ELKHART — Most of the candidates running for elected office in the Elkhart primary on May 7 met Tuesday evening for a meet-the-candidates event sponsored by the Elkhart branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
The event at Agape Missionary Baptist Church was a chance for each candidate to speak for a few minutes, with the time limit being enforced by Judge of the City Court Charles H. Grodnik, R, whose re-election bid is unopposed.
Several candidates used their time to emphasize the importance of local democracy and engagement.
“It’s just good to know your neighbors. That helps get things done in your neighborhood,” said Brent Curry, D-5, who is president of the Pierre Moran Neighborhood Association.
Dwight Fish, D-4, tried to get the audience excited about voting in the local primary.
“May 7 is going to change Elkhart,” he said. “Engage your Elkhart. Engage your neighbors in Elkhart to vote. To do something that they haven’t done for a while.”
He encouraged people to help those who are not too mobile get to their polling place.
Mary Olson, R-at large, spoke about seizing the opportunity to meet with voters, which she said is an important part of the democratic process.
“I would like to thank all the candidates who have participated in a spirited debate during the primary,” she said.
She criticized city clerk candidate Ronda Bilancio, who was not at the Tuesday event, for not accepting an invitation to debate her opponent in the Republican primary, Debra Barrett.
“I’m saddened that we had one debate that didn’t take place, and that would be between our clerk candidates. Because the way we become informed voters is by listening to the true debate format,” Olson said.
The League of Women Voters had invited Bilancio and Barrett to a forum in April, similar to what the group hosted for the mayoral and city council races.
“It is disappointing that the refusal of my opponent to make herself available has caused the cancellation of the debate. I believe the citizens need to hear from both of us about our qualifications and plans for this important office,” Barrett said in a statement.
Richard Shively, R-1, and Roger Cotterman, a Republican running for the Second District seat on City Council, also did not appear at a League of Women Voters candidate forum, but said that was due to health issues.
Bilancio did not respond to inquiries on Wednesday.
The pastor at Agape Missionary Baptist Church, Dannell Brown, was happy that most candidates showed up Tuesday.
“As a church, we’re neutral, but we love every one of you,” said Brown.
“We pray that the way you speak when you run is the same way you speak when you’re elected,” he said. “If you are honest in leadership, you will have another opportunity to lead.”
Brown also asked the candidates to stay involved in the community, whether or not they win in May and November.
“This city needs each and every one of you,” he said.
Arvis Dawson, a Democrat and former city councilman running for an at-large seat on the city council, spoke at the end of the event on behalf of the NAACP.
“The NAACP is a non-partisan organization. We support people getting out to vote, people getting informed on voting, people getting informed on the candidates,” he said.
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