Wednesday, September 2, 2015

District 5 Candidates Make Good Showing at Tuesday Night Forum

A packed audience at Trinity United Methodist Church got a sense of having to choose from an abundance of talent.

Posted By on Wed, Sep 2, 2015 at 11:14 PM

click to enlarge The spectators for the 5th District City Council debate filled the room and lined the walls at  Trinity United Methodist Church., - JB
  • JB
  • The spectators for the 5th District City Council debate filled the room and lined the walls at Trinity United Methodist Church.,

Candidates (from top, which was order of introduction): - Dan Springer; Worth Morgan; Chooch Pickard; Mary Wilder; John Marek; Jimmie Franklin - JB
  • JB
  • Candidates (from top, which was order of introduction):Dan Springer; Worth Morgan; Chooch Pickard; Mary Wilder; John Marek; Jimmie Franklin

Six candidates turned up at Trinity United Methodist church on Tuesday night for a forum in what could be the most intensely contested position on the City Council ballot — that for the District 5 seat being vacated by mayoral candidate Jim Strickland.

In order of seating and order of introduction by moderator Kyle Veazey of The Commercial Appeal were: Dan Springer, worth Morgan, Charles “Chooch” Pickard, Mary Wilder, John Marek, and Jimmie Franklin.

All had their moments, and there was a certain overlap on specific issues, but the capacity crowd that filled the church meeting room and lined the walls surely got enough information from the six hopefuls to begin making a choice (provided that some attendees anyhow hadn’t already made one).

The one issue on which most clear consensus was reached concerned zoo parking on the Overton Park Greensward. To a person, the candidates thought that practice, presumably frowned upon by the audience as well, was a no-no. But the contenders’ recipes for dealing with the problem differed somewhat.

Pickard, an architect, not only proposed building a parking garage but had plans for one stashed with campaign aides at the back of the room. Wilder, a retired neighborhood activist with a highly varied background of service with civic boards, agencies, and commission, vaunted her experience in “getting people together” to solve problems and lamented, “Nobody’s sitting down to do work. There’s no leadership.

Something like that was the opinion also of banker and seasoned political activist Springer, who suggested re-painting parking lines on available spaces, as did lawyer and fellow activist Marek. Probation officer Franklin brought up the idea of shuttle buses, while political newcomer Worth Morgan said he “hadn’t heard he answer” from the others but had met with “both sides” to the controversy and would delve into it further.

There were two questions posed to the candidates regarding public safety and crime. The contenders agreed that one clear solution was to strictly enforce such laws as were on the books.

Morgan said he’d been riding along with police officers and talked up Blue Crush enforcement. Springer, who said he thought the crime rate was actually down, concurred on Blue Crush but thought increased employment opportunities and community policing were also answers.

Pickard prescribed a close attention to matters of blight and the restoration of police benefits, along with a revival of civilian auxiliary activity for minor infractions. Freeing up regular police to focus on violent crime appealed as well to Marek, who stressed both CLERB (the nascent Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board) and his membership in it and role and creating it. Wilder advocated more neighborhood watch programs and youth services and got a burst of applause when she backed proposed legislation that would ban guns at ticketed events. Franklin wanted tougher gun laws and suggested looking at what other cities did.

In general, the answers given to questions by Pickard and Wilder tended to be extensive and overlapping. Both demonstrated a history of hands-on involvement, and both stressed the need for a city development plan like the Midtown overlay, which Pickard had a major role in developing,, just as Wilder had a major role in the creation of the Greenline and numerous other projects.

Beyond what each candidate said about issues per se, there were certain inferences to be drawn from how they presented themselves.

As indicated, Pickard and Wilder had ample experience with civic projects and made sure the audience not only knew about it but had a good sense of what to expect for them in office. A noteworthy moment was Pickard’s scoffing out loud at the notion of spending $16 ½ million for Tiger Lane. “A parking lot!” as he characterized it.

John Marek also had a record of accomplishment, and he was not bashful in speaking about it. As previously noted, he was a major factor in the development of CLERB and of the cameras-on-cop innovation which is coming to MPD this all. And he, too, had his fingers in a lot of pies, to the point that, In making the case for “new blood” on the council, he went on to escalate that, without too much tongue-in-cheek, to “new blood with experience.”

(Wilder would play off that neatly, doing a parody of Ronald Reagan vs. Walter Mondale in 1984 in promising, as a very civically experienced 66, not to take advantage of an opponent’s “youth and inexperience.”)
In general, the trio of Pickard, Wilder, and Marek all made a compelling case for themselves as people with a distinct background and point of view.

Ironically, those three candidates — all springing, one way or another, from the city’s “progressive” element — are going to require members of that constituency to make some hard choices.
Those three, plus Springer and Morgan, each of whom has good support among Republicans and conservatives per se, are all presumed to have enough support to ensure that no one candidate can win this district race with a majority, A runoff is certain to ensue.

If Pickard, Wilder, and Marek have to split their core constituency three ways, Springer and Morgan have only each other to worry about for theirs

Springer has experience in both campaign work and in administrative service with likes of County Mayor Mark Luttrell, his firm supporter. The answers he gave to questions sometimes had a misleadingly perfunctory sound. He came off as someone who was likely to be sincere, pragmatic, and flexible in office, though he made a compelling case for dealing with urban poverty and working at job creation as antidotes to the city’s ills.
Morgan is a newcomer to elective politics and to issues of government, though he made it clear that he has made a real effort to do his homework — as, for example, in his logging time with law enforcement and fire employees to get a sense of their mission and predicament.

Though, for obvious reasons, he lacked the hands-on experience of the others, he had obviously booked up on most of the matters discussed Tuesday night, is appealingly earnest, and made cogent, if occasionally somewhat abstract arguments, especially on the subject of industrial recruitment — dispelling a sense that some have expressed of his being merely the scion of a prominent family. (Morgan’s family connections surely didn’t hurt him, however, in his ability to raise upwards of $200,000 — head and shoulders above the levels of financing enjoyed by any of his opponents.)

The only true outlier Tuesday night was Franklin, a probation officer whose familiarity with, and common-sense approaches on, most of the subject areas being discussed was inevitably eroded by an over-passionate doomsday forecast that MLGW’s prospective use of smart meters to appraise utility usage would raise customers’ rates by a factor of five and cause extensive radiation damage to their bodies.

It can’t be said of every race on the ballot this year, but District 5 has a wealth of talent to choose from, as was well demonstrated at Trinity United Methodist Church on Tuesday night.

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