Amy Brocato Pearson
Jacksonville Daily Progress
For the record, I was not at the last City Council meeting.
And if you don't get the joke, you should have been at Monday night's Mayoral Debate at the Norman Activity Center.
Almost 200 of your friends and neighbors were there, after all, in an attendance figure almost equal to the voting totals of the last mayoral election.
That says something about the energy level in Jacksonville. When the energy level is high, people participate. And when they participate, things get done.
The evening was nothing short of electric; the perfect convergence of community journalism and participatory municipal democracy.
Incumbent Mayor Kenneth Melvin and challenging mayoral candidates Rob Gowin and William Igbokwe were sporting enough to face off in what turned out to be a spirited 90-minutes of fielding questions and bantering back and forth.
All the questions came from the community, not from the newspaper. Truth be told, our questions might have been somewhat different. But that wasn't what the process was about. The night was about the candidates answering questions from the people who live, work and vote in Jacksonville.
The biggest question Tuesday was, “Who won?”
To be honest, I don't really have an answer.
Each of the candidates stood out in different areas.
There is no denying Melvin's institutional knowledge and experience. Monday night, he also brought an energy I'd never seen from him before. He's fiscally re-sponsible and conservative. He was clearly on the side of the status quo. When I heard him talk, I was thinking back to when I was a teenager and would roll my eyes at my parents, thinking they couldn't possibly know everything they claimed to know. The thing is, those teenagers grow up and realize that mom and dad were right after all.
Gowin is loved in town. His passion for the city is obvious. His self-deprecating sense of humor is relatable to the voters. I mean, who hasn't had a beef with code enforcement or a gripe about the trash in downtown? No doubt Gowin was the voice of the people in Monday's debate. He has solid ideas the public can get behind if he can figure out how to execute them.
Igbokwe is just im-pressive. Articulate, intelligent and commanding. I think he'll bring young voters to the polls. His idealism should be channeled, and I wanted to hear a few more concrete ideas. His rhetoric is compelling and no doubt he had a huge contingent at the event.
There's been talk of a second debate. While I don't think that will happen (at least not one we organize), there will be space dedicated in an edition of the paper before the May 11 election for each candidate to make a detailed statement, in their own words.
No matter what happens in May, it's exciting to see the energy in Jacksonville right now. Something big is going to happen.
So who wins? Jacksonville does.