No, not Christmas (although I do love this time of the year) – city elections. I don’t love the nasty bits of it (sign stealing, pointed accusations, and rumors flying through our community at Mach 3 all come to mind), but what I do enjoy is the smallest-scale evidence of our democracy at work. When I worked at this paper as a reporter, I was the weirdo who loved going through election paperwork to see who supported who, how much people donated to each candidate, and — most importantly — what each candidate loved or didn’t love about Gulfport.
It takes a lot to run for office, and it takes even more to serve the people who elect the winner – and those who voted against the victor. It’s an essentially thankless job performed for pay that works out to such a low hourly rate that the elected officials would make more money at a sneaker factory in China. Add to that the people who show up at council meetings to rail against decisions with which they disagree, the social media pile-on for any comment (perhaps taken out of context) made at a meeting, and, honestly, it seems to me it’s a lot like working as a journalist.
That doesn’t mean I agree with all the decisions our city council makes, or even that I want to see them all re-elected. I do, however, want to see all the candidates shown respect — and I want them to show one another respect, too.
This is why The Gabber will have its second Gulfport Candidate Forum on Feb. 2 (we held our first two years ago; last year, no one ran against the incumbents, so there was no need for a forum), and here’s how it’s going to work. We believe it’s a newspaper’s responsibility to help the community it serves understand what motivates a candidate, especially as the newspaper will follow the actions of those who the voters choose to represent them.
Each candidate will have three minutes to give an opening statement, and another three minutes to give a closing statement at the end of the debate.
Monroe Roark, our news and politics reporter, will moderate the debate.
We will not take questions from the audience or in advance; instead, we’re asking voters to tell us on what issues they want to hear the candidates’ positions. We’re doing this because often times the questions are clearly targeted around a decision an elected official has made in office and is already decided, or they center on things upon which a city council has no control. An example of this would be questions about why teachers can’t get more money, or why we can’t create a median in Gulfport Boulevard (school board and county issues, respectively.) So, no, we’re not asking you to submit questions. We are asking you to email us what issues matter to you. We will not provide a list of issues to the candidates in advance. While they can certainly deduct some of those issues — for example, short-term rentals and the Boca Ciega Yacht Club are hot-button issues right now – we would prefer to hear what candidates think about the issues without having others help them prepare.
We will not entertain or ask any topics about a candidates party affiliation. City elections are nonpartisan. For the purposes of our election, we don’t care how a candidate feels about abortion or EPA regulations. We care about which candidate is going to work best to represent the needs and wishes of Gulfportians.
We will ask each candidate to speak for two minutes on each of the issues presented
We will only allow a rebuttal if one candidate calls out, by name or implication, another candidate.
We will post the video in its entirety on our YouTube channel as soon as possible after the forum ends.
We hope this forum will allow our candidates to offer voters insight into how they truly feel about the issues facing Gulfportians. Our intention is to serve those who live and vote here, and while this may not be the perfect way to do so, it’s the best system we have right now.
While I, as a voter in Gulfport, certainly have my own strong convictions about who should sit on the dais and how they should lead, none of this is about me and my lone vote, and I trust Monroe implicitly to make sure this is a fair forum and that no one’s opinions or emotions enter into offering our community insight into the minds and hearts of every candidate. One of Monroe’s greatest assets in his capacity as moderator is that he lives outside Gulfport city limits and has no proverbial dog in this fight.
To that end, readers, please email issues (not questions; think topics) to email@example.com. While we may receive more than we can use in the two-hour time allotted, Monroe will use as many as he can. In the interest of fairness, we will not let you know whether we plan to use your topic.
Finally, we thank the City of Gulfport for co-sponsoring the forum with us, and we thank each of the six candidates for caring enough to want to represent their wards and people throughout the city. And, of course, thank you all for being a part of a representative democracy. Please vote in this election.
–Cathy Salustri Loper, publisher and editor