
How do you define the character of Gulfport?
Dan Liedtke (DL): “That’s different for everybody you ask. I define it as its people. I don’t think buildings and structures necessarily define our character. The character of Gulfport is a warm, loving, diverse community that looks out for its neighbors.”
Bruce Plesser (BP): “I differ a little bit with Dan on that one. I think there definitely is a character in Gulfport. What that character is we like to say, ‘We should keep Gulfport weird.’ I like that expression. Of course, the people are wonderful here.”
What are your views regarding Gulfport being a sanctuary city?
BP: “I’m in favor of that. I support the Dreamers. I support DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals].”
DL: “I believe in following the laws and rules of this country and that goes against immigration laws.”
What is your vision for 49th Street?
DL: “That’s Ward 4 and I think Councilmember [Michael] Fridovich does a great job representing that area. Everybody that I’ve talked to that has a business there is very happy with the situation on 49th Street. We’ve done a lot to improve that area. My vision is to keep it an open, thriving, positive place for people to conduct business.”
BP: “Forty-ninth Street is our step child. And, I don’t think it should be. It should be developed. The businesses should be heard. The people should be heard. I don’t think they are represented to the extent that the other districts in this city are.”
What are your thoughts on improving parking in the Waterfront and Downtown districts?
BP: “As Gulfport increases in size and in numbers, parking is going to become an issue. And, like everything else in Gulfport, I don’t believe that the various city councils have thought about the future. People in Gulfport should be allowed to park for free. Payment for parking is an issue. Meters, for instance. That’s an issue that should be discussed and I know it hasn’t been.”
DL: “I’m not in favor of parking meters. I never have been and I never will be. One of the cool things about Gulfport is you can park downtown and go enjoy a three-hour dinner if you want and not have to run out to your car and worry about putting money in the meter. We’ve already in the last couple years improved our parking situation.”