With little time before the upcoming run-off election on December 3, I eagerly looked forward to one of only two scheduled candidate forums. Last night, the Concerned Citizens Atlanta Public Schools (CCAPS) held the first one at Douglass High School.
What a disappointment – the forum was a disorganized mess and appeared to be more of a platform for the CCAPS leader to rant versus informing the community about the candidate’s views.
The two-hour forum started, as they all do, with an appeal to join the organization sponsoring the forum – but then it fell apart. The moderator started on a 20-25 minute rant on – actually I do not have a clue what her topics were – as they were far-ranging, fragmented and disjointed. It was so bad, that finally an audience member asked “To the audience, is anyone keeping up with the discussion? I came to hear the candidates.” To which the audience loudly agreed. Then, to top it off, the moderator gave herself a round of applause for her efforts and then finally turned to the candidates.
The candidates that appeared – including D-5 candidates Mary Palmer and Steven Lee, D-6 candidate Eshe’ Collins, AL-8 candidate Reuben McDaniel (I) and AL-9 candidates Lori James and Jason Esteves – were given an opportunity to give opening statements.
Then it got interesting – some of the audience members launched what appeared to be a coordinated attack on AL-9 candidate Jason Esteves. He handled himself well in dealing with a series of hostile questions. It was also interesting to note that the moderator made absolutely no effort to balance out the questions between opposing candidates and Lori James (AL-9) was not subjected to any line of questions regarding her experience and background.
Eshe’ Collins (D-6) expanded on her background and experience as a teacher, lawyer and current early education program director at GA State with responsibility for budgets, administration and successful outcomes. Her opponent, Dell Byrd (D-6) did not attend the forum.
Mary Palmer (D-5) discussed her background as an IT professional, her current work as an education coach working with student athletes in APS and then expanded on her connections into the community and her activist role on behalf of the students and parents in the District.
Palmer’s opponent, Steven Lee, arrived late to the forum and gave an opening statement that was focused on his leadership positions in two non-profit organizations and his work with students that had dropped out of school. However, and to the apparent surprise of the audience, Lee then immediately left the forum and was unavailable to answer questions.
Reuben McDaniel (I) arrived late and gave his opening statement that included his three objectives for a next term – to ensure every third grader is reading proficiently, to establish a hook to retain every middle school student and to provide every high school student a mentor that helps them transition from school to the workplace. McDaniel was not asked any further questions. His opponent, Cynthia Briscoe Brown did not attend the forum.
To wrap up the forum, there was one more unusual twist. Ed Johnson and Charles Lawrence – both candidates that were not successful in the election – were given an opportunity to address the audience. Both candidates graciously thanked their supporters and indicated that they would continue their efforts towards reforming the school system.
There will be another candidate forum on Thursday, November 21 at 6 p.m. at Cascade Elementary School. Given the importance of the upcoming run-off election on December 3, we can only hope that the forum will solely focus on the candidate’s views.
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