Last Saturday's Politics in the Park's Candidate Forum held inside a church at 5146 Leonard Blvd. South drew as many members of the public as there were candidates and their aides and volunteers. While more people were expected to attend the forum, Jacqui Hill of Lehigh Acres, said she was glad she was there to see the candidates, but wished it had been a bigger public turnout.
Some 50 political hopefuls and their 20 or more aides and volunteers, were joined with about 75 people in the sanctuary. The forum was held for many voters to meet candidates they will be voting for or against in the August primary.
Sponsored by the Community Council of Lehigh Acres, Tami Baker, it's special events coordinator, and planner, along with Council President Jim Kreger, were not totally disappointed.
Jim Kreger, of the Community Council, welcomes the candidates and the visitors to the candidates’ forum.
"We had a nice crowd of people. It could have been a larger turnout, but it is summer and a lot of people are on vacation and others had other things to do on a Saturday," Baker said.
More than 50 candidates who had sent in their RSVPs turned out with only a few who didn't show up for the forum which was held inside the sanctuary of the church.
Planners had wanted to hold the political forum in Veterans Park, but the main meeting room was not available and according to Jim Kreger, who suggested holding the program outside, no agreement with Lee County Parks & Recreation could be reached.
For the public, that was probably a good decision since outside temperatures hovered around 90 degrees when the program started. And inside the church, people were comfortable, thanks to air conditioning.
The program, slated to start at noon, began 15 minutes later with visitors entering the large sanctuary that seats 1,000 people. The sanctuary looked sparse with some 75 people scattered throughout the many seats.
Political candidates were given three minutes to speak and rarely did anyone of them go over their allotted time. Planners had penciled in the times in a list of candidates to speak and they were close to the time, almost to the minute.
Candidates from president of the Unites States to county commissioners, school board, and local water and fire boards were on hand. Charles Tolbert of Ft. Lauderdale said he was an independent presidential candidate and if elected would get rid of the Internal Revenue Service and do away with income tax and charge a national sales tax.
Before the politicians spoke in the sanctuary, they met and talked with visitors in the church's large welcome entrance area. Candidates brought lots of political literature and lots of cookies with them.
While most of the candidates spoke in a normal fashion, many reading from notes, one candidate running for sheriff as a non-party affiliate, rattled off his qualification in high speed fashion. Lee Bushong was the fastest speaker of all the candidates. He and three other candidates are challenging incumbent Sheriff Mike Scott, who was the last to speak on the list.
Marshall T. Bower, president and CEO of the Foundation for Lee County Public Schools was the emcee and with the help of Beverly Burke, held the candidates to the three-minute requirement rule.
Gary Warchol gave the invocation and Jim Kreger gave opening remarks.
Ada Thompson, one of the visitors said she thought the program was well done and said the church was "a nice place to hold the event."
Janis Bryant, another visitor, said she wished the candidates had been given more time to speak.
Later, planner and organizer Tami Baker sent out an email to the candidates and others. She thanked all the candidates who came to the event and thanked everyone who helped in planning and running the event.
"Although I would have liked to have had more public attend, I think your messages were received 'loud and clear.' There is a lot of buzz in the community about what the candidates had to say," she said.