Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Mayor David Bowers and challenger Mark Lucas square off in debate

Mark Lucas, NAACP Pres. Brenda Hale, David Bowers, Jay Warren

Both incumbent Democrat Mayor David Bowers and his challenger Republican Mark Lucas carried their positions to the voters at a debate hosted by the Roanoke Branch of the NAACP on Tuesday evening. Jay Warren WSLS channel 10 news anchor was the moderator and in true Warren style he doubled back with a clarification question when he thought a candidate’s response was unclear.

Lucas has defined his message around jobs and promoting entrepreneurship. Lucas himself claims to have employed 300 through his startup companies.

It’s not necessarily landing the “big elephant” large companies but more about cultivating younger companies. Lucas explained that it didn’t mean taxpayer-funded incentives. It’s about connecting entrepreneurs with funding and helping them navigate the complexities of starting a business.

Lucas said he would be a “tool in the city manager’s toolbox.” He thought the mayor’s role could be much more. Lucas said he’d be an entrepreneurial mayor and would institute entrepreneurial Wednesdays and entrepreneurial festivals.

Bowers conceded that jobs were an important issue. “From day one this mayor and this council has been all about creating new jobs.” Roanoke already has a job creation team and that “creating jobs is not a one man job – it takes a team.” He claimed 27 new business and 1600 new jobs had been created in the last year. “We don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” he said.

BrandonBushnell, Freeda Cathcart, Sen. and Mrs. MacFarlane and Bill Bestpitch

The inevitable “glad handing” and “ribbon cutting” assertion was tossed to Bowers. He wondered if he had given “ribbon cutting” a bad name. Bowers said he had promised the citizens of Roanoke that he would be visible, accessible, responsive and friendly. “I’m out among the civic groups, the schools and every business or other organization that invites me … it’s a multifaceted job,” he said. “It takes long hours taking care of the city’s business.”

Bowers said as far as being “a tool for the city manager” as Lucas claimed he would be, the job of mayor is part of the legislative policy making team. “The mayor doesn’t work for the city manager and the city manager doesn’t work for the mayor – the city manager works for city council and we have a good relationship.”

Lucas accused Bowers of taking credit for what others do. Bowers said his response to that was “we are a team and we will continue to be a team.”

Lucas was questioned on his commission attendance record. Warren asked him if he would be committed to the mayor’s job. Lucas said he joined the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board because of the lack of field mainenance at the time he was coaching girl’s lacrosse. His businesses encroached on his time. “I’d rather get something done outside of meetings,” he said.

“Isn’t lifelong commitment to the people of Virginia an honorable and decent thing to teach children,” said Bowers poignantly.

Bowers’ said he “had both the energy and experience” to continue being mayor. With a zing at Lucas he said, “Roanoke doesn’t need a mayor who starts up – Roanoke needs a mayor who shows up … if you’re going on vacation you wouldn’t give you’re keys to a total stranger.”

Future programs that would create more jobs in Roanoke City Bowers said would include implementing “a line item appropriation for economic development” and expanding contact with existing businesses. He would continue the job fairs and touted the partnership with Virginia Tech and Carilion that will continue to be enhanced.

Jay Warren, David Bowers, Mark Lucas

Lucas thought there is much more the city could do with Virginia Tech. “Roanoke hasn’t grown significantly in decades and you [to Bowers] have been involved in politics for 20 years,” he said. President Obama stated that entrepreneurs are the engine that will start our economy again said Lucas.

“It’s not just about entrepreneurs – my opponent would like to talk about startup businesses. What about good high-tech jobs … retail jobs. Those are important jobs in our community too,” said Bowers. His point being that the working class needs jobs too. Bowers calls himself the blue-collar mayor.

Bowers accused Lucas of being critical of the business team. He felt Lucas was also being critical of the city manager, the Regional Partnership and the Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Maybe we should rely on those who know the business,” he said.

Lucas wanted to see a mentorship program implemented for students entering the workforce. Bowers said it is not easy being a teacher in an inner city school system and praised the accreditation of all city schools. Teachers will be getting a three-percent raise. “If [Lucas] had visited them like I have he would observe that there are already mentors in the schools.

Mark Lucas

Lucas accused Bowers of opposing Forest Park Academy in 2006. To that Bowers said it wasn’t the academy he opposed it was the closing of a neighborhood school on the north side of town. Both agreed that the two-cent meals tax should expire on July 1.

Bowers insinuated that Lucas being a Republicans would be apt to sign on to Grover Norquist’s “no tax pledge.” Bowers said as far as any future tax it depends on the economy and it could possibly be reintroduced. Lucas countered that party affiliation at the local level is irrelevant and he too would reinstate a tax if it became necessary.

Lucas brought up adding tournament play at Countryside and improvements in Reserve Avenue fields where Victory Stadium once stood. Bowers said that a WWII veteran’s memorial in place of the demolished Victory Stadium is still a work in progress.

Bowers predicted that Roanoke’s skyline would change over the next 25 years with high-rise buildings from the medical school to Valley View Mall. Lucas’ vision for Roanoke would be similar to that of Asheville, NC.

David Bowers

Bowers’ wondered what Lucas meant when he said things could be better. “I’m still trying to figure out what he is not seeing about Roanoke.” We have  rejuvenation downtown and in the neighborhoods he said. “Anyone can step up and say we can sure do better … is the city better off now than four years ago,” he asked.

As far as the downtown market building Lucas would like to see the rules loosened to allow chains.. “It would generate energy in the building,” he said. He’d like to see downtown vacant buildings utilized by entrepreneurs using private funds.

Bowers mentioned Southern Coal that recently purchased the Bank of America building. “There is a lot going on in Roanoke already,” he said. “We’re not where we need to be and we can do better but the proof is in the pudding.”

Bowers promoted the ice rink that would require a donation of land. He hoped that it would bring professional hockey back to Roanoke. Lucas said, “the definition of insanity is doing things over and over expecting to get different results” referring to the failed Ice Station and the hockey teams that have come and gone. “If we have an ice rink it should be multi-use,” Lucas said.

An audience member question said that Northwest City has been neglected. Lucas responded saying, “the mayor has to be the mayor of all Roanoke” not just during elections. Bowers said, “he was not a mayor that comes around only at election time.” Bowers said that he does have a good relationship with the citizens in Northwest. He pointed to the new William Fleming High School, fire station and the expected new library branch at Countryside as improvements. “Northwest has not been ignored by this city council,” said Bowers.

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Election 2012, Elections, Politics, Roanoke City Politics

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