Wilmington mayoral candidates debate in WECT studio

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - The two candidates for mayor of Wilmington discussed everything from baseball to the budget to the blues Wednesday night in the WECT studio.

Incumbent Mayor Bill Saffo hopes to return to office for another two-year term, but he'll have to fend off challenger Justin Lanasa, a local downtown business owner.

In regards to controlling the potential for violence in downtown Wilmington, Saffo said the city is making progress by limiting the number of bars. The city police department sends recommendations to the state ABC commission as to whether it supports a liquor license for potential locations. Lanasa says the approach seems unconstitutional to him. He thinks there should be a certain number of liquor licenses available and to cap that limit.

Saffo says the city has made moves in the positive direction as well with a dedicated unit of officers downtown.

"It is going to help in what we call community based policing," Bill Saffo said. "I believe it's paying dividends as we speak."

However, Lanasa said the officers' group needs more leadership.

"I see clusters of police officers standing around, not being directed to do their jobs as they should be," Justin Lanasa said. "I feel that's a big issue."

When it comes to business incentives, Lanasa feels there should be more stipulations set on the company if it wants to leave or move on.

"Our geographical location brings these companies here and they're just looking for a hand out," Lanasa said.

Saffo said the incentives are structured very conservatively and when used have been positive. He cited incentives to help bring the television series "One Tree Hill" to the community.

Lanasa opposed the construction of the Convention Center downtown. Now that it's open, he'd like to talk with groups like the "House of Blues" to take over the lease if he becomes mayor.

Both candidates said they oppose using taxpayer money to build a baseball stadium downtown. Saffo said it's an issue that keeps coming up, but the trick is figuring out how to fund it.

"If you can't come to some agreement on how to do that, it can't be done," Saffo said.

While Lanasa said the city could stand to cut some more fat out of the budget, Saffo said hard decisions have already been made.

"I don't think there's a lot of fat there. We're looking for any ways we can to deliver those services in a much more cost effective way," Saffo said.

Lanasa suggested a renegotiating of the deal to create the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority, which is a combination of the water departments from both the city of Wilmington and New Hanover County.

"Quite frankly, it's a loose cannon and it needs to be controlled," Lanasa said.

Saffo said he admits he was not happy with the "debacle" with billing issues when CFPUA began, but he said the group is now moving in the right direction.

Finally, both candidates discussed the next two years with a potential Saffo or Lanasa administration. Saffo says three big projects will need attention in the next two years -- a future land use plan, environmental plan for the county and a five year strategic plan for the city.

Lanasa envisions more citizens getting involved in his administration.

"I'd like to see our local government actually listen to our citizens," Lanasa said."That in turn will drive this city to where it needs to go and wants to go.

Voters get the final say on November 8th during the municipal election.

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