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Candidates square off for political forum

DEMOPOLIS – Round three of pre-election forums got under way at Morning Star Baptist Church Tuesday, pulling together city council and mayoral candidates in what could be the last such gathering before Aug. 24’s election day.

The Coming Together Organization sponsored the event, attended by about 75 people mostly residents from the city’s east side.

Thomas Moore, city council member and CTO’s treasurer, moderated the event and laid the ground rules for the forum, in which each council candidate present was given 3 minutes to provide an opening statement, and mayoral candidates four minutes. A question-and-answer session followed in what was the longest of the three forums.

City councilman Willard “Peanut” Williams serves as CTO president, and made brief welcoming remarks, but otherwise participated as a candidate.

“This isn’t a debate,” Moore told the candidates. “We want to hear what you stand for and answer questions people may have – tough questions are fair game.”

Tough questions rolled out following the candidate comment period, ranging from annexation to adequate sewers and city administration.

Freddie Charleston, Williams and Charles E. Jones Sr., all seeking the District 2 council seat were first to the plate.

Charleston said he wanted to be “the voice of the people for District 2.”

“Let’s work with what we’ve got,” he said, also touching on education, streets and drainage in his remarks.

Williams was next to address the assembly, saying an educated workforce was a key element to the city’s future growth and that the “east side of town is looking better” than four years when he was first elected.

“When I was first elected, we had a lot of problems,” he said. “I took on a district that was standing still and moved it forward.”

Jones pointed to his prior eight years as a council member, saying he’d pick back up the grant efforts that resulted in $13 million coming into the city over his two terms. He pledged to move improvements into the French Creek area and pave one third of the city’s streets annually “until we get them all paved.” He also said he’d support incentives for economic development and work on the problem areas in the city he termed the “third world.”

“We’ve got to make them first- and second-class citizens instead of third- and fourth-class citizens,” he said.

In turn, Melvin Yelverton and John Wallace, both seeking the District 3 council seat.

Yelverton said the safety of the city’s children were a priority with him, and said he’d work to place a policeman in each school or to rotate a school policeman through the schools on a daily basis.

Wallace told the audience his was seeking election because “I wanted to serve.”

He told voters he knew what hard work was about and was committed to serving the city as hard as he had worked to build his business.

Incumbent Mike Baker was the lone candidate to make an appearance at the forum. Jack Cooley had a previous engagement and H.C. “Sonny” Weaver said he’d not been notified in time to make the forum.

Baker, however, told the crowd he was qualified to continue serving based on his long tenure with the city. He went to work for the city in 1973 with the fire department, and was serving as assistant chief when he left in 1990. He’s served on the city council for the past 12 years.

He said that service has given him a unique perspective on city government.

“Salaries have improved in police, fire and city employees,” he said, stressing unification among council members as the reason for city progress. He challenged those present to “get out and vote.”