Greg Bassett: What our City Council candidates are saying

Salisbury’s election landscape has a whole new look. When voters head to the polls Nov. 3, for the first time they’ll be selecting council members from five separate districts.

Also, with no primary elections this fall, the contest has generated a plethora of candidates; 14 people are contending for six offices.

Two of the six races are decided: Jake Day faces no opposition for mayor; Laura Mitchell is unchallenged in District 5.

On the “One On One” interview show on PAC 14, thus far I’ve been able to question 12 of the candidates in long-form interviews, with more scheduled.

These interviews will be available as part of Salisbury Independent’s online election previews; most of the interviews are already available for viewing on PAC 14’s YouTube page.

The interviews have raised some surprising issues. Each of the candidates ─ in a way I have never observed before in a Salisbury election ─ has stressed jobs creation as an important issue that the city must address.

Prior to the Great Recession of the mid-2000s, whenever candidates talked about economic development, the concerns were about controlling it (it seemed people wanted less). In more recent elections, economic development has become an issue as people want more.

City Council perches aren’t normally regarded as power seats for jobs creation. City governments, at least locally, are too small to act as job generators. But these candidates, as a group, are pushing the notion that the city’s leaders need to do more to create jobs squarely within the municipality.

Other issues candidates are raising:

Public/police relationships:

This is a special concern with the candidates in District 1, a majority-minority district that primarily encompasses the city’s West Side.

The contenders here ─ Sarah Halcott, April Jackson and Shanie Shields ─ each raised concerns about negative encounters between police and constituents.

According to the candidates, mutual suspicion seems to exist; some of the community policing practices seem to be eroding.

The same concerns were raised in District 2, a new district, which also has a large minority population. The socio-economic factors in these districts make for more social conflicts which require police reaction. Interviews with contenders Keyvan Aarabi, Marvin Ames and Muir Boda reveal people in these neighborhoods have a disproportionate amount of contact with police, and more opportunity for things to go wrong.

The juvenile curfew:

This is a discussion point across the city. Following the brutal beating of a man in the Camden neighborhood last December, there were loud calls for a juvenile curfew in Salisbury.

There are anecdotes aplenty concerning juveniles roaming the city at all hours, some engaging in petty crimes and many creating mischief that could be considered quite menacing.

Whether a curfew would solve these issues is an open discussion; the logistics behind its implementation is also election fodder.

Town-Gown relations:

This has not been nearly the negative issue that it has been in years past.

Salisbury University in in District 3, and so is most of the student housing. Jack Heath, Kevin Lindsay and Tim Spies were complimentary of the university outreach efforts in the neighborhood and SU’s decision to apply student conduct rules to those living off-campus.

Because two of the three contenders are sitting councilmen, our interviews featured discussion about the inner-workings of the council and how the city government tries to work with civility and as a team.

City rentals:

Surprisingly, with the exception of the sitting mayor Jim Ireton, a City Council candidate in District 4, none of the candidates seemed that interested in talking about landlords, though all want to work to increase single-family homeownership.

Downtown redevelopment:

Also surprisingly, with the exception of incoming mayor Jake Day, candidates seemed politely excited about the prospects for Downtown Salisbury. No one, however, exhibited the raw passion that Day demonstrates whenever the word Downtown is mentioned; that’s an issue the next mayor seems to own.

Greg Bassett is editor and general manager of Salisbury Independent. Reach him at gbassett@newszap.com

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