Southport mayoral candidates face-off in candidate forum

SOUTHPORT, NC (WWAY) — The League of Women Voters hosted a Mayoral and Board of Aldermen candidate forum in Southport on Thursday evening, moderated by WWAY’s Randy Aldridge.

The night began with incumbent Mayor Dr. Joe Pat Hatem and his challenger Rebecca Kelley. The discussion started with a question on COVID-19. What is the mayor’s role in balancing public health concerns, the economy, and following state mandates?

Kelley said it’s essential to balance public safety and the business community, saying it cannot be a choice between one or the other.

“If our businesses die, our town dies. We have to follow what our laws say and any law that is written I am happy to make sure we are following it as it should be,” Kelley said. “I don’t feel that it’s the mayor’s responsibility as a single person to create a mandate that takes away your personal rights.”

Hatem stood by his decisions to extend COVID-19 related restrictions adding the Board of Aldermen voted to support this. Also defending the canceling the Fourth of July Festival, saying the decisions saved lives and prevented the hospital from being overwhelmed.

“We protected our businesses so that we could have the biggest summer ever. People came to Southport because they knew our cases were low, our city was safe, and that we had done the right thing,” Hatem said. “I will always make the best decisions for our citizens every time, regardless of the political ramifications.”

The two touched on the hot button issue of short-term rentals. In a controversial decision, the Board of Aldermen approved an ordinance that limited short-term rentals in July.

Mayor Hatem again stood by the decision, saying it was in the best interest of the residents of the city.

Kelley expressed her disapproval of the ordinance, saying she does not believe that everyone’s input was taken into account and explaining she was for short-term rentals with regulations that help protect the character and safety of the city. However, if elected, she would not revisit the ordinance unless the citizens showed interest in changing it.

To view the forum in its entirety, including the Board of Aldermen portion, click here.

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