Three city candidates accepted the invitation from the Bradley County Chapter of the NAACP to a political forum Tuesday at College Hill Recreation Center.
Participating were Vice Mayor Avery Johnson, who has represented the 3rd City Council District for the past 12 years; Dr. Murl Dirksen, who has served as the Cleveland City Schools 2nd District representative for eight years; and Jonathan Porter, who is challenging for the City Councils’ 5th District. The City Council and school board races are nonpartisan contests. Both Johnson and Porter have opposition. Dirksen is unopposed.
The NAACP forum was held on the same evening that the Bradley County Republican Party had its meeting and introduction of candidates.
Local NAACP President Lawrence Armstrong pointed out early voting begins July 13 and urged everyone to make sure they are registered to vote and have proper identification. According to the voter registration guide, voters must be registered or changes made to registration information at least 30 days prior to the Aug. 2 primary election.
“If you haven’t registered to vote, you only have one week, so this is it,” he said. Armstrong explained that people assume they are registered when they show up on election day only to find they have been purged from the roll. Voters are purged from the roll if they frequently move or have not recently voted.
“If you are unsure, it is better to register to vote than it is to assume and take it for granted and be denied at the poll,” he said. Armstrong said the NAACP and the people it represents view fair representation and taxation as a local issue. Moving from the mayor-commission form of city government to city manager-council form of government in 1993 was a leap forward in fair representation, he said.
Johnson said at one point, all of the city commissioners lived within a few blocks of one another. People on the south and west sides of town were not represented.
It is important to ask questions and find out who the candidates are, the forum group stressed.
“What we want people to understand is these gentlemen took time out to come meet and talk with us,” Armstrong said. “Make sure we can go back out into the community and talk to others about some of the concerns these gentlemen here are running for office for.”
The three candidates spoke of the many infrastructure improvements made in the area of police, fire and education.
“Most people who have been here any length of time can see a lot of progress we’ve made all across this community,” Armstrong said. He spoke of the importance of educating the community on the importance of showing up at the polls with proper photo identification. Most people of retirement age have opted not to have a photo on their driver license.
“A lot of people don’t think it is a major challenge, but you have to realize that most people of retirement age have the option of no longer having their picture on their driver’s license,” he said. “Everyone who goes to the polls has to have a valid photo identification issued by the state issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles. Those are some opportunities and challenges we’re facing because most people who do vote on a consistent basis are going to be more senior.”
He urged the use of early voting beginning July 13 and ending July 28.
“Please take advantage of this opportunity,” Armstrong said. “When you vote, carry somebody with you. Don’t go alone. Make sure everybody you can [find who is eligible] goes to the polls.”
He said the NAACP is nonpartisan and does not endorse candidates, but does hold each candidate accountable.