IAPAC, SIMA Hold a Mayoral Race Debate and Some Sparks Fly

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By Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON:  In this local election season, the most watched contest for Mayor of the City of Houston has garnered  lot of attention citywide, with the seven major candidates sparring in debates held on television or in smaller venues in front of special interest groups or communities. Just such an event was held this past week, on Wednesday, September 16 at India House under the auspices of the Indo American Political Action Committee and the 12 year-old Small Independent Motel Owners Association which represents over 175 motel and hotel owners, the majority of whom are South Asian.

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All the candidates – Chris Bell, Steve Costello, Adrian Garcia, Ben Hall, Bill King and Marty McVey – spent over an hour responding to the questions thrown out at them. Bell had to leave for another function 30 minutes into the event and Costello arrived about 30 minutes late from another event. Another major contender, Sylvester Turner, was unable to attend and one of the lesser known candidates, Rafael Munoz Jr. asked to speak for a few minutes at the tail end.

With widespread interest in some regulations that have been discussed within city circles, such as a mandated minimum wage hike and crime control, attendance at the event was high for a weekday night, with parking overflowing into the vacant grassy space. IAPAC President Karun Sreerama and incoming President Hasu Patel, who is also on the SIMA Board, made a concerted effort to get the word out and were rewarded with a full hall of about 350 people who attended the event.

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The debate was moderated by Judge Ravi Sandill who developed a set of questions which he asked of each candidate, giving them a time limit to answer, strictly enforced by timekeepers who gave 15 and 5 second warnings to each respondent. The system worked well and managed to keep the candidates focused. Each was able to give a 2 minute opening and closing statement, but no questions were permitted from the audience.

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Though there were many similarities between the candidates on several issues, Hall and McVey tried to differentiate themselves from the pack by focusing on their business acumen and in the process traded some sharp personal barbs on at least two separate issues. In his closing statement, Hall tried to reinforce why his perspective on city politics was so different given his business interest in media and law practice and McVey emphasized his international trade experience and frequent visits to India for his work with USAID’s Board for International Food and Agricultural Development food security projects in India, Bangladesh and Nepal.

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Prior to the debate, attendees were asked to take an informal survey of their choices for Mayor and rate the issues of importance (results are in the box below). Appetizers and a buffet dinner after the debate were catered by Neeta’s Indian Cuisine.

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