Winter Park’s four City Commission candidates squared off for the first time Tuesday night as Rollins College hosted the first candidate forum of the 2016 Winter Park election.
A crowd of 155 residents filled an auditorium inside Rollins’ Crummer Graduate School of Business to get their first good look at the four hopefuls: Seat 3 Commissioner Carolyn Cooper, who is seeking re-election, and candidate Lambrine Macejewski; and Seat 4 Commissioner Tom McMacken, who is seeking re-election, and candidate Pete Weldon.
A list of questions was created by Rollins College students, part of the Rollins College Democracy Project’s effort to encourage engagement in the democratic process.
Candidates were asked early on about the city’s efforts in sustainability and how to improve moving forward.
“As a Commissioner right now, I can tell you I’m already proud of what Winter Park has already done in the way of sustainability,” Cooper said.
“I have voted for a green building resolution, adopting LEED standards and pursuit of LEED standards in buildings. We have adopted a complete streets program, ensuring our streets accommodate bicycles, pedestrians and cars… I will continue to push for the pedestrian/bikes board as well as the sustainability board to find an opportunity to review our projects.”
Macejewski, who serves on the Keep Winter Park Beautiful and Sustainable Board, agreed that the city has several year-round programs to help keep the city clean and green, but added that more can be done to teach residents how to be sustainable.
“It’s not that people don’t want to be sustainable, sometimes they just don’t know how,” Macejewski said.
“If we can get the citizens of Winter Park and the businesses to recycle, we can make a huge, huge impact, so education is important.”
Candidates were later asked how they would improve the city’s infrastructure.
“While there can always be improvements at the margin, I do not see any large gaps in our basic infrastructure that is cause for concern,” said Weldon, while adding that undergrounding power lines is a major priority. “We do need to continually evaluate and implement mobility infrastructure, such as more bike racks in strategic locations. We need to facilitate bike sharing programs and provide for safe pedestrian crossings and access. That’s going to be more and more important as the traffic continues to cut through our city.”
McMacken said the city has a lot to be proud of as far as its infrastructure, including how well the roads are maintained, the pursuit of smarter traffic light technology and carefully balancing the undergrounding of power lines with reforesting areas that need new trees.
“There’s probably two areas going forward that I think we need to concentrate on,” McMacken said. “As we underground our electric utilities, we’ve been looking at ways to provide Wi-Fi and additional Internet access with that. I know we’ve had many people comment on that.”
“The other thing that we’ve done and that we’ve really got to take another look at is how we continue to invest in our parks… This year in 2016 we’re putting almost $2 million into capital improvements. We’re redoing the golf course … We’re working on Ward Park and we’re working on Cady Way.”
Controversy loomed over the forum hosted by the Winter Park Voice on Wednesday. Macejewski announced on Tuesday that she would be dropping out of the forum “in light of recent actions and a deeper and disheartened understanding of the inner workings of the Winter Park Voice.”
An email sent by Macejewski to Winter Park Voice Editor Anne Mooney accused her of omitting facts from her quotes, slanting an article in defense of her opponent and neglecting to mention Mooney’s previous support for former candidate Nancy Miles in her bio. The candidate also claimed that Steve Goldman, a supporter of Cooper, helped create the Voice.
“For years, the Voice has attempted to present itself as an unbiased report on city issues, which is why I personally sought out some writings of the Voice from time to time,” Macejewski wrote. “Unfortunately, it has become clear that both privately and publicly, the Voice, its founder and primary financier, as well as the management of the website, have been active participants in my opponent’s efforts.”
Mooney told the Observer that each of Macejewski’s points didn’t show the entire truth, explaining that she included Macejewski’s entire quote in the online story, that the Voice didn’t even exist during the year she supported Nancy Miles and that Steve Goldman was only a supporter of the Voice, not a one of its creators.
“She’s got it almost right, but not quite,” Mooney said. “It’s inaccurate.”
The email from Macejewski prompted Weldon to threaten dropping out as well. The Seat 4 candidate told the Voice that he would withdraw if the publication did not send him the “names, addresses, dates of payment, and dollar amounts received from all contributors to the Winter Park Voice since inception” by no later than noon on Wednesday.
Mooney told the Observer that she had no intention of making such information public. Weldon confirmed Wednesday that he would not attend the debate, which occurred during press time Wednesday evening.