FORT WALTON BEACH — Ted Corcoran, the president of the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce, has billed the Okaloosa County School Superintendent’s race as the Yankees versus Red Sox event of the local 2020 election season.
RELATED: Graham Fountain says he won’t seek re-election
The candidates vying for the position, Marcus Chambers and Ray Sansom, took the opportunity afforded by a Tuesday televised conversation with Corcoran to swing for the fences.
Sansom strove to tie his opponent to his predecessor, Mary Beth Jackson, whose unfinished second term in office ended with her being suspended by the governor and ultimately resigning.
RELATED: LIST: People who have contributed to local campaigns
As the school administrator overseeing the special education element of the county school district during Jackson’s term, Chambers should have known about child abuse allegations that bubbled up within the district, Sansom said, and his denial that he was aware is indicative of weakness in leadership.
"The current leadership kind of ran and hid in a controversial situation," he said.
Sansom said he was offering himself to voters as an opportunity for change within the school district.
Chambers has been negatively linked to Jackson before, and, though he wasn’t in the room at the same time as Sansom he had a defense prepared.
RELATED: Spring break, virus presents election challenges
"One thing people who know me know is that I’m going to be me," he said. "I’m about employees and students and I’m not afraid of accountability."
Chambers relied on his 15 months as superintendent to press his case for election. He leaned upon his administration’s reaction to the coronavirus as an example of accomplishment.
The School District set up a new online education model within two weeks, has fed 75,000 meals to needy students and coordinated the distribution and use of 10,000 computer devices to students.
Tuesday’s event was a collaborative effort of the Chamber of Commerce and Crestview Community Television. Five candidates for the District 5 county commission seat were also interviewed.
The candidates included state Rep. Mel Ponder, Destin City Councilman Parker Destin, Niceville businessman Rich Johnson, Destin retiree Charlie Crivellaro and Destin businessman Wes Fell. Crivellaro is the only candidate running as a Democrat, the others will face off in an August Republican primary.
Candidate Parker Destin, a Republican, said he’s been "fighting the good fight" for quality of life issues as a councilman and saw a need to extend that battle county-wide.
He said he believes that in order to preserve what public beaches still exist in Okaloosa County, the county needs to do what it can to provide parking for locals and purchase beach properties on which it can provide public access.
"The best funding for that, honestly, is BP oil money," he said.
Parker also advocated a committed county effort to control stormwater runoff.
Political newcomer Johnson said that Okaloosa County needs to diversify its economy so that it is not so reliant on tourism and the military.
He said he wants to see the underused Bob Sikes Airport in Crestview, along with available rail and other resources be utilized to their best advantage. He also supports road widening efforts in Crestview and redevelopment in Fort Walton Beach.
Wes Fell said as a commissioner he would work with local, state and even federal leaders to buy out the Mid-Bay Bridge Authority and end the toll on the span that connects Niceville and Destin.
Ponder said that as a state representative he learned the best way to make progress was through teamwork. He said one of his campaign mottos is "let’s work together."
He said the county will "need to be ready to work" when the coronavirus threat diminishes to restore revenues lost during the pandemic.
"We need to be able to open up the market and regain the sales tax losses that were suffered," he said.
Crivellaro, also a political neophyte, said if elected he will work to preserve the environment while expanding infrastructure and supporting local businesses.