Leader Blues

Monday, May 18, 2009

TOP STORY >> Candidates debate on Tuesday

Leader staff writer

Now that there are just two candidates for Jacksonville mayor, the pair will further lay out their visions for the city and take on all questions at a candidates forum on Tuesday.

None of the six candidates vying to lead the city received more than 50 percent of the vote, forcing a runoff between the top two candidates, Alderman Gary Fletcher and Alderman Kenny Elliott. The two veteran city officials will face each other in a runoff on June 2 for the mayor’s seat being vacated 18 months early by the retiring Mayor Tommy Swaim.

In last Tuesday’s voting, Fletcher led the six-candidate field, garnering 952 votes, or 39 percent, followed by Elliott with 789 votes, or 32 percent.

Farm Bureau manager Jody Urquhart was a distant third with 305 votes, or 13 percent, followed by developer Tommy Dupree at 215 votes, or 8 percent, then real estate agent Beckie Brooks with 155 votes, or 6 percent. Randy “Doc” Rhodd garnered 16 votes, less than 1 percent.

Fletcher and Elliott will get a chance to differentiate themselves at the Jacksonville chamber-sponsored forum, which starts at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the community center.

“We’ll stay until the last question is answered or until they close the community center at 9 p.m.,” said Amy Mattison, chief executive officer of the chamber.

She said the public forum will be presented in two rounds.

In the first round, Fletcher and Elliott will have three minutes to make opening and closing remarks. In between, there will be a 30-minute question-answer period. The questions will be provided by the audience and asked by the moderator, Pulaski County Clerk Pat O’Brien. O’Brien will also have some questions of his own to ask the candidates.

Once this round is finished, there’ll be a 15-minute break before the second round.
Mattison said in the second round the candidates will take questions directly from the audience.

“We’ll have microphones set up for the audience. During this segment we are asking that the audience limit their questions to 30 seconds and the candidates limit their responses to one minute so we can get in all the questions,” Mattison said.

She added that the chamber and moderator will ask the audience to be respectful of the candidates and not boo or jeer. “They also have to be careful not to clap too long as that counts against the candidate’s response time,” Mattison explained.

About 300 residents attended a forum sponsored by the chamber at the community center in April, when five of the six candidates were allowed about 10 minutes to present their views, visions and beliefs. Candidate Randy “Doc” Rhodd missed that forum because of a death in his family.

All registered voters are allowed to vote in the June 2 runoff even if they didn’t vote in Tuesday’s election. Early voting starts May 26.

In all, 2,434 votes were cast, with 715 of those ballots coming from early voting and 14 from absentee ballots. A number of candidates felt that was a low turnout.

Shortly after the results were posted Tuesday evening, Fletcher said he was grateful that he made the runoff. “We had good people working for us. It was heartwarming to see the confidence the voters put in me,” he said.

“We’re running against the establishment,” Fletcher said.

“We were the underdog.”

Although he raised the most money in the campaign, most of his contributions were in small amounts, Fletcher said.

Fletcher said he’s looking forward to continuing to talk to people and get his message out.

Elliott said Tuesday night that it had been a good race up to this point and wanted to continue the positive tone of the race through the next three weeks. “I’ve also got to thank everyone for their support and thank the other candidates for their efforts,” he said.

“I’m looking forward to getting more into the issues and talking to the people and hopefully getting enough votes to turn things around,” he said.

Fletcher, 54, has been a Jacksonville resident since 1968 and has been on the council since 1978 and is president of Fletcher Homes, a residential home building company.

He is married and has two children and five grandchildren.

Elliott, 56, is a Jacksonville native and has been an alderman since 1996 and is the coordinator of energy management for the Pulaski County Special School District.

He is married and has one daughter, twin sons and two granddaughters.