City candidates participate in open forum

In the largest community turnout this campaign season, Bethel AME Church hosted a town meeting Wednesday to allow the remaining city commission candidates to face-off.

“Tonight is truly, truly, what democracy is all about,” said Rev. John Green, who started the evening with prayer.

The Feb. 25 run-off election includes three city commission seats and the mayoral position.

City Commissioner John Paul Bailey and John Marks are running for mayor, while incumbent Debbie Lightsey is running against economics professor, Anthony Viegbesie for Seat 3.

Former Student Government Association president and Seat 2 candidate Andrew Gillum was present.

Gillum’s opponent, Mayo Woodward, failed to attend.

The candidates answered questions about community and economic development. Their opponents also responded to the same questions.

Rev. S.L. Phillips of the Tallahassee Southern Christian Leadership Conference questioned Marks about how funds are distributed by the United Way.

Marks, who served as the Chairman in 2000 for the United Way’s Big Bend Campaign, said he knows of the problem and attempted to rectify the situation.

“I’ve known this has been a problem for some time,” Marks said, “but one of the reasons I chose to serve as chairman was to help ensure that the money the United Way receives each year is distributed where it is most needed. And frankly it disturbs me that some communities are left out altogether.”

Bailey said he also knew of the improper funds distribution.

“I feel, and have felt for some time, the United Way has failed to do its job in distributing the money to the places that need it most,” Bailey said. “I feel it is time for the city to take control of that money and oversee the people and places that it goes to.”

The questions for the Seat 3 candidates ranged from politics to personalities.

“Dr. Viegbesie has been very instrumental in the lives of his students and comes from a very strong academic background,” Lightsey said.

Dr. Viegbesie also acknowledged Lightsey’s dedication.

“She has provided continued service and experience in the Tallahassee community for the last fourteen years,” Viegbesie said.

Andrew Gillum, 23, was asked about his lack of experience in state politics.

Gillum said his age does not hinder his qualifications.

“This city needs a stand-up commissioner. Someone who not only believes in what he says, but will stand up and do something about it,” he said.

“I feel that since I’m old enough to drink, old enough to vote, old enough to go to jail…and old enough to pay my own utilities, I’m also old enough to represent nearly 50,00 people just like me.”

Gillum’s words moved the crowd to offer the evening’s only standing ovation.

Tallahassee resident John Lawrence said he felt the forum was a successful community event.

“It’s important that we offer a place like this for each candidate to voice their opinion,” Lawrence said. “I’m a citizen with the right to vote and I don’t take the privilege lightly. We’ve worked hard in this country to make that right a reality and it’s these types of meetings that we must not take for granted.”

Danny Aller can be reached at