Cleveland mayoral candidates Kevin Brooks and Duane Schriver traded barbs during their first actual debate Monday night at the Bradley Central High School Fine Arts Center.Previously, they had met in …
Cleveland mayoral candidates Kevin Brooks and Duane Schriver traded barbs during their first actual debate Monday night at the Bradley Central High School Fine Arts Center.
Previously, they had met in a town hall style forum.
Schriver, a former educator, is running against Brooks who announced in January he would not seeking re-election to his state representative office in order to run for mayor. Brooks has represented the 24th Legislative District for 12 years. Schriver was a teacher, coach, vice principal, principal and administrator with the Cleveland City School system for 42 years.
The debate was moderated by Bradley County Republican Party chairman Richard Burnette.
The face-off between the candidates comes after weeks of criticisms lobbed by Schriver regarding Brooks’ political career as a state legislator, labeling him derisively as a “politician.”
Brooks, who is usually as conciliatory as Schriver is pugnacious, delivered several jabs to his opponent after weeks of silence.
Schriver repeated the claim Monday night, as well as touted himself as the “citizens' candidate.”
“If he was doing such a good job in Nashville, why is he coming here?” Schriver said of Brooks.
Schriver also said he supported term limits, noting that Brooks had served 12 years as a state representative.
Brooks finally counterattacked.
“It just happens that I was at the state capital,” Brooks said. “I was doing the job that you (the voters) hired me to do.”
Brooks also noted that he ran unopposed for several election cycles and added that he decided to end his term by not seeking re-election.
“I limited mine,” Brooks said. “That’s why I came home.”
Brooks said his terms lasted two years.
“Those are not the four-year terms that you were going to run for,” Brooks said of Schriver’s 2006-aborted run for the state senate in 2006.
“We both ran, but I’m the politician,” Brooks said with a hint of sarcasm.
Brooks then awaited another opportunity to throw a jab. When Schriver said he had spent Father’s Day dining with his family in Chattanooga, while at the same time stating that better parking was needed to expand business in downtown Cleveland, Brooks delivered a verbal left hook.
“I stayed here for Father’s Day,” Brooks said. “My money was spent here in Cleveland.”
While the venue was the setting for some verbal sparring, there was substantive discussion regarding the city’s future.
Both candidates agreed that infrastructure would be a challenge as the city grows.
Schriver said city leaders did not utilize funds allocated to road construction and maintenance.
“We are 10 to 15 years behind on infrastructure,” Schriver said. “We lost $15 million because the good old boys would not step up. That 15 million won’t be back for 20 years.”
Schriver said traffic issues caused by growth will increase, and the “next four to five years will be ugly.”
Brooks said he was confused as to why local roads and bridges were not “state of the art.” He also advocated the construction of roundabouts that would help relieve traffic congestion.
“Why are we holding back improvements?” Brooks asked.
Tourism was also a topic at the debate, with both candidates advocating improved efforts to attract visitors to Cleveland.
Brooks said the city needed better road signage.
“We need to be more like Sevierville and make it more tourist friendly,” said Brooks, who added that visitors to Cleveland have informed him the city is difficult to navigate.
Schriver said tourism’s importance in bringing in revenue to the city was vital but cautioned that certain areas of the city were not ready for an influx of tourists.
“You’ve got to have parking,” Schriver said. “Before we consider downtown, we’ve got to have parking. People don’t want to walk four blocks in snow, rain, cold and heat.”
Both candidates agreed city council meetings should be held at a time when the general public can attend. Council meetings are held monthly during the afternoons, with a work session at 1 p.m., followed by a voting session at 3 p.m.
“It’s even difficult for me to get there,” Brooks said. “There needs to be an alternate time, so everyone can attend.”
Schriver questioned why the city council’s work and voting sessions are held separately.
“I’ve never understood it,” Schriver said. “It’s a waste of taxpayer money.”
Responding to a question regarding plans for the old Whirlpool buildings downtown, Brooks and Schriver differed on what to do about the site which has languished since Whirlpool moved to its new Benton Pike plant in 2012.
Schriver said efforts should be made to attract manufacturers to the site.
“Those are strong buildings,” Schriver said. “We need to find someone to take it over and provide tax revenue.”
Schriver also said the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce should do more to attract businesses to the city.
Brooks suggested the location be used to provide affordable housing. He also said Whirlpool may be awaiting suggestions on how to repurpose the site.
“I think they are waiting for us,” he said.
The candidates were asked how to address homelessness in the city.
Brooks said he had recently ridden on a bus and had observed sections of the city where homeless people congregate. He said there were tent cities and people camped under bridges.
“These people need help,” Brooks said. “I can’t wait to be part of the solution.”
Schriver said churches need to lend a helping hand.
“How many churches do we have here?” Schriver asked. “If every church took in two homeless people, we wouldn’t have homeless people here. Every church in the community can afford to help more.”
Despite counterpunches by Brooks all evening, an unfazed Schriver resumed his offensive during closing statements.
Lambasting Brooks and current mayor Tom Rowland, Schriver said it was inappropriate for Brooks to appear at a function in the mayor’s place. He questioned why Cleveland Vice Mayor Avery Johnson wasn’t instead sent to read aloud a proclamation that was presented during a VFW Auxiliary 70th Anniversary Celebration.
In a "Viewpoint" opinion piece written by Rowland and published in the Cleveland Daily Banner, the mayor strongly denied Brooks had read the proclamation, but instead had delivered it to the VFW event.
“The mayor can’t send people other than the vice mayor,” Schriver said.
Brooks, visibly irritated, rebutted.
“It was just one time,” Brooks said. “I never read the proclamation. That was printed in the Cleveland Daily Banner, and it was wrong.”
The next mayoral debate will be broadcast live from WCLE’s Mix 104.1 studio at 8 a.m. Friday, June 29.
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