Jacksonville Daily Progress
The majority of Jacksonville's three mayoral candidates are still marveling at the uniqueness of a three-person race as they gear up their platforms for their April 22 debate at the Norman Activity Center.
Because of a lack of opponents over the years, mayoral debates – any debates at all, really – have been kind of a novelty in Jacksonville. The last de-bate was in 2007.
“I have never been in a race with three candidates,” said incumbent Mayor Kenneth Melvin. “It makes me look forward to putting out yards signs come Thursday morning, which is the earliest we can put them out.”
Rob Gowin, local restauranteur and one of the mayoral candidates, said he also finds the competition invigorating.
“I think it's fantastic that as many as three people have stepped up to take this leadership role,” Gowin said. “No matter who wins, there is a definite conversation going on that says a lot for who were are a community. And I really think it will continue to do so in the elections to come.”
Igbokwe, who was about to board an airplane at the time of his phone interview, said he also is looking forward to the exchange.
“I am really excited about the debate and hope this will be a good indication of what every one of the candidates have in store,” Igbokwe said.
As terms of campaign strategy, Melvin said as the incumbent, he is going to stand on his record.
“I am going to respond to all questions in a truthful manner and let the chips fall where they may,” Melvin said. “Good, bad or indifferent to me I will respond truthfully.”
Gowen, on the other hand, said he intends to challenge that record – and the entire idea that “everything is all right” in Jacksonville.
“There is a group of voters who disagree with that concept,” Gowin said.
“The economy is not all right, the athletics of our town are not all right, and the way we are currently spending tax money is not all right.”
Gowin also broached the topic of the future Jacksonville City Civic Center.
The city council is still in the process of determining the future location of the center and council members heard a report from a citizen committee on the matter Tuesday night.
Gowin said he feels more groundwork should be laid before the council moves ahead on placing the center anywhere.
“We need to clean the city up and put some tourism projects on the front burner first,” Gowin said. Once we establish that groundwork and the right environment in town, we can come back to a civic center.”
Igbokwe said he hopes the debate will increase voter turnout, which he currently perceives to be minimal.
“At the debate, I'm going to introduce the direction I want my campaign to go,” Igbokwe said. “I'm hoping it will help us get an idea what the perception of the community is concerning business and education.”
The debate starts at 7 p.m. April 22. Jacksonville Daily Progress Editor Amy Brocato Pearson will be the moderator. Her central role will be to moderate the exchange between candidates and ensure order in during the proceedings.
Here's how it will work:
• Each of the candidates will be asked to answer certain questions regarding their candidacy. They each will have three minutes to make opening statements and introduce themselves.
• The opening question will be asked by Pearson to Melvin in his role as incumbent mayor. The subsequent two candidates will answer in alphabetical order – in other words, Gowin and then Igbokwe.
• Each candidate will have two minutes to answer the question. After all candidates have answered, there will be opportunity for a 30 second clarification of statements.
The formal part of the debate will last approximately 45 minutes.
• Debate questions are formulated by the staff of the Jacksonville Daily Progress.
• Additional questions will be solicited from the community in advance and vetted by the staff before being presented at the debate.
• Citizens who wish to submit questions to the candidates 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.
• 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.
The event will be covered by both the Jacksonville Daily Progress and KETK-NBC news.
Thursday is the last day to register to vote in the election.