By: CARTER DEJONG
Seven of the nine Democratic candidates were present at the first primary forum of the 2020 South Bend mayoral race held at the Addicott/Yoshi Performance Hall.
Candidate Will Smith did not appear at the debate since he is being held without bond after being arrested on a warrant out of Miami County. He is suspected of stealing an RV. The other candidate, not present, 19-year-old Shane Inez, decided not to take part right before the event was scheduled to start. He opted to remain an audience member.
So many people came out to see the candidates that two overflow rooms were needed that showed the live stream.
Some of the major issues discussed included homelessness, economic development, community investment, the South Bend ID program and whether a women’s health clinic that offers abortions should be allowed to open in South Bend. Elizabeth Bennion, founding director of the American Democracy Project (ADP), director of voting services and education for the League of Women Voters in the South Bend Area and political science professor at IU South Bend, hosted the event, reading audience questions and keeping time on responses.
The night began with each candidate given 90-seconds to make their case on why they should be the next mayor.
Former South Bend Police officer Lynn Coleman was the first to speak.
“I want to help build on past relationships across this community,” he said. In his opening statement, Coleman also mentioned the years he spent as a security officer for Riley High School and as a member of former mayor Steve Luecke’s staff.
Jason Critchlow, former Chairman of the St. Joe County Democratic Party spoke about his personal investment in the community.
“I got my degree right here at IUSB, this is where I met my wife, where we chose to raise our family. I want everyone in South Bend to have the same opportunity,” he said.
Current 6th District Common Councilman and former IU South Bend faculty member Oliver Davis was the next to speak. As a social worker Davis has spent a lot of time with the Rise Up Academy in South Bend.
“South Bend has risen up downtown. South Bend has risen up in so many ways and we are grateful to Mayor Luecke and Mayor Buttigieg. Now we have to continue to rise up,” he said.
James Mueller is the current director of Community Investment for the city and former Chief of Staff for Mayor Buttigieg. Mueller touted what he has already accomplished with Buttigieg. “Together we’ve built a top level team, we’ve attracted over 800 million dollars of investments, and supported local businesses,” he said. Buttigieg has already endorsed Mueller to replace him as mayor.
At 21-years old Salvador Rodriguez is the second youngest candidate in the race. If elected mayor he will make reducing violence a top priority.
“The violence in this city has gotten out of hand and that we need to control that as soon as possible,” he said.
Regina Williams-Preston represents the 2nd District on the Common Council. Her major focus as mayor would be on improving not just downtown, but also neighborhoods.
“If we’re going to move forward, we need to make sure we are moving forward together,” she said.
Williams-Preston also mentioned the importance of inclusion in economic development. “Development without inclusion prevents everyone from prospering in our city,” she said.
The last candidate to speak was Richard Wright. He works closely with the South Bend Ambassadors Program. If elected his focus would be on bringing more jobs to the area.
“I’d like to see more business incubators, kind of like how Notre Dame has set up,” Wright said.
The winner of the primary on May 7 will face off against the only Republican candidate Sean Haas.
A live stream of the debate is still available on the American Democracy Project of IU South Bend Facebook page.