BY JAMES HARPER
It was standing room only at the John H. Dickerson Center in Daytona Beach Tuesday night as hundreds of residents turned out to listen to some of the candidates who will appear on the Aug. 14 primary ballot in Volusia County.
The open forum was sponsored by the Volusia County-Daytona Beach NAACP and the Daytona Beach Area Alumnae Pan-Hellenic Association.
The forum was an indication that the Black vote in Volusia County could make a difference in some key races, particularly in the Daytona Beach mayoral, county council District 2, supervisor of elections, county clerk of the court, and county chair competitions.
NAACP President Cynthia Slater kicked off the event informing candidates and residents that her organization is a frontline advocate responsible for raising awareness about the democratic process.
Slater, who was pleasantly surprised by the number of residents who attended and candidates who participated, said it is her hope that everyone left the forum familiar with the candidates who each spoke for two minutes and hung around the center later to personally greet residents.
No guaranteed votes
Pat Heard, a member of the Midtown Redevelopment Area Board, said she attended the forum to learn if any of the candidates knew anything about Midtown, which is a predominantly Black populated area of Daytona Beach.
“I didn’t hear anything,” Heard acknowledged.
Bethune Cookman University Administrator Al Bouie, who is also a member of the Pan-Hellenic Association, said he did learn something Tuesday night and cautioned Black candidates they shouldn’t assume they are guaranteed the Black vote.
“All candidates are going to have to let the people know what they are going to do to improve the quality of life for everyone,” Bouie said.
DAYTONA BEACH MAYOR
All four candidates for mayor of Daytona Beach came ready to address the crowd.
Realtor and hotel owner Fred Hoffman said he was running to help change peoples lives in Daytona Beach for the better. He also said he will work to bring business owners to the city.
Former Daytona Beach commissioner Derrick Henry remembered playing basketball in the gym where the forum was being held.
“I will listen before I ask to be heard. Daytona Beach has been a divided city. I am the right candidate to bridge the gap,” said Henry.
“Zip code 32114 needs some special attention. I am a tireless fighter for Daytona Beach,” he concluded.
Edith Shelley, a current Daytona Beach commissioner, said if elected she will hold City Manager Jim Chisholm accountable. She added that she would be accessible.
Shelley said the reconstruction of Orange Avenue, which runs through Midtown, will remain one of her top priorities. She is currently working to put a jobs network on the city’s website.
Gwen Azama-Edwards, a former Daytona commissioner and city clerk, challenged her opponents to match her credentials.
Azama-Edwards reminded the crowd she was city clerk for 16 years and was elected to the commission for two years from Zone 4.
“They can talk it. I can walk it, Win with Gwen,” she concluded.
VOLUSIA COUNTY COUNCIL DISTRICT 2
Volusia County Council District 2 candidates also addressed the crowd.
Nancy Epps, former mayor of Ponce Inlet, said she has 14 years as a volunteer for various organizations and, if elected, to the council she will take the time to talk to residents.
Business owner Ken Ali said the county council is out of control and “we need to change the people sitting on the county council.”
“I want to represent you, not the special interest,” Ali said.
District 2 incumbent Josh Wagner reminded the heavily Black audience it was he along with Councilwoman Joyce Cusack who pushed for a county civil rights ordinance.
Wagner said if someone believes they are a victim of racism, they can now, in addition to going through the federal government, file a complaint with the county.
Wagner also didn’t shy away from noting there weren’t enough minorities working for the county.
“We don’t have a lot of diversity in Volusia County Government,” adding that is why he is proud of the internship program the county now has in which a number of Bethune-Cookman students are participating.
Both candidates for State Attorney spoke. Both are Republicans and the only candidates vying for the seat.
Incumbent R.J. Larizza has held the seat since 2009 and says under his watch the conviction rate is the highest it has ever been in the four counties he represents.
Larizza also noted he is proud of the 220 people he supervises, calling them “good people who care.”
“Prosecuting isn’t just about putting people in jail,” he said.
His opponent, Stasia Warren, who stepped down from being a judge the past 21 years to challenge Larizza, said she is running because she cares about the victims of crimes.
“I want to stand on my record,” declared Warren.
CLERK OF THE COURT
All three Volusia County Clerk of the Court candidates were present at the forum.
Diane Matousek has been the Clerk of the Court since 1992 and faces a challenge for the first time in 16 years from two opponents.
Matousek, of Orange City, is running against Republican challenger Steve deLaroche, 48, of Ormond Beach, a former county judge, and Christine Sanders, 42, of Ormond Beach, who once worked for the clerk’s office.
Sanders said if elected she would reduce spending and increase customer service.
DeLaroche said he could do a better job running the office and would modernize the computer and digital system.
Matousek took issue with charges against her that her office was not up to date with the latest technology.
“We are modernized, more automatic than most. We have good customer service. You’re hearing falsehoods,” said Matousek concluding, “We run a tight ship. I am a public servant.”
VOLUSIA COUNTY COUNCIL CHAIR
The three county council chair candidates said why they should be elected.
Carl Persis reminded the audience that in addition to being a county councilman he was a former teacher and principal.
“I’m all about dedicating my life to helping people. It’s about what I can do to help you,” he said.
Jason Davis said voters need someone who will sit on the council and listen to them. “You want a true voice running to be your county chair,” he said.
Attorney Ted Doran started out saying “He knows the community.”
“I am here to stay. I am here to help you. In this county, you have been left behind. I’m here for you and I will deliver for you,” he concluded.
SUPERVISOR OF ELECTIONS
Supervisor of Elections Supervisor Ann McFall faces three challengers – current Volusia County Councilman Andy Kelly, attorney Beaulah Blanks and community activist Theresa Apgar.
McFall reminded the audience that she has been one of the most vocal supervisors of elections opposing voter suppression laws enacted by the state legislators and signed by Gov. Rick Scott.
“The governor wasn’t listening. Legislators weren’t listening. I went to the public,” said McFall, who was a guest on several national TV shows.
Kelly reminded the audience of McFall’s role in the unseating of former Black Daytona Beach Commissioner Derrick Henry whom she reported to the State Attorney’s office for alleged voter fraud involving absentee ballots.
“I’m here for you. I want to make sure everyone of your votes count,” said Kelly.
Blanks arrived late to the forum and was unable to address the audience. Apgar was not there.
JUDGES, SHERIFF, SCHOOL BOARD, CONGRESS, CITY COMMISSION
Also participating in the forum were county court judge candidates:
Group 7 – Steven Burk, Dustin Havens, Alan Holt, Chris Kelly and Adam Warren; Group 8 – Bryan Feigenbaum and Michael McDermott.
Congressional candidate for District 6 Vipin Verma also attended.
Volusia School Board District 2 candidate Ida “Lucy Duncan” Wright spoke. Her opponent, incumbent Al Williams, was not present.
Sheriff candidate Wendell Bradford addressed the crowd. His opponent, incumbent Ben Johnson, did not show up.
District 4 county council candidates Shannon McLeish and Damien Richards asked for support. Doug Daniels and Jay M. Young were not in attendance.
District 4 school board candidates Walter Fordham, incumbent Judy Conte and Charles King were present. Linda Costello did not attend.
Ruth Trager, the Daytona Beach commission candidate for Zone 1 also spoke to residents at the forum. Candidates Dale Heuermann and Carl Lentz were not present.
Daytona Beach Zone 6 candidates Paula Reed and Cathy Washington both addressed the audience. Their race is not on the ballot until Nov. 6.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This updated version correctly gives credit to photographer Karen Clark/Special to the Daytona Times who took pictures at the forum. An earlier version mistakenly attributed the photos to someone else.