Mayor hopefuls face off

Candidates take questions at Coeur Group forum

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COEUR d'ALENE - Three mayoral candidates fielded a barrage of questions at the Coeur Group's candidate forum Wednesday evening, in some cases agreeing on issues and pointing out key differences on others.

By now, most people who have followed the race know where the candidates stand generally on the controversial issues that have faced the current mayor, but the Coeur Group panel drilled down into the issues to get a better sense of how each of the candidates would govern if elected.

Candidates Mary Souza and Joe Kunka have taken some heat from the community on their opposition to the city's anti-discrimination ordinance that passed earlier this year. Steve Widmyer has taken a stand in support of the ordinance.

The Coeur Group took it one step further asking if the candidates would support a public vote on the issue.

"I think there is a way that could have happened," Souza said, but she would have preferred the council step back and hold workshops to try and pull the public together before deciding the issue. "If not, and if the council is agreeable, then a public advisory vote on that ordinance would have been very appropriate."

Kunka said any issue that is going to affect a community with that kind of an impact should "absolutely" be put to a vote.

Widmyer said sometimes leaders have to step up and do the right thing, and he felt the council did the right thing by adopting the ordinance.

"I would disagree with a public vote because sometimes, like in this instance, you just have to do the right thing," he said.

Staff salaries were another subject of discussion. Souza and Widmyer said they would review the salaries and address the issue in their own ways. Kunka, on the other hand, said he would not address the salary issue.

"Before I say that anyone is getting paid too much I would first have to spend three or four days in their shoes," he said, adding he didn't think the pay structure was too far out of line.

He said Coeur d'Alene is a difficult place to make a living already.

"So, no, I would not look into the city pay structure," he said.

They all agreed that the Lake City Development Corp. should remain intact, but they all felt that some level of oversight or direction is needed to get the agency more focused on economic development.

The Coeur Group asked the candidates how they differed from the other candidates.

"They have more education than I do," Kunka quipped.

Souza said her volunteer involvement with the city over the past five years gives her an edge over her opponents, and Widmyer said that his budget and finance experience working with large corporations makes him the most qualified for the job.

With a new visioning process getting underway in the city, the Coeur Group asked how the candidates see Coeur d'Alene progressing by 2030.

Souza said she would like to bring services out to under-served areas of the town. Kunka said the focus should be on raising individual earnings to improve the city, and Widmyer said the city needs to have a well planned community, a vibrant economy, quality environment, be a safe place to live and foster a creative learning culture.

The entire forum was broadcast live on Coeur d'Alene Channel 19, and will re-run periodically until the election on Nov. 5.

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