Updated: Oct 24
In the past few months, three local candidates making a bid for mayor have been campaigning to bolster their chances to win over voters. On Tuesday, Oct. 17, a crowd of Salisbury residents and Salisbury University students gathered at a mayoral forum held in the 4th floor of the Guerrieri Academic Commons.
Brought to fruition by three non-partisan groups – Public Affairs and Civic Engagement (PACE), the Greater Salisbury Committee and the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce – the forum served as a way for the residents of Salisbury to learn more about the three candidates and their platforms.
Mike Dunn, President & CEO of the Greater Salisbury Committee, was an integral organizer of this years forum. The forum is purposefully held in the academic commons to increase voter turnout and enhance political engagement, especially among students.
"This is always the most significant forum [and] it’s held here at SU [on] purpose," Dunn said. "The university is very important to our community; we’ve got young smart people here who want to get involved and know what’s going on."
Each of the candidates brings a distinct set of experiences, skillsets and approaches to the table.
Randy Taylor is a local businessman who has decades of experience in commercial banking and property management. He is running on a pro-business platform and has highlighted his financial management skills.
Megan Outten currently sits on the Salisbury city council and has worked closely with community leaders to enact changes in the community. She has expressed her goal to keep Salisbury moving forward.
Jermichael Mitchell is a local community leader who has been instrumental in various non-profit groups within the city for several years. He has highlighted his six champions platform for enhanced progress in Salisbury.
Despite a difference in approaches, each of the candidates voiced an interest in providing better opportunities for local businesses, affordable housing for residents and increased overall safety. SU's relationship with the city was a topic of interest as well.
Mitchell attests that greater community involvement amongst students is imperative.
“I truly believe that we can get [students] on campus to start volunteering more in our community centers [and] start working in our programs – when we were working with the city of Salisbury we had tons of program ideas at the time with tons of SU students," Mitchell said. "We actually worked with PACE and a few other of the groups here to do great programming [on] New Street."
Outten wants to find ways to partner with SU to boost volunteer opportunities in downtown Salisbury.
“Obviously the relationship between SU and Salisbury city is immensely important, representing a large fraction of our employees here in the city," Outten said. " I think there are a number of avenues for us to make sure the students feel a little bit more involved… in our city government"
Taylor recognizes the importance of SU's presence in Salisbury.
“The university is a huge asset to the community and I think to whatever extent we can partner, assist, mobilize and coordinate to do whatever they want to do or assist in any way is great,” she said.
One rather tough moment for those on stage came when the panelists questioned the flaws in each of the individual candidates' personal records. First up on the chopping block was Randy Taylor.
Selling an asset at a substantially lower price than its true value is known as “selling pennies on the dollar.” Taylor is currently against the city of Salisbury conducting such dealings. He was asked to explain why he purchased Salisbury lots at lower prices than their actual value in the early 2000s, a seemingly contradictory stance.
“One of the lots had a power transformer on it which you couldn’t build on, the second had subterranean issues… I think we paid like $35,000 for it, we had other appraisals in the file,” he said. “I’m not going to be defensive about it [because] absolutely nobody wanted those lots and it was continuous to our property… we were doing a garden center which was a cool thing for the downtown [area].”
Next, Outten faced a difficult question regarding past criminal charges. Tainting her record are two DUIs, one from 2014 and another from 2020.
She was asked to address voters concerned about these convictions. She gave an emotionally compelling response, although she did not exactly explain herself or offer an apology to those she could have put at risk.
“I am one of the five women who are going to be experiencing sexual violence in their lifetime,” she responded. “It was a rather dark moment of my life and I am immensely proud of the hurdles I overcame as a woman, and I’m here to just tell other women that they can take a moment of your life [but] they’re not going to steal your future.”
Lastly, Mitchell was posed a question relating to an accidental discharge misdemeanor which he pled guilty to last spring.
Mitchell delivered a thorough explanation of the incident, an apology for the accidental discharge, ways he is ensuring it does not happen again and his strong support for gun rights.
“I firmly believe in my second amendment rights; I am an avid gun owner, I go to the range often and I was in the process of preparing my weapon," he said. "A bullet got lodged and as I was closing my gun it went off, accidentally... I’ve taken several classes afterwards, as far as gun safety is concerned."
There are likely to be quite a few SU students at the voting booths on Nov. 7. Joshua Weeks, an SU junior majoring in Social Work, is excited to vote next month.
“I think it was very good to see how the candidates feel personally," Weeks said. "I personally like Jermichael, I thought he represented what he felt and I feel like it was something that I could get behind.”
Weeks also detailed his views on voting and gives a compelling reason for why young adults in the SU community should execute their power to vote.
“Voting is our essential tool to get the things that we want [and] I feel like if you don’t vote, then your power is taken away," he said. "I feel like voting is essential to get the change that we want to see in our communities.”
Hannah Cechnini, the moderator for the forum and an anchor for 47 ABC WMDT, was glad to see the large turn out of audience members and see the candidates answer questions residents in the community have had on their minds.
“As far as what we’ve heard from the candidates themselves, I think we heard a lot of what people have been wondering about, we asked questions that the community has been asking among themselves," Cechnini said.
The moment in the forum which most intrigued Cechnini was when the candidates answered a question relating to diversity in Salisbury city government.
“I was interested to hear what their takes were on the diversity, equity and inclusion in the city because as [they] pointed out, there are zero black department heads in the entire city of Salisbury," they said. "To me, that’s kind of a glaring diversity issue, so I was really interested to hear what their respective takes were on that and how they plan to tackle that issue.”
Written by COLIN McEVERS
Contributors: JORDAN CRUSE and SARIAN CLARKE
Featured images courtesy of Colin McEvers