Port St. Lucie mayoral candidates debate

PORT ST. LUCIE — Seven of the 10 candidates for mayor squared off Thursday for their first public debate and most agreed the major issues facing the city are budget woes, city spending, declining property values and job creation.

The debate, sponsored by the second annual Treasure Coast Business Summit at the Civic Center, was moderated by Charlie Neeld of WPSL 1590 AM. About 50 people attended the debate, which was a question and answer format.

The candidates unable to attend Thursday’s debate were Albert Hickey, Kurt Hoyer and JoAnn Faiella. During a telephone interview last week, Hoyer said he would withdraw from the race because he didn’t have the help or the finances to run an effective campaign. However, it’s unclear whether Hoyer has officially withdrawn his candidacy.

CANDIDATES FOR MAYOR

Christopher Cooper: 50, city councilman and Palm Beach County firefighter

Shirley Copenhaver: 46, Realtor at Bradley & Associates Real Estate

Joe Edge: 51, owner of the Tax Shoppe

JoAnn Faiella: 46, records specialist at the Port St. Lucie Police Department

Albert Hickey: 48, retired New York City police detective

Kurt Hoyer: 66, formerly employed by L&M Botruc Co. out of Galliano, La., delivering supplies to oil and gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico; laid off in April

Victoria Huggins: 55, political activist and former research specialist at a Palm Beach County lobbying firm

Frank Lillo: 56, sales agent and instructor for Keller Williams Realty

Timothy Neely: 26, general manager of a national restaurant chain

James Rich: 46, vice chairman of the city’s Planning and Zoning Board and account executive for a direct mail marketing firm

GREATEST CHALLENGE FACING CITY?

Candidates were asked a series of questions. Here are the candidates answers to the question: What do you consider as the greatest challenge facing the city of Port St. Lucie?

Chris Cooper

“While obviously the biggest challenge is this year’s current budget, and with my leadership, hopefully we’ll be able to make our way through these trying times. It’s very easy to sit back right now and say what you will do for this year’s budget when you don’t have to do it. I actually have to step up to the plate and make these decisions this year. The City of Port St. Lucie could not grow and could not take on projects of this nature without having to incur some debt. No city operates without debt. We geared up for the boom. This budget will fall back on us. While people are demanding more services and wanting to pay less taxes, it’s very difficult to handle that situation. It’s very difficult to make that happen.”

Shirley Copenhaver

“The greatest challenge facing Port St. Lucie is an economic depression. At one point we were one of the fastest growing cities, and tax revenue was pouring into our city coffers. The City Council saw all of this money and couldn’t resist showboating themselves to the public. City government grew beyond the ability of the city to support it, and personnel services, the employment pay budget for the city, grew from 16.6 percent in fiscal year 2006-2007 to the year 2008-2009. Growth like this with what was looming on the horizon at that time was unacceptable and certainly did not show proper stewardship of anyone sitting on the City Council.”

Joe Edge

“Identifying the challenge is easy. It’s the budget. Solving the problem is the actual challenge. Unemployment is the culprit, and expanding the job base at every possible level is the solution. Jobs create revenue and allow the economy to grow. Add in over 20 years of business experience in budgeting and finance, thinking outside the box is as critical as taking the emotion and politics out of reducing the budget.”

Victoria Huggins

“I think there are two great challenges facing the city of Port St. Lucie. One is our city’s massive long-term debt, which we have been saddled with by the previous administration. The second challenge is jobs creation. We cannot pay off the $2,051,953,337 long-term debt (including interest) with a 14 percent unemployment rate. This long-term debt figure includes the interest due on our outstanding balance. I believe to hold down our future debt the citizens must have a voice in the amount of expenditures that can be approved by the council.”

Frank Lillo

“Our biggest challenge is that we need to continue to make the transition from a local service economy to a broad-based service economy with good industrial (jobs). We’ve already started with the biotech industry and the digital media industry. We cannot afford during this down period to lose the momentum that we’ve started and that many people have worked very hard for to attract those kinds of industries because that’s the only way ladies and gentlemen that we’re going to have real organic job and career growth.”

Timothy Neely

“The greatest challenge, in my opinion, is the overhead of the city. How can we help grow the businesses here if we can’t even keep our city in black? (We need to make) drastic changes to the way the city works, to what we spend our money on to the way we operate everyday, Until that’s fixed, how are we going to attract business here? The city is running the city like they don’t know how.”

James Rich

“The greatest challenge immediately to the city is the budget. We heard earlier this year that we were going to have a deficit of $4.5 million. I heard earlier today the projected ad valorem tax that does fund the general revenue fund is lower than expected. We’re going to have a $10 million projected deficit. That’s huge.”

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