By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer
Candidates competing in four City Council ward contests attempted to distinguish themselves Thursday night, presenting their qualifications for office and trying to sway voters to their camp.
The two incumbents who attended the forum — James Gulley of Ward II and Randy Howard of Ward III were present but Ward I Councilor David Jones had business to attend to out of town — tried to persuade voters to give them another shot to represent them.
The six challengers competing in next Tuesday’s election — John Lowrimore, Michelle Green, Ivory Vann, the Rev. Marlon Coleman, Claressa Vealy-Dyer and Dean Swan — tried to set themselves apart in other ways.
In doing so, the eight candidates covered familiar ground, discussing their campaign platforms and staking out positions regarding public safety and economic development. Perhaps the biggest surprise came when candidates were asked about an Action in Muskogee signature project: free citywide Wi-Fi access.
The majority of the candidates supported without reservation the proposal officials hope will become reality by the time these candidates terms would expire in four years. Vealy-Dyer, one of three competing for the post being vacated by the departure of Ward IV Councilor Kenny Payne, raised some eyebrows with her response.
“Only if it’s closely monitored — mine is about safety pure and simple,” Vealy-Dyer said, arguing the need for censorship or tracking. “We know that there are predators out here and they will seek as far as with the Internet — I am totally for the Internet ... but I don’t want anything to jeopardize the safety of our children.”
Vealy-Dyer said if free citywide Wi-Fi is offered, the city should have “something in place” to determine “who is looking through these sites and what is going on.” When pressed about her position, she said the city should monitor activity especially for younger users.
Swan, who along with Coleman is competing for the Ward IV post being sought by Vealy-Dyer, said he would oppose such invasive tactics. Swan said he absolutely supports the AIM project, but he sees there might be some problems associated with costs, technology and competition with private-sector businesses.
Both incumbents opposed the idea of government censorship or monitoring Internet traffic that might be routed through a citywide network. Gulley said safe computing is a “personal responsibility.” Howard said it is the “parents’ job” to oversee children’s computing.
Coleman, Green, Howard and Vann appeared to be the most enthusiastic supporters of the Wi-Fi project. Each articulated some of the strongest arguments in support of the plan. All four said free citywide Wi-Fi would complement education programs that are providing laptops for every student.
Green, who missed a forum Monday night because she recently gave birth, said the proposal would “level the playing field” for all students. Green, who is challenging Gulley in the Ward II race, said bridging the gap of inequality when it comes to Internet access is vital to those students’ success.
Vann, who is challenging Howard for the Ward III post, said he is “all for it.” Coleman said free citywide Wi-Fi could be the niche that “sets Muskogee apart” from other cities when companies are looking for expansion sites or places to relocate. Howard echoed Green’s arguments.
“Not everybody has an Internet connection,” Howard said. “We have to give kids the tools they need to do their homework, and that is what they need to succeed.”
Lowrimore also supports free citywide Wi-Fi.
“I am a computer guy, I’m tech savvy,” said Lowrimore, who is competing against Jones for the Ward I post. “We have to adapt to the times of now — you better be up on your roots or you’ll get left behind.”
Thursday night’s forum, the second of two scheduled during the final full week of a relatively short campaign season, was sponsored by Muskogee Patriot Townhall. The Greater Muskogee Area Chamber of Commerce will sponsor a third and final forum, which is planned for 7:30 a.m. Monday at the Muskogee Civic Center.
Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or email@example.com.
Muskogee City Council candidates
Ward I: David Paul Jones (i); John Mark Lowrimore.
Ward II: Michelle Jean Green; James Robert Gulley (i).
Ward III: Randall Howard (i); Ivory Lewis Vann.
Ward IV: Marlon Joseph Coleman; Claressa Dionne Vealy-Dyer; Arnold “Dean” Swan.
Source: Muskogee City Clerk’s Office.
If you go
WHO: The Greater Muskogee Area Chamber of Commerce.
WHAT: Muskogee City Council candidate forum.
WHEN: 7:30 a.m. Monday.
WHERE: Rooms C & D, Muskogee Civic Center.
INFORMATION: (918) 682-2401.
Today: Final day of in-person absentee voting.
Tuesday: General election.
March 4: Runoff election if required.