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April 24, 2013

The Great Debate: Mayoral candidate forum engages Jacksonville residents with a mixture of political perspective and humor

JACKSONVILLE — It was “experience” versus “charisma” versus “ambition” Monday night as Jacksonville mayoral hopefuls verbally sparred at a candidate forum at the Norman Center. It was a combination several in attendance found both refreshing and delightful.

Incumbent Mayor Kenneth Melvin (experience) and challengers Rob Gowin (charisma) and William Igbokwe (ambition) exchanged barbs, jibes and their respective political philosophies for roughly an hour and a half. They offered opinions on issues such as code enforcement, economic development, and the civic center during the event sponsored by the Jacksonville Daily Progress.

The age range of the enthusiastic and warm audience seemed to reflect the steep generational divide between the three candidates. Melvin is 72. Gowin is 44 and Igbokwe is 23.

As Jacksonville Progress Editor Amy Brocato Pearson, moderator of the event, read off the questions one-by-one, each candidate worked hard to stay on-message:

• Melvin was  emphatic about defending his accomplishments on the council and defending the practices of the city under his administration.

• Gowin came out swinging against perceived code enforcement problems, in support of area beautification and for dramatic change in the way certain city departments treat citizens.

• Igbokwe took the opportunity to introduce himself  to a larger voting audience. He reached out to potential ballot casters with a blank-canvas “your issues are my issues” appeal. He said despite his age he has the same political perspective as many other Jacksonville voters.

The audience was full. One person in the back of the room went as far as to yell “We can't hear you!” as Rob Gowin spoke.

All questions asked of the candidates were crafted by Jacksonville residents. There was three minutes provided for their various introductions, two minutes for responses to questions and 30 seconds for rebuttals.

Melvin introduced himself by listing his political pedigree – three, two-year terms in the District 3 City Council slot and a single two-year term as mayor who is running for reelection.

“I am proud of all the actions of all the councils I have served on,” Melvin said. “It is in wonderful, wonderful fiscal condition.”

Gowin –  at times tongue-in-cheek, other times deadly serious during the forum – didn't begrudge Melvin the results of fiscal prudence.

But Gowin did point out that some money is going to have to be spent in the future to raise the city's visual standards in terms of roads and sidewalks and civic appeal.

“I agree … that our tax rate is relatively low,” Gowin said. “You see that in the community. You get yourself a vacant autoplex and you get (an unpaved) trail on the road that leads all the way to Walmart. What does that tell the people driving through Jacksonville?”

Gowin emphasized he perceives a stagnancy in terms of the city's forward momentum. He also believes the city could be more nurturing to businesses.

Igbokwe said he was there to emphasize his passion and vision for the city. As mayor he would work to  connect the city with youth culture.

“There is no place to get along if there is a major disconnect with city government,” Igbok-we said. “We need to work with the city to bring jobs back to the economy … If there is a balanced budget, it's good, but what's the point of a balanced budget if people from the city don't benefit from that?”

Following are some of the questions answered by candidates.

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