Merlene Davis: Candidates forum geared toward minorities and those struggling financially

Herald-Leader columnistMay 12, 2014 

  • Operation Turnout Candidates Forum

    What: Features candidates vying for Lexington mayor, 2nd District Council seat and 77th District House seat.

    When: 6:30 p.m. May 13

    Where: First African Baptist Church, 465 Price Rd.


The Rev. Clark Williams remembers retiring Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, D-Lexington, talking years ago about the best way to affect change.

"He said the best way to bring about the changes that are needed is to elect people who already agree with the changes you want to make," Williams said.

And the best way to do that is to know where a candidate stands. That is one of the reasons Operation Turnout was established. It is a nonpartisan group that has been hosting candidate forums since 2010, and will host another on Tuesday at First African Baptist Church, 465 Price Road.

That forum will feature the three candidates for Lexington mayor in the May 20 primary — incumbent Jim Gray, Anthany Beatty, and Danny Mayer — and the three candidates vying for the 2nd District Council seat — incumbent Shevawn Akers, Byron Costner and Michael Stuart — as well as the two Democratic candidates for the 77th House District — George Brown and Michael Haskins.

All the candidates have agreed to participate, Williams said.

Time will be allotted for questions and answers, some submitted by the audience, and the issues will be geared toward concerns voiced by minorities and those who are struggling financially.

For the council candidates, possible questions could be about the affordable housing trust fund, job creation and training, or education and commercial development, said Williams chairman of the forum and one of its founders.

For the mayoral candidates, an additional concern would be minority business development, he said.

But the bulk of the evening will be devoted to the candidates in the 77th House District. "There isn't a Republican candidate in that race," Williams noted, "so whoever wins the primary will win the seat."

Plus, he said, it is a race that pits a candidate with the backing of the Democratic machinery against a candidate who has the apparent backing of the grass-roots community.

Haskins has been endorsed by Crenshaw, who held the seat for 22 years, and state Sen. Reggie Thomas, while Brown has name recognition from serving much of the district while on the Urban County Council.

"It is an interesting race," Williams said.

And it will be interesting to see how Brown fares in a partisan race after serving on a nonpartisan council. "Local candidates usually don't get involved in partisan races," Williams added.

Questions in that race will be about the restoration of voting rights for ex-offenders, payday lending restrictions, and programs that alleviate recidivism and re-entry hurdles for ex-offenders, Williams said. Plus, there will be questions about education funding, tax reform, expanded gambling, and diversity in state government personnel.

Once voters learn which candidates to support, they should volunteer to help them win, he said.

"We want people to be registered to vote and informed about the issues, and we want people to participate in the process," Williams said. "There is still opportunity to support candidates with your time and with your giving."

The forum starts at 6:30 p.m.

Merlene Davis: (859) 231-3218. Email: Twitter: @reportmerle. Blog:

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