The people who want to be the city's next mayor shared their ideas for how to pull the city out of the grip of crime and poverty during a forum Monday that, at times, got chippy as the candidates took shots at each other's agendas.
Hosted by Emerge Albany — a group of young business professionals — and the Legislative Affairs Committee of the Albany-Area Chamber of Commerce, the questions from panelists at the Municipal Auditorium Monday focused mainly on the economy and how each candidate planned to move the city forward to an era of new prosperity.
For most of the night, the candidates used the questions to focus on issues that catered to their platforms.
For restaurant owner and manager B.J. Fletcher, the key words for the night were "jobs" and "incentives."
"We've got to create a business-friendly environment in this town and make it a place where businesses will want to do business," Fletcher said in her opening statement.
Fletcher said Albany should capitalize on its diversity and work to keep the graduates of its three main institutions of higher education — Albany State University, Darton and Albany Tech — in Albany.
She brought up her A-Team — a group of Albany stakeholders — who would work to pitch Albany to prospective businesses and said that the key to growing jobs was to work with existing industries and to promote tourism.
Former city commissioner Dorothy Hubbard said the key to overcoming the city's problems is to open the lines of communication and to have the powerbrokers in this town — from business, to government to the faith-based community — share information and work together.
"We have a lot of people and organizations in Albany that are working to move the community forward, but because of poor communications, one hand doesn't know what the other is doing," Hubbard said. "I think we need to come together and work together to pull in the same direction so we can get something accomplished."
Hubbard said that Albany should praise the fact that it is such a diverse community. She too said that the way to pull Albany out of poverty was to create jobs by working with existing businesses to make sure their needs are being met and to work with the Dougherty County Board of Education to find a way to better the schools.
While talking about parental involvement, Hubbard said that more emphasis and responsibility needed to placed on the parents in the community and that while she would work with any who were willing, that the judges should consider some form of punishment for parents of repeat youth offenders.
Former State Representative John White said that, because of his two-decades in the General Assembly, he's uniquely qualified to advance the city because he knows the people in power and has a vision for making it happen.
"I have the experience and contacts around the country; I have worked with people from the corner house to the White House. When I call on people in Congress, I don't get put on hold," White said. "And a lot of what Albany is going to need will have to come from that body whether you like or not, so it would be better to have someone who knows the key players personally."
White said that he envisions a much more cosmopolitan kind of Albany, where there were entertainment and educational opportunities to keep youth here, including the construction of a Ray Charles Museum and a project to partially dam the Flint River with rocks so that shallow riverboats could cruise up down a part of the river offering meals and entertainment.
White said the problem with gang crime started when they took corporal punishment out of the schools, saying that "taking paddling out of the schools opened the door for Uzis." White said he had been talking famed Georgia boxer Evander Holyfield's nephew about opening a Holyfield Gym here where troubled kids could go and do their homework and fight in the ring.
While much of the night was spent by candidates re-hashing their platforms, the candidates did take, on few relevant occasions, the opportunity to jab their opponents.
After White told the panel and the audience an anecdote about how when he moved into a white neighborhood, his white neighbors moved out and how discouraged he was that they didn't welcome him, Hubbard took aim at White's referral to race.
"That's part of our problem. We need a mayor that can be a consensus builder throughout the community, not a mayor who will make every little issue about race," Hubbard said. "It won't work. Let's forget about what color we are and work together," she said with a raised voice.
After White said that he has been working with airline consultants and has "pretty much got a deal done , to some existent, to have a new airline in place," by the end of his first year in office, Hubbard called him out on the issue saying that, as a former member of the aviation commission, that airlines had said repeatedly they wouldn't come because Albany lacked the necessary ridership numbers to warrant two airlines.
"I hope when I'm elected Mr. White, you'll work with me on that issue because when I was a member of the aviation commission, another airline wasn't coming because of our lower ridership numbers," Hubbard said. "I don't want anyone to be my mayor who says they can't get something done just because they aren't elected."
White took advantage of a statement Fletcher made encouraging the youth of Albany to leave town and come back to "appreciate what's here."
"We've talked all night about keeping our youth here in Albany and here you say that they need to go away," White said.
"If you had listened, you would've heard me say that they need to go away and come back so that they'd appreciate how good things are here," she rebutted.
And Fletcher took shots at both White and Hubbard in her closing statement.
"Mr. White, I've sat here for the last three months and listened about who you know, but what have you done for this community as a private citizen?" Fletcher said. "And Mrs. Hubbard represents the current administration; how's that working for you?"