Roanoke youth interview council candidates at Sunday’s forum

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Candidates for Roanoke City Council shared a stage to answer tough questions from young people at a forum on Sunday night as early voting continues ahead of Election Day Nov. 8.

Eight of the 11 mayoral candidates answered questions focusing on community, economy, education, quality of life and transportation, in front of at least 100 people at the Center Dumas downtown.

Youth from the Roanoke Valley Chapter of Jack & Jill of America, a youth leadership development program, posed questions during this fourth organization of the Great Roanoke Debate.

Forum candidates were seated in alphabetical order: Dalton Baugess, Joe Cobb, Nick Hagan, Jamaal Jackson, Maynard Keller, Luke Priddy, Vivian Sanchez-Jones and Peter Volosin, most of whom mentioned crime, violence, homelessness and economic development as reasons to run. .

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Re-election contender Cobb and Keller were asked about homelessness. Cobb said the city has tackled homelessness by housing people.

“Last year we housed around 98 people who were previously homeless. This year we have already housed 160,” Cobb said. “It’s because we have community partners in place who not only make sure they are housed, but make sure they have support services.”

Keller said it was essential to support regional ministries that address homelessness, as well as breaking the cycles that gradually lead to someone becoming homeless.

“When it comes to homelessness, we have to get to the root of the issues,” Keller said. “The root of the problems is often mental illness, alcoholism, drugs, all sorts of issues that we have to tackle first.”

Sanchez-Jones, also up for re-election, and Hagan spoke about food security, especially in Northwest Roanoke, which is considered a food desert, with limited proximity to grocery stores or other sources of food. affordable fresh food.

“We don’t have a council that has worked with these companies to help bring them in,” Hagan said. “We should be working with developers…because ultimately that’s how you break the cycles of poverty, it’s honestly with aspects of fresh food, fresh fruit, fresh produce. This stuff is a mechanism that really helps change lives and generations. »

Sanchez-Jones said she’s heard a lot about the Northwest Roanoke Food Desert and changes are coming.

“I see a lot of groceries coming in,” Sanchez-Jones said. “And I also know that our city invested $10 million to bring a grocer to the Northwest.”

Baugess asked a question about helping neighborhoods grow more evenly, as some areas of the city are currently more vibrant than others.

“First of all, the first thing a developer will look at is your crime. If you have high criminality in that area, they won’t look at it,” Baugess said. get the crime under control first.”

Jackson added, agreeing with an earlier point from Keller, that zoning and planning regulations can be detrimental to businesses in Roanoke.

“If zoning and enforcing the code is stopping businesses from getting started because of the regulations and the things they have to go through, the bureaucracy, it turns them away,” Jackson said. “We see restaurants leaving, we see businesses leaving. We have to find ways to keep them here.

Asked about protecting natural resources and encouraging tourism, Volosin said more trees, more green space and more measures for weather-resistant infrastructure will increasingly benefit Roanoke over time.

“Outdoor tourism is one of Roanoke’s futures,” Volosin said. “The more people we can get here in our outdoor tourism, the more people and businesses we can get to see Roanoke and hopefully Roanoke afterward.”

Priddy, a Democrat, is one of two candidates in a special election to fill a two-year term vacated by former council member Robert Jeffrey. The other candidate in this race, Republican Peg McGuire, was not present on Sunday evening.

Priddy said teachers’ salaries needed a boost to attract and keep teachers in Roanoke City schools, and that would help communicate with future teachers about how they can impact their own hometown.

“It’s about letting students who are here and going to school know that we need them,” Priddy said. “We need them here, to come back to help us with the next generation, so that they have someone who represents them in their class.”

Nine candidates are running for three seats in the regular council ballot on Nov. 8: three Democrats, three Republicans and three independents.

Independents are Jackson, along with David Bowers and Preston Tyler who weren’t at Sunday’s debate. Baugess, Hagan and Keller are the Republican candidates, and Cobb, Sanchez-Jones and Volosin are running on the Democratic ticket.

Ceasha Johnson, who was one of the moderators for the Jack & Jill chapter on Sunday, left the audience with a special closing message:

“On Election Day, sift through pledges, replay interviews, get in the booth, forget about scripted speeches and candy-wrapped slogans,” Johnson said. “Read the names. Imagine a future. Make the best choice in the space between the breaths. Your voice is heard without a word. Please vote on November 8, we are counting on you.

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