Jesse McQueen, who is running for Mayor of Hamlet, this week challenged incumbent Mayor Jeff Smart to a debate in hopes of comparing positions in a forum that is open to voters.
The 2011 mayoral race in Hamlet features the same two candidates who faced off against each other in 2009 - in Smart and McQueen. The last go-round saw Smart beat out McQueen by 612 to 485 margin.
This week, McQueen issued the debate challenge saying he has “specific questions on specific issues that I want to debate with Jeff Smart.”
“I don’t want this election to be a popularity contest, or a contest of who can spend the most money,” McQueen said. “I want the voters of Hamlet to know where I stand on specific issues, and where the mayor stands.”
Thursday, Smart didn’t accept or decline the challenge, but explained he felt compelled to run because he continues to believes in the people of Hamlet and is looking forward “to the successful future of my hometown.”
He touted the city’s suppression of the tax rate, as well as momentum in downtown beautification, as evidence the city is on the right track.
“Even through these tough economic times throughout our state and our country, the City of Hamlet continues to be financially stable,” Smart wrote in an e-mail. “We have achieved this success by controlling expenses rather than raising taxes. We have completed many projects throughout our downtown area that add to the quality of life for our citizens. We have been awarded several grants and have received a lot of funding from the State and Federal Governments to renovate our downtown areas. Our private business owners in Hamlet have joined with the City in spending their own money to renovate their buildings which has added greatly to the downtown renovation process.”
For McQueen, who relinquished his council seat to run for mayor in the last cycle, the 2009 campaign loss provided some hard lessons and good experience.
”The biggest lesson I learned was not to let other people set the tone,” he said Wednesday. “I need to get my ideas in front of voters and let them know what my ideas for the City of Hamlet are.”
During this campaign, McQueen hopes to steer the conversation more toward the issues, rather than towards his history as a former city employee who waged a lawsuit against it alleging unfair treatment.
“This is something I want to do, and I feel like I can make some positive changes for Hamlet,” he said. “… It’s nothing about any problems that I had with the city - it’s about the future of Hamlet. It’s time for us to move forward with some new ideas and some new thinking. Quite frankly, I think we a person who can lead the town in a professional manner and be someone that can be held accountable for the things they’ve done and not just be someone who follows whatever the other members of the board want to do.”
McQueen said he would like to see better cooperation between Hamlet and “the state, county and other municipal governments” to build positive economic development momentum.
“It has to be more of an ‘us mentality,’ rather than an ‘us against them’ mentality,” he said. “It’s not all about personal glory - it’s about doing what’s best for the town - and if that means working with someone else and sharing the credit we need to be willing to do that.”
McQueen has long been critical of downtown rejuvenation efforts, saying they should be more evenly distributed throughout the town. He said the town’s challenges sprawl beyond “a two-block area.”
“As I ride through town - I see homes that are for sale and roads that need to be fixed, and we need a local leader who is going to work with state leaders to make our roads passable and to bring in industry. There are at least three buildings sitting vacant that would be perfect for an industry to come in here to create jobs, and we need a local leader who will work in conjunction with the county, the state and the other municipalities to bring some jobs to those buildings … We need to work to get our facilities back in operation to bring jobs back to town and get homes sold and people back to work.”
He also said he would emphasize working with local educators should he be elected to foster workforce development.
Smart also emphasized looking forward to the future, saying he continues “to believe that there is a bright future
“We have used some of these funds to upgrade our sewer and water systems so that our citizens continue to have these amenities in their homes and businesses,” Smart said. “We continue to invest in our children by creating the best facilities and the best environment through our Parks and Recreation Department. We continue to improve our City Parks and the City Lake so that our citizens may have free places to spend time with their families. We currently have a lot of projects on the agenda for the City of Hamlet that will continue to enhance the quality of life for our citizens, and I look forward to carrying out these plans as the Mayor of Hamlet.”
He said his reasons for seeking office haven’t changed.
“The reason I want to continue to be mayor is simply because I love my hometown,” Smart said. “I was born and raised in Hamlet, and I plan to live the rest of my life here. Therefore, I want Hamlet to be the best small town in America. I will continue to lead Hamlet in that direction. We are the ‘Little Town That Can.’ I appreciate the citizens of Hamlet giving me the opportunity to be the mayor for the last four years, and I sincerely hope that the citizens of Hamlet will continue to support me with their vote in November.”
Staff Writer Philip D. Brown can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ext. 15, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.