Council Candidates Debate at Hickman 

The stage setting for the Meet the Candidates event included matching floor lecterns for the two Ward 1 candidates for city council and a desk for the moderator. Pictured from left, incumbent and Vice Mayor Dan Liedtke, Bruce Plesser and moderator Barry Rubin.

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 event was video-streamed live online at and broadcast on Spectrum cable channel 640. An archive copy of the video is available at

Hear the audio of the entire debate here.

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.”

Hear complete responses to this question 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.”

Hear complete responses to this question here.

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.”

Hear complete responses to this question here.

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.”

Hear complete responses to this question here.



  1. I attended & immediately contacted The Gabber to let them know my experience with the questions that I submitted not being asked. Surprisingly & unfortunately, no one called me to talk about it, but sounds like The Gabber called the people that got to filter the questions. I already asked him after the debate why my questions were ignored. He said my questions were too long & that he only asked questions of different pertinent topics. (? Hmm. ^ see the recording. Is that really true? No. There were redundant, boring questions.) & Even though, the event was scheduled for 2 hours & he told us 2 times they were running out of questions, & asked us “please get them up to the stage”. I set up my questions like they do at many debates I have been apart of: I wrote a few sentences about the issue/problem & last sentence was the question with a question mark! And the ones that were asked to the candidates were the same types of questions & even ones that were not even pertinent to Gulfport anymore: Body cams were already being used, years ago. Yes, LGBT have been taken care of here. Unfortunately & obviously, if you were there, moderation by the chamber of commerce gets questions filtered & many related to money, downtown & businesses, not much for residents or about the quality of the city. Just see the recording, even The Gabber couldn’t give a sample of good questions, because there weren’t many that were asked. In my opinion if residents want to be represented & heard,
    debates should be run by people not business owners. I asked 5 different questions ranging on topics that were not asked on record, I was silenced & ignored at a debate that was not easy for me to attend. I asked which candidate acknowledges climate change, how can minorities feel safe & comfortable here, the state of hooks, lines, guts & garbage left by fishermen on the pier to hiring another code compliance officer to give more warnings or fines to homeowners for many obvious code violations. Of course, everyone knows not all questions will be asked. But, The Gabber did not mention, surprisingly, this was not a well attended event!
    Moderator reminded us twice not to interrupt by clapping because of time limits or bias, but he thought it was ok to put his two cents in with a comment & laughing about The Yankees? In the end, I at least hope all 3×5’s made it to city council so they can decide which questions are pertinent to Gulfport, it’s residents & the businesses & can add them to their agenda accordingly. The last debate here was moderated very well by The Women’s League of Voters & in the future I think we should always use them or any unbiased group to lead debates. City council in collaberation with its residents & businesses are supposed to listen & help everyone to make the city wonderful & attractive for all. We need to make sure Gulfport is doing that at all times.

  2. I was unable to attend the debate, but when I read the article, I found myself questioning the reason for not having it run by the LWV as in previous election years. Their neutrality and their know-how have allowed questions like those in Rhonda Muscat’s comment to be heard in the past. I know because I have written some of the questions that have been selected.

  3. As the author of the event news story, I talked to the two people who were organizing questions immediately after the debate to learn about their specific process as these details were not addressed by the moderator during his formal remarks. I did not interview anyone else — you or anyone — as that would have been beyond the scope of this event story. It is not an analysis piece. Given space limitations in print and online, I chose to summarize several questions referring Gabber readers to the clean audio file I recorded of the moderator and especially the two candidates for the complete “report.” I also gave the audio file to the city as a public service so they could use it with their video file since the system built into the theater was having technical issues. I invite you to discuss your moderator idea with the sponsor of the event — the City of Gulfport — in the spirit of effecting a possible change for the future. Thank you for reading my news reports, viewing my photojournalism and listening to the multimedia files I provide.

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