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Economy overshadows candidate forum

on September 17, 2010

Curious voters and campaign volunteers pay close attention while the nine present candidates answer pre-screened questions from Richmond citizens.

One issue dominated the city council candidate forum Thursday night: the economy. Ten mayoral and city council hopefuls, speaking at the Richmond Senior Center, agreed Richmond needs jobs.

“This election is so important,” city council candidate Jovanka Beckles said. “We are at a crossroads in Richmond. We have the unique opportunity of going forward with new ideas, with creative, progressive ideas that’s going to make Richmond vibrant.”

Real estate agent and city council candidate Virginia Finlay also spoke to the city’s promise. “They got the motto for the city of Richmond wrong. They say it is the city of pride and purpose. But they forgot another word, and that word is ‘opportunity.’ We have an opportunity to bring economic vitality and strength to our community if we will begin to say ‘yes’ to the opportunities facing us.”

That’s where the similarities ended.

City councilmember and mayoral candidate Nathaniel Bates said he would support job creation with few hesitations.

“I am supporting jobs, and if it means environment will have to give a little bit, that’s where I’m at,” Bates said. “We can ill afford to have Chevron leave this city.”

Jim Rogers, one of three councilmembers up for re-election, said the city needs to take into account the environment when talking about jobs at the oil company.

Rogers said the council needs to find a solution that ensures both “desperately needed heavy industry jobs” as well as “an absolute, iron-clad, legally enforceable guarantee that they’re not going to make the air dirtier.”

Former teacher Eduardo Martinez expressed similar concerns over the kinds of jobs Richmond should pursue. When asked about plans for a casino at Point Molate, the former Naval site, the city council candidate said he opposed the idea.

Nine of the 12 city council and mayoral candidates show up on time to Candidate Night at the Senior Center on Thursday.

“I believe that we, as citizens, owe it to our children to present role models that are good for everyone,” Martinez said. “We need to present role models that promote hard work, not gambling, for our future as a way of making a living.”

The casino plan was a thorny issue for mayoral hopeful John Ziesenhenne, who refused to state whether he supports or opposes the project.

“I’m going to wait until after the citizens of Richmond vote to make a decision on that. I cannot see going against the citizens of Richmond when I get elected if there’s a clear majority that do not want a casino and I think it’s unhealthy,” Ziesenhenne said. “We’ll take look at other developments at Point Molate that perhaps don’t include a casino after election day, if that is the will of the people.”

After a moderator asked for clarification on his stance, Ziesenhenne said, “I’m not taking a stand right now.”

The forum touched on other recurring issues such as Honda’s return to the Port of Richmond, the city’s image problem and education.

Current mayor Gayle McLaughlin did not attend. She issued a statement that she was out of town attending a business seminar. City council candidate Harry Singh was also absent.

Despite the points of contention, some voters say the forum was more subdued than in years past.

“I thought it was a lot more civilized than the last time I attended,” said Barbara Gilson, a resident of the North and East neighborhood. “I’m a little bit re-evaluating some of the people I’ve seen before.”

Jim Rogers answers a question on Richmond’s budgeting and economics early in Candidate Night.

Sandi Genser-Maack, a forum moderator from the North and East Neighborhood Council, said she was pleased with the turnout of roughly 80 people and what’s to come this fall. She said she’s “cautiously optimistic” about the election.

Jerry Rasmussen, another member of the North and East council, and a longtime Richmond voter, agreed.

“I’ve been cautiously optimistic… for 36 years,” he said.

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