BELLEVILLE – The difference between seasoned politicians and new candidates was evident at the Belleville mayoral debate on Tuesday night.
Candidates Taso Christopher and Pat Culhane have both served on Belleville city council for the past eight years. They leveraged their experience over Jill Raycroft, Richard Davis Courneyea, Kenzo Dozono, Lonnie Herrington and Bill Glisky, who are running for mayor without having been on council before.
One Belleville resident asked the new candidates why they decided to run for mayor without getting experience on council first. The question was met with loud applause from the crowd that filled Alumni Hall at Loyalist College .
“Leadership is about governance,” responded Raycroft. “And while you could equate that with the need for government, I think it’s important to understand that we do have some experience with regard to leading committees, leading change, and moving things forward.”
The other new candidates agreed their past experiences prepared them to be the new mayor.
Not everyone thinks the new candidates are well-prepared for the job. “What credentials do you think they have to run for the top job as the mayor? That’s definitely a question. You need to have been in the shoes as a coucillor to look at the tough decisions you have to make,” said Christopher.
Another issue that came up was transparency in decision-making by the current council. Audience member Justin Jones asked Christopher and Culhane what they “would do as mayor to change the air of distrust around the way decisions are made.”
Culhane said she wholeheartedly disagreed with the suggestion that the current council is not transparent.
“We have been as honest and straightforward as the law allows us to be. There will always be in-camera sessions; there are topics on which we cannot speak. And it makes people unhappy because they want those details. We simply cannot give them. That’s the way it is.”
Christopher expanded on Culhane’s response.
“What I’d like to do is let the public know that there is not a great cloud over the city. This city is in great shape. With the leadership of the existing mayor and the council we are in fantastic shape. We are leading the province of Ontario. We should be very proud of that.”
Jones said their answers didn’t satisfy him.
“I do not trust the decision-making process as it exists. There seems to be a lot of decisions made at city hall behind closed doors. In an era of increasing transparency with social media, I think it’s shameful how decisions are made behind closed doors.”
Other topics discussed at the debate include a new police station, bike paths, environmental concerns, poverty, and and what candidates plan to do to ensure jobs are available for students.
QNetNews reporters were spread out around Belleville, gathering questions for those who could not attend the debate. In addition, people were able to direct questions to candidates through social media. Candidates were invited to go to QNetNews  to answer questions for which there had not been time at the debate.