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. WSLS Channel 10 News Anchor Jay Warren served as moderator.
As the challenger Lucas defined his message around jobs and promoting entrepreneurship. Lucas claims to have employed over 300 people through his startup companies.
According to Lucas it’s not necessarily about landing the “big elephant” large companies but more about cultivating younger companies. He explained that it didn’t mean taxpayer-funded incentives. It is more about connecting entrepreneurs with funding and helping them navigate the complexities of starting a business. He said he would function as a “tool in the city manager’s toolbox.”
Bowers conceded that jobs were an important issue. “From day one this mayor and this council has been all about creating new jobs.” He said that 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 businesses and 1600 new jobs had been created in the last year. “We don’t need to reinvent the wheel.”
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 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,” 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 responded, “We are a team and we will continue to be a team.”
Lucas was questioned on his lack of attendance at a commission on which he served. “Would you be committed to the mayor’s job?” asked Warren. Lucas said he joined the Parks and Recreation Commission because of the lack of field maintenance at the time he was coaching girl’s lacrosse and that his businesses encroached on his time. “I’d rather get something done outside of meetings,” he said.
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 your keys to a total stranger.”
Bowers said he 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.
Lucas said he believed there is much more the city could do with Virginia Tech. “Roanoke hasn’t grown significantly in decades and you (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.
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 Republican 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.
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 a rejuvenated downtown and rejuvenation 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 franchises. “It would generate energy in the building,” he said. He’d also like to see vacant buildings downtown 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.”
An audience member 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 has 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.