Candidates stumped by questions at civic forum
A debate held Tuesday for the candidates running for the Cape Coral mayor and District 6 City Council seats revealed a lack of knowledge of basic facts and inner workings of city government among many of those running for office.
Of the five mayoral candidates, not one — including incumbent Mayor Jim Burch — knew the total taxable assessed value of the city.
Only Steve Lovejoy, the 51 year-old vice president of a document management company, ventured a guess of $3.1 billion, the others admitted they did not know.
It is $10.5 billion, down from $20.9 billion two years ago.
Former Councilmember Alex LePera moderated the forum, held at the yacht club for the Cape Coral Civic Association.
She slightly chided the mayoral candidates for not knowing such an essential figure.
“It’s a really good basic number for all of you to know,” LePera said.
Two of the three District 6 candidates were similarly stumped when asked which committee they would most like to serve.
Frank Antos Jr., a 67 year-old retired publisher, indicated that he wanted to be on a “road and bridge” committee in an apparent reference to the countywide Transportation Advisory Committee.
Antos also said he wanted serve on an “economic development” board.
No such board exists, although there is an Economic Development Office run by city staffers.
John Cataldi Jr., a 69 year-old retired police detective, named an existing committee — the Financial Advisory Committee — but council members do not serve on it.
“I think the FAC is the most interesting of all of them because they bring in all of the department heads and then make decisions on how to streamline them,” he said.
The FAC does review budgets with department heads, but merely makes recommendations to the city council, which makes the ultimate decision on department budgets.
Only Kevin McGrail, a 53-year-old medical technologist, could correctly name a committee, indicating that he would like to sit on the TAC to correct what he sees as an imbalance in the percentage of toll revenues the Cape receives.
“I just cannot fathom with the amount of people paying that bridge toll that we should not be getting 50-50 (percent) if not 60-40 (percent) in our favor,” he said.
Most of the forum participants tried to define their candidacy and separate themselves from their opponents.
All of the mayoral challengers, however, stated a more open and responsive council is the key to good governance.
“I think good government is listening to the people and making good decisions,” said former Mayor Roger Butler, who is looking to regain his seat.
“What our government needs to do is listen to its constituency. Sometimes government gets too big for its britches,” said John Sullivan, a 66-year-old retired broker and IT consultant.
He also stressed the need for a more efficient municipal government, stating that he wants to cut down city spending through a more rigorous procurement process.
Another mayoral challenger, 46 year-old Comcast employee Robert Pizzolongo, wants a more receptive city council.
“Government needs to not be the problem. It needs to be the solution, and the only way it’s going to be the solution is to be open-minded,” he said.
Burch distanced himself from his challengers, and said good governance means providing the basic needs of the people.
“Government is supposed to protect the residents’ safety, health and welfare,” he said.
Both the District 6 and mayor candidates will get the chance to debate again later this week.
There will be a debate for District 6 candidates at 6 p.m. Thursday in council chambers at City Hall. The mayoral debate will be held at 6 p.m. Friday in council chambers at City Hall.