Paducah’s mayoral candidates took center stage Thursday at the Clemens Fine Arts Center, where they addressed several topics in their first debate ahead of the Nov. 3 general election.
Project Speak Life, a local nonprofit, hosted the debate, but it was a closed event due to COVID-19 and social distancing restrictions. It finished ahead of schedule, lasting roughly an hour.
City Commissioner Richard Abraham, George Bray and write-in candidate Dujuan Thomas answered a series of questions from panelists. The issues included how candidates would support Paducah’s nonprofit organizations, annexations and local city/county share agreements, how they plan to engage the Latino population, relationships with small businesses and more.
Trust and integrity in Black community
Panelist George Ross, a local business owner and board member for W.C. Young Community Center, asked candidates about their plans to create trust and integrity within the Black community.
“I think first of all you have to make sure that you are a truthful person,” Abraham said. “You have to build a relationship before there could be any trust and you don’t trust folks that you don’t have a relationship with.”
He said the city has a “diversity problem” within City Hall. If elected, Abraham wants to have a diversity group from the city travel to other communities, such as Nashville, Tennessee, when they have career days and present Paducah as somewhere that’s a “great place to be” with a low cost of living.
“Having job fairs on campus at City Hall, I think that’s a lazy approach,” he said. “Wanting folks to come to you. We haven’t really put together a plan to go out and actively recruit minorities, but we want the best people and the only way to do that is to present yourself as serious about incorporating those talents within City Hall.”
Bray noted that establishing trust and showing integrity is about getting to know people. He said it’s about doing what you say you’re going to do, adding that if you say you’re going to involve more minorities and point them toward boards, it’s “doing that.”
“It’s inviting people into City Hall and allowing them to get to know me as a person and understand the administration that I established in City Hall and making sure they understand that I am sincere, that we are all sincere,” he said.
“And then it’s really putting your money where your mouth is, it’s following through. All of my life, I’ve been a person that when I committed to somebody to do something, I almost always follow through and it’s very important, especially in establishing trust with this community, that when you look at somebody and you say that I’m going to do something, that you do it.”
Thomas said he thinks there is a simple answer.
“I believe all it takes is getting out there in the African American community and showing them that I will be the mayor for them and for everybody, but it takes that step of getting out there in their community, finding out what they want and need from the government, from their city, and it’s fairly that simple,” he said.
Thomas added that they can’t sit in City Hall, and he would get out into the community, walk with residents and talk with them to see what they want and need in the city.
Panelist Jeff Parker, a McCracken County commissioner and business owner, asked candidates about their thoughts on a local option restaurant tax and, if in favor of that, how far would they go to change laws to treat all small and mid-size cities the same.
Abraham said “nobody likes to talk about taxes,” but if a situation occurs where they have to do something to create revenue, then they want to make sure it has the least impact on people who live in the community.
Using the mall area as an example, he said that — before the pandemic — many license plates were from other counties and they’re eating in Paducah restaurants, meaning that many people who are passing through town or visiting Paducah, would be paying that tax.
“I think it’s another tool that we could use if necessary, but we’re not given that opportunity and other communities across the state is,” he said, also noting it “escapes” him how some cities are allowed to impose that tax and some aren’t.
In his comments, Bray said he’s for the tax.
“I believe that Paducah needs to be on equal footing with other cities of our size,” Bray said. “I think we need more sports facilities. We need to be able to use that tax for things that we need to improve the community. I think that’s very important.”
Bray said he’d collaborate with the county and help put a strategy together to work with the legislature, governor and anyone else to try to “get that done.”
Thomas explained that he feels the people’s voices should be involved in the decision whenever it concerns raising taxes.
“I, for one, don’t really support raising taxes, but in situations like that where it’s restaurant tax, where there is people coming from all across the area to eat at those restaurants, it is something that might be enticing to a government official. But again, a majority of the citizens would have to be in agreement with that,” he said.
Panelist Anne Bidwell, community impact manager for United Way of Paducah-McCracken County, asked candidates about where they felt they would have the greatest impact on the community, if elected. She cited areas of education, employment and health and wellness (including mental health), in particular.
Abraham said it’d be “motivating.”
“As a motivator from the mayor’s seat, then that gives me a tool to use when I go and I talk to some of the best health care providers anywhere in the nation, right here with our two fabulous hospitals. Or go to other partners and seeing what I can do to enhance what they’re doing,” he said.
“Same message coming from the mayor’s seat and encouraging folks to do those things that they say they want to do. A lot of times we can do some things that doesn’t cost a whole lot of money when it comes to your health. That would be one of the things that I bring to the table. I’ve always been that way and have always been well received.”
Bray said he thinks all three areas are important.
“Certainly, in terms of health care, we do have two great hospitals that are really magnets for the population and for people to come here,” he said. “Our school systems are fantastic. So, I think as mayor, you would be able to have an impact in all of those areas, but the area that I would have the most impact would be in jobs and better jobs.”
Bray noted that’d be through helping entrepreneurs get into business, the attraction of new businesses, getting involved with existing businesses, adding that two-thirds of new jobs are created by companies that are already here.
In his comments, Thomas said he doesn’t believe it’s imperative to jut focus on one area.
“Paducah’s a family, and with a family, you got to face all these issues and I think whenever we get to one of those issues, that’s where the focus should be when it comes to employment, health and wellness,” he said.
“I think that once those issues come up, that’s what we should focus on at that time. Because, as a mayor, I’m supposed to be a leader, so the people should look up to me when it comes to those situations. I believe that I will be prepared for that when it comes to health and wellness because mental health is a major thing.”
Thomas added that he believes Paducah has a good health system. He also wants to bring entrepreneurship here, focus on employment and thinks youth should get more involved with politics.
The mayoral debate may be watched at West Kentucky Community and Technical College’s Channel 2 YouTube page, paducah2.