Mayor Nat Robertson and challenger Val Applewhite squared off Tuesday in a mayoral forum sponsored by Epsilon Zeta Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity in the 1,150-seat Seabrook Auditorium at Fayetteville State University.
Not many folks showed up.
“It’s called voter apathy,” says George Breece, a local political observer.
This wasn’t a game-changing forum, but one where you at least could learn that the mayor and the challenger agree that crime is a concern, and about their perspectives on the local economy, parks and recreation, and better tomorrows for this city.
“This new council is changing the quality of life in Fayetteville,” Robertson said, and then he listed accomplishments such as strategic planning initiatives per economic development, joint meetings with county commissioners, the first public swimming pool built since 1948 which opened this summer, and a new satellite police station in west Fayetteville. “And for the second year, crime has fallen by double digits. I’m honored to serve as your mayor.”
Applewhite, a former four-term councilwoman who narrowly lost to Robertson in 2013 for the mayoral gavel, talked about how the potential of technology industry here could bring jobs to this city and embracing young lives would keep them from leaving their hometown for more lucrative employment opportunities.
“This election is not so much about me, but your community and feeling safe,” Applewhite said. “And how do we create jobs for people like my son to keep them here? I am willing to commit my first term to the youth of Fayetteville. If we can’t take care of our youth, shame on us.”
The candidates talked about race relations, too, and narrowing the divide that splits black and white.
“We need a community dialogue,” Applewhite said. “I think we have more in common than not. There’s a lot of work to be done, but Fayetteville, I think, can take the lead.”
Absolutely, yes indeed, the mayor said.
“We’ve got to look past the color of someone’s skin,” Robertson said.
All of these issues affect us, but on this night not many city residents bothered to come hear what the candidates had to say.
“There are no real hot buttons,” says Troy Williams, another local political observer, and not even crime this election season. “People hear it so much, it gets old. Particularly if all they do is talk about it.”
Williams doesn’t mince his words, either, in saying this just isn’t an inspiring municipal election year, and staging a forum at his beloved FSU might have been the wrong venue.
“People age 65 and plus are voting,” Williams says. “Why not have it at a senior citizens center and talk about seniors being targeted by scams and home invasions.”
Politics has changed, he says, and forum models such as Tuesday have become outdated.
“That’s just the ways things are,” Williams says.
Touche, Breece says.
“At these local election forums, you never get much of a crowd,” Breece says. “Mostly candidates, their families and their campaign staffers. We had a 7 percent turnout in the primary and will be lucky, real lucky, to double that in November. Voter apathy is rampant.”
Bill Kirby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 323-4848, ext. 486