On the eve of the first of two virtual candidates forums this week, West University is finding itself in the middle of campaigns marked by partisan politics, a charge of racist dog whistles, and the unprecedented influence of political action committees.
Essentials Magazine/Instant News — armed with questions submitted by residents — will try to cut through to the issues when it conducts a mayoral forum via ZOOM beginning at 7 p.m. Wednesday (April 14), and a council forum at 7 p.m. Thursday (April 15). Early voting begins next Monday, running through April 27, with the general election on May 1.
Although the questions elicited from the public show an interest in a variety of topics ranging from infrastructure to on-street parking to environmental sustainability, some candidates have made the pulling of the city’s longtime cash subsidy from the Tri-Sports Association the focus of the election. Two PACs have been formed to promote candidates who support reinstating the subsidy, framing the issue as an anti- vs. pro-youth sports and quality-of-life matter.
That led incumbent Councilmember John Barnes, who’s running for re-election, to describe the PACs as “dark money” and the language and imagery in some campaign materials as “racially insensitive, dog-whistle messaging.”
Another notable characteristic of the campaigns of current and former officeholders is their taking credit for West U’s successes from flood mitigation to financial stability — curious in a city that has a fulltime city manager form of government, with the mayor and council in more of an advisory capacity.
Candidates are being provided the questions a day in advance of each forum. Essentials Publisher George Boehme will moderate each session, holding the candidates to tight guidelines and muting them if they veer off topic or exceed their allotted time.
Audience members will be muted. ZOOM links are the following:
MAYOR FORUM: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81645629250, Meeting ID: 816 4562 9250
COUNCIL FORUM: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84090654687 Meeting ID: 840 9065 4687 Passcode: 175015
Candidates for mayor are current Mayor Pro Tem Kevin Trautner and former Mayor Susan Sample. Incumbent councilmembers John Barnes, Lauri Lankford and Ed Sobash are running again, with former Councilmember Mardi Turner and political newcomers Rich Beck, Melanie Bell, Shannon Carroll, John Montgomery and Sam Parikh making a run.