They came to impress and that they did, dress-wise and officially.
Gary Mayor Jerome Prince chose an open-collar shirt and suit while Indiana State Sen. Eddie Melton favored a one-button suit and tie for their first head-to-head debate, hosted by the Gary Fraternal Order of Police at the ArtHouse, Friday night March 10.
Melton and Prince also appeared at the candidates forum hosted by Gary Firefighters Local 359, in February, but didn’t debate. There, they were among 30 candidates presenting their credentials for the mayor’s office, 6 city council seats, and 3 council-at-large seats.
Police and fire union members get to vote on the candidates, with union endorsements going to the majority votegetter.
FOP President Del Stout, moderator at Friday’s hour-long debate, asked the candidates about their plans to name a full-time police chief and would that chief come from within the department ranks? What is the plan for recruiting new officers and retaining current officers? How do you plan to grow city’s population?
Following are 2 more of the debate questions and answers from the candidates. Candidate’s answers are reduced for clarity and space.
Question from Stout: What makes you the best candidate for mayor? And why should the FOP endorse you?
Mayor Prince answer: “The greatest attribute is the experience, not only prior to becoming mayor. It’s certainly the experience that I’ve gained in the last three years of understanding what the challenges exactly are.”
- “What I do want to point to is the fact that we’ve been able to reduce over $7 million in our long term debt. And it’s our plan to continue on that path in order to provide resources not only to give raises to the police department, but the fire department, the General Services employees and everyone.”
- “As a member of the county council, I was the sole member who advocated for a funding source, that over the last 10 years has provided $66 million for public safety. The police department is a benefactor of $33 million of that.”
Sen. Melton answer: “What I hear from rank and file, and from citizens is the lack of vision for the city. No one knows its direction.”
- “Part of what I’ve been able to do downstate is bring resources back home, every single year into my second term; and worked collaboratively with Democrats and Republicans.”
- “Why should the FOP endorse me? You will have a mayor willing to listen; that’s willing to work with you to figure out those issues. And if we had an opportunity to get 3½ years to figure out a contract, I’m sure that could have been accomplished. It may not be all fiscal and financial.”
- “Now that funding source that was mentioned, the Lake County income tax. Lake County is the only county in the state that retains that tax and does not give it back to the local municipalities. That money has to be going in our pockets to help fund public safety locally, education, and health. And I’m glad he actually admitted that to us openly today.”
Mayor Prince’s rebuttal: “The fact that Lake County does not give back taxes to the local municipalities – it’s not accurate. A portion of our overall county rate is reduced as a result of the income tax. And that within itself is a savings for our citizens.”
Question from Stout: What would you consider your greatest accomplishment in your personal life outside of politics and what is your greatest accomplishment professionally?
Both candidates said their wives and children are their greatest personal accomplishments.
Sen. Melton answer: Professionally, “I would say it’s simply the Hard Rock Casino; when we got the casino moved from Buffington Harbor to land base. My predecessor Senator Rogers tried for over two decades to make that happen. And we waited to get that done in my second year.”
Mayor Prince answer: “I’m proud of the fact that as Lake County Assessor, we were able to straighten out an office that had been plagued with backlog of appeals and outdated computer system, and was the disgrace of all county assessors in the state. And ensuring or at least assisting being replaced by a competent assessor, I think, is a huge accomplishment professionally.”
Prince and Melton are scheduled for a March 25th debate at Indiana University and April 6th at St. Timothy Community Church.