GALVESTON — Three of the city’s mayoral candidates faced off in a public event for the first time on Thursday.
Candidates Elizabeth Beeton, Don Mafrige and Jim Yarbrough participated in a morning mayoral forum at the Moody Gardens Conference Center hosted by the Galveston Chamber of Commerce.
The forum, organized by the chamber’s young professionals group, focused largely on issues related to promoting growth in Galveston — both in terms economics and population.
More than five years after Hurricane Ike made landfall, the city’s population has not rebounded to its pre-storm levels. The decrease in population has had an effect on the city, particularly by altering the types of grants the city may apply for from certain federal agencies.
All three candidates agreed that regrowing the island was a top priority.
Yarbrough said an obvious place to seek new residents was from among people who already work on the island.
“You sit there on Broadway and see 25,000 people come into work every day and then they leave,” Yarbrough said, adding that the goal should be to attract all or even most of those people. “We don’t have to kid ourselves and think we’re going to get half of them. Let’s get 15 percent to start with.”
Beeton suggested that reinvestment into certain city neighborhoods would lead to greater interest from outsiders.
“We have some neighborhoods that are at a tipping point right now,” Beeton said. “If we reinvest in those neighborhoods now, they can become viable again. If they don’t, they going go so far down they will be a permanent drag on this city.”
She specifically pointed to neighborhoods south of Broadway and east of 50th Street as areas in need of greater investment.
The forum’s questions largely stepped around some of the weightier issues that will face the next city council such as public housing, public transit and a search for a new city manager.
The candidates instead largely harped on deficiencies they believe exist on the current council.
“The events that have occurred over the past two years have been very saddening to me, watching the city council in conflict ... not moving Galveston forward,” Mafrige said.
A fourth candidate, Raymond Guzman, did not participate in the forum.
Where do they stand?
Do you support the Ike Dike or another storm protection system?
Don Mafrige: The Ike Dike is “far superior” to other storm protection plans that have been presented to the region.
Jim Yarbrough: “The Ike Dike is the way to go.” Local officials must continue push the Ike Dike as a regional issue, not just a Galveston one.
Elizabeth Beeton: Supported using 4B tax money to contribute to an Ike Dike study, but “I don’t think it’s time for us to hitch our wagons to one particular approach.”