With just two weeks to go before election day, tonight’s candidates forum will be a chance for the public to compare the candidates, and their views, side-by-side.
The forum, scheduled to get under way at 7 p.m. at the Historic Earle Theatre on Main Street, will be a highly structured event, with each candidate getting equal time to respond to questions from the community.
The Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring the event, and has been collecting questions from community members for several weeks.
All five candidates for city offices have been invited. They are Mayor David L. Rowe and challenger Ivy Sheppard; South Ward Commissioner Steve Yokeley and challenger Todd Harris; as well as North Ward Commissioner Jon Cawley, who is running unopposed.
Randy Collins, president and CEO of the chamber, said he’s received attendance confirmation from all of the candidates except Harris, and he’s hopeful Harris will be there as well.
“We’ve received probably 35 questions at last count,” said Randy Collins, president and CEO of the chamber. “We’ve got a real mix of questions, which is a good thing.”
Collins said the forum will still be open for some questions submitted during the event.
“We’ll be handing out index cards, there may be some last-minute ones that come in, or someone thinks of one who writes it down. We’re not guaranteeing, obviously, that if they provide a question it will be asked, we’ve calculated the schedule, but we figure we have time for about 10 questions, depending on how it goes.”
Collins said he’s sent out information to the candidates to give them a brief overview of the subject matter to be covered, but none will see or hear the actual questions before the forum.
“I’ve assured them the questions will address topics they are very aware of,” Collins said. “There will be small business-related questions, the Spencer’s redevelopment project, questions on crime in the city, education, some visioning types of questions … health care is addressed.”
He said the chamber has opted not to allow the candidates to view the questions in advance because too often candidates simply prepare a statement ahead of time, which makes the forum less spontaneous.
“We just find this format is fair to everyone; it allows the candidate to speak without a script. … Our feeling is most of these questions are ones any candidate should be able to answer very quickly – there won’t be any curve balls.”
He said the format will be with a moderator asking a candidate one of the questions, giving 90 seconds for a response. Afterward, each of the other candidates will be allowed 90 seconds to respond as well.
The moderator will address questions to the candidates in turn, assuring the candidates fields the same number of questions.
“It’s going to be running fairly quickly, we’re going to hit a lot of topics in a short amount of time,” Collins said.
Putting each candidate on a strict time limit is the only way to ensure fairness for all the candidates, and that the event can be done within the allotted two hours.
He also emphasized that while organizers are open to questions from the public, those questions must be submitted on the index cards provided that night and will be screened before any use.
“In some candidate forums I’ve seen them put up a microphone and anyone could walk up and ask a question. We’ve elected not to do that because that could be an opportunity for people to make a statement, rather than ask a question,” he said.
The event, which has been under planning for several weeks, is free.
“Our hope is if people don’t know who the candidates are, they may not even know who the incumbents are, they would take a moment to come, sit and listen, get to know the candidates so when they walk in and vote, they will be better educated.”
Doors to the Earle Theatre will open around 6:30 p.m.
John Peters is the editor-in-chief and can be reached at 415-4701.