Cape Council candidates take part in livestreamed forum
By CJ HADDAD
Candidates for the upcoming Cape Coral City Council election took to the podium Wednesday night at the Southwest Florida Military Museum & Library, sharing their thoughts in a public forum for the first time with the community.
The event was closed to the general public due to COVID-19 and streamed on Facebook Live. Ten of the 12 candidates for the upcoming elections in District 2,3,5 and 7 were present. They included District 2 candidates Bryan DeLahunt, Todd Maurer and Dan Sheppard; District 3 candidates Chris Cammarota, Tom Hayden, Joseph Kilraine and Edward Nichols; District 5 candidate Robert Welsh and District 7 candidates Jessica Cosden and Derrick Donnell.
All candidates were asked the same questions and given one minute to state their position. Topics included budgetary challenges with charter schools, land use, district voting, water quality/quantity, city projects and transparency.
The forum was organized by John Karcher and moderated by Michael Dreikorn and Jay LaGace.
One of the questions asked to candidates was: If elected, would you work to form a Charter Review Committee to put an amendment on the ballot asking residents to consider voting by district, rather than at-large?
Candidates had differing opinions on this matter, though many did make the caveat that they support a vetted referendum, no matter what it may be.
“I think every time a referendum comes up, it’s a good idea to ask the residents, rather than have Council make the decisions,” Cosden said.
When it came to the idea of single district voting, she does not believe that is the path to take.
Hayden agreed with Cosden and said council makes decisions for the whole of Cape Coral despite representing a particular district.
“We’re making decisions that impact the entire city. I think the entire city electorate should be involved in the voting process because seldom is a vote taking place where you’re just impacting one specific district,” Hayden said. “I’m never going to be against putting a referendum before the community to determine the city’s future, but single member district doesn’t really put you on a path of success for me because to me it limits the future for our councilmembers.”
Candidates Sheppard and Cammarota were both in favor of single district voting.
“If you have one district with 1,000 people, and you have another with 10,000 people, those 10,000 people can put the candidate in office with the 1,000 people district,” Cammarota said. “It should be single district, this way it will keep the special interests and the lobbyists out.”
Sheppard said it would help candidates build a better relationship with members of the community in that individual’s district, rather than trying to appease the entire city.
“I’m for a single district,” he said. “I think it would be a lot easier running for office, and having a better relationship with the people of your district and concentrate on them. At the same time, there’s eight council people, and all eight represent the entire city. But I think it would help each district, especially with the growth – it’ll let that councilmember have more time with the district.”
Another question asked that resulted in varying answers, was how the candidates would approach city projects, taking budgetary concerns into consideration.
“If I had one major criticism with the way the budgets are built in the city, it’s the overuse of consultants,” Kilraine said. “There’s no accountability with consultants and projects.”
DeLaHunt agreed with Kilraine, and said one of the reasons he is running is not growing and using city staff.
“We need to have our city staff develop themselves so that they can move up and we don’t always have to do out-of-region searches,” he said. “It’s good for our city employees, it’s good for growth and I think it’s the right thing to do.”
Maurer said one of things he prides his career on is looking at data and spotting the things that don’t make sense.
“And I don’t just let it go, I ask the questions,” he said. “If I see something that doesn’t make sense, I’m going to go to whomever put it in front of me and ask the question, ‘why?’ and ‘is that the best you can do?’ Because you often find that people will go for the quick answer, not necessarily the best answer.”
One of the questions asked concerned bringing big business to the Cape. Some of the candidates spoke about bringing a higher education facility to the city.
Donnell said as an adjunct professor at Florida SouthWestern State College, that is one of the greatest needs of Cape Coral.
“I am all over that,” he said. “I think the time is now and it’s ripe for the talk about different ways – not necessarily a huge brick and mortar building – but the time is now and that is an emphasis for my campaign.”
“I think it’s going to be good to bring education to the area,” he said. “It will cut down on traffic going across the bridges and bring more money to our local businesses.”
Welsh said growing up in the city, higher education is something that many people venture elsewhere to pursue.
“I do believe Cape Coral needs to bring in the next level of education,” he said.
Welsh also acknowledged the importance of learning a trade, saying trades are a big part of Cape Coral business.
District 5 candidate Louis Navarra did not attend due to self-isolating at home because of coronavirus
District 7 candidate Patty Cummings decided not to attend after one of the moderators posted their endorsements to their social media page, saying the forum might not be “fair and balanced.”
The full 2-hour forum has been shared to The Cape Coral Breeze Facebook Page.
Bios supplied by each candidate may be found on The Breeze website at cape-coral-daily-breeze.com .
-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj