A capacity crowd of 176 at the Catherine A. Hickman Theater in Gulfport listened to and questioned seven contenders vying for two council seats and the mayor’s post during the two-hour Meet the Candidates forum on Tuesday, January 29.
The non-partisan forum was sponsored by the city of Gulfport and, according to the official flyer, the purpose was to “allow the public to present questions to candidates on topics relative to Gulfport.” It was moderated by Barry Rubin, a member of the board of directors of the Gulfport Merchants Chamber (GMC).
Two volunteers from Gulfport Toastmasters in the front row of the audience served as timekeepers for candidate responses using an electronic box that looked like a miniature traffic signal equipped with green, yellow and red lights.
Others, including members of the GMC, gathered and organized the written questions submitted by attendees. Rubin then read selected questions and all candidates had equal time to respond.
From about 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., five councilmember candidates were featured: for Ward II, incumbent and Vice Mayor Christine Anne Brown, Byron Edward Chalfont and Chrisan Herrod; for Ward IV, incumbent and Councilmember Michael Fridovich and Richard Fried. Councilmembers serve two-year terms.
From about 7:45 to 8:30 p.m., the two mayoral candidates were featured: incumbent Mayor Sam Henderson and Frank Joseph Kemnetz. The mayor serves for three years.
All candidates are elected “at large,” meaning citywide.
Questions posed to councilmember candidates included identifying the number one issue for the city that needs to be addressed and detailing the metrics that should be used to measure the performance of the city manager. Mayoral candidates fielded question topics relating to home rule, changes in zoning code and the availability of accessible public transportation.
Three questions posed to all candidates were: (1) detail how you have participated in local volunteer efforts to benefit Gulfport; (2) provide your thoughts on short-term rentals in the city such as Airbnb; and, address the local water quality issue, if there is one. For the latter, some candidates defined “water quality” as drinking water while others focused on Boca Ciega Bay.
One recurring theme common among responses from all challenger candidates was the need for the city to increase their documentation regarding the thoughts and opinions of residents on issues and trends. One data solution that several suggested was the use of public surveys.
In addition, candidates were given equal time for opening and closing remarks.
The forum was streamed live on GTV640 and the complete video is archived online at gulfport.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=6&clip_id=1079.
Gulfport’s 2019 municipal election date is Tuesday, March 12. The last day for new voter registration is Monday, February 11. To find the location of your voting precinct and to view a sample ballot, when available, visit votepinellas.com/Election-Information/Find-Your-Precinct-Polling-Place. For additional information about the Gulfport election, visit mygulfport.us/gulfport-municipal-election-information or call the city clerk at 727-893-1012.