With less than three weeks until Rock Hills City Council elections, one woman running for the Ward 5 seat says she may not participate in an upcoming forum co-hosted by the NAACP because the playing field may not be level.
Candidates Nikita Jackson, Ann Williamson-Morrison and Mildred Moore are vying for the Ward 5 seat.
Incumbent councilman Osbey Roddey opted not to seek re-election in the mostly southern Rock Hill district.
Jackson and one of her campaign managers, Gwen Finley, told The Herald this week that because forum organizers have financially supported Jacksons competition, the event will give an unfair advantage toward Williamson-Morrison and Moore.
Theyre referring to local NAACP chapter president Melvin Pooles $100 contribution to Williamson-Morrisons campaign in July and AKA sorority member Catherine Jones $100 contribution to Moores campaign in August.
The Rock Hill NAACP chapter and AKA are co-sponsors of the forum.
On Friday night, Finley said her candidate may decide to participate after speaking to Poole again about the forum.
Finley says she believes Poole is helping Williamson-Morrison run her campaign, but both Poole and the candidate said on Friday that William-Morrisons son, Bo, is his moms campaign manager.
Poole, who doesnt live in Ward 5 so he cannot vote for any of three candidates, says the forum will in no way favor any of the contenders.
He gave Williamson-Morrison $100 because she asked for it, Poole said.
In the past, he said, hes given campaign help to anyone whos asked for it.
The forum moderator, who has no ties to the AKA or NAACP group or any of the three Ward 5 candidates, will ask questions, many of which will come from audience members, he said.
The moderator, former Herald Editor Terry Plumb, will choose all the questions with fairness in mind, Poole said.
Plumb can ask his own questions, Poole said, if the audience does not provide enough.
Jones agreed with Poole, saying that the forum is happening solely to give voters a chance to get to know the candidates.
Like Poole, Jones does not live in the district and cannot vote in the Ward 5 race.
The NAACP and the AKA are not endorsing any candidate, Poole and Jones said.
Both groups have members who are active in local, state and national elections, they said.
But campaign contributions made to two of the candidates in the Ward 5 race will not affect fairness at Tuesdays forum, they said.
Theres a lot that needs to be done in Ward 5, Jones said, adding that many residents see the city spending money on the other side of town.
Its important, Jones said, that Ward 5 residents have a chance to get to know those running for office.
Poole says he made the forums rules clear to all those involved.
He provided The Herald with a copy of the letter he sent each candidate, describing the rules.
Each will have three minutes to give an opening statement. Jackson was scheduled to speak first, followed by Moore and Williamson-Morrison.
The moderator will ask questions, making sure that duplicate questions are thrown out and that each candidate is given the same amount of time to answer.
A timekeeper will allow each candidate 90 seconds to respond to questions.
Candidates will not be allowed rebuttals or add-ons, Poole said.
After the question-and-answer period, candidates will have three minutes to make closing remarks. The order of closing statements will be in reverse order of the opening statements.
Middle of the road
Both Jones and Poole said theyll be disappointed if Jackson does not attend the forum.
The event was originally scheduled to start 30 minutes earlier on Tuesday, said Poole, adding that he agreed to the later start because Jackson was worried about not being able to make it in time.
Finley said on Friday that shes unaware of the forums time being moved to accommodate Jackson.
In the past, Poole said, hes supported other candidates such as Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols who is running unopposed for re-election this fall and Joyce Knott, a York County Democrat who ran unsuccessfully against U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney in 2012.
The bottom line, Poole said, is that he has to be in the middle of the road when it comes to politics.
Whether all candidates feel comfortable and are treated fairly during a debate or forum is very important, said Rick Whisonant, political science professor at York Technical College.
Whisonant has served as moderator for NAACP-sponsored forums and others with local, state and national candidates.
Hes known Plumb for years, he said, and believes the retired newspaper editor will be a fair moderator for Tuesdays event.
Being a moderator is similar to being an umpire at a baseball game, Whisonant said, adding that as moderator, youre not the show.
A general guideline, he said, is that a moderator should not be someone who has financially supported one of the candidates campaigns.
Campaign finance records for all three Ward 5 candidates show that Plumb has not contributed to any of the campaigns, according to documents provided by the S.C. Ethics Commission. Plumb does not live in Ward 5.
The forum will likely be important to the outcome of Rock Hills election, Whisonant said.
Exposure and name recognition really means a lot in local elections, he said.
Voter turnout will probably be low on Oct. 15, Whisonant said, and having an uncontested mayoral race will decrease voter turnout even more.
Still, Jackson and Finley say theyre not concerned about Rock Hill voters not knowing Jacksons commitment and name.
For weeks, Jackson has been campaigning and meeting people face-to-face, she said.
Shes been involved with the community for years, Jackson said, and Ward 5 residents know shes dependable.
Jackson has picked up an endorsement from York County Councilman Bump Roddey, who is helping run her campaign.
Poole pointed out on Friday that in August Finley gave $50 to Williamson-Morrisons campaign.
She did so, Finley said, because she and Williamson-Morrison attend the same Rock Hill church.
When she joined as Jacksons campaign manager, Finley says she told her candidate that shed given money to Williamson-Morrisons campaign.
Even with a fair moderator at next weeks forum, Finley said, she thinks fairness might be in question.
Shes worried that organizers could plant questions through some people in the audience, she said.
After years of running campaigns, Finley said, I know the political game.
Anna Douglas • 803-329-4068