Jacksonville Daily Progress
Both the Internet and social media in general are credited with greatly enhancing public discourse and forwarding the cause of free speech.
But will the Information Superhighway make a difference in the upcoming, three-way, Jacksonville mayoral election?
Incumbent Mayor Kenneth Melvin, for instance, looks forward to getting out, pressing the flesh, and discussing the truly important issues with voters.
But he's not looking to do so online.
“I don't have Facebook — I really don't have time for it — but I will get out and meet 'face to face' with anyone at any time,” Melvin said. “I'm going with the same strategy I always have.”
The quickly-approaching April 22 debate at the Norman Activity Center will be filmed by both local TV media and private parties. Snippets, excerpts and outtakes are expected to be circulated over Facebook and the Internet as well as on television.
Melvin's two challengers, local restauranteur Rob Gowin and young newcomer William Igbokwe, both have indicated they intend to make full use of that digital information in their respective campaigns.
On the surface, Gowin would seem to have a campaign advantage because he has a big fan base situated on his Facebook page. But the candidate said probably only a fraction of his many followers are eligible Jacksonville voters.
“I have 2,500 friends on Facebook, but in real life, how many of them live here?” Gowin asked. “How many of them live inside the Jacksonville city limits and vote?”
Voter turnout is important to Gowin, who noted that a small margin of voters determined the last mayoral election.
“There are many things at stake here and more than so few people should have a voice in what happens,” he said.
Igbokwe and his campaign team, meanwhile, say they are prepared for an Internet campaign onslaught on Twitter and Facebook.
At 23, Igbokwe is one of the city's youngest candidates. He said he is definitely going to make maximum use of the TV debate media attention to help springboard his campaign.
“At the debate, I'm going to introduce the direction I want my campaign to go,” he said previously.
Igbokwe has said he's a big fan of uniting youth culture with government. Melvin, who is 72, is nearly 50 years Igbokwe's senior.
A three-way race, incidentally, might end up with tight results — but Melvin is used to those. He first won the mayoral seat by 31 votes over opponent Jeff Smith in May 2011.
But the incumbent mayor said he's not sure that the perimeters of his last election will apply to the upcoming one.
"I really don't know how this election is going to go," Melvin said. "Each one is different, I think that while there wasn't that big of a turnout last time, that doesn't mean there won't be now."
Speaking of the debate, citizens who wish to submit questions to the candidates for the debate can do so by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and listing their complete name, city of residence, cell phone or home number and the comments they wish repeated to the candidate.
Each of the candidates will be allowed to pen one of the questions.
All comments are subject to verification by Jacksonville Daily Progress staff. The staff reserves the right to determine which of the questions will be asked.