The four men each hoping to be Victoria’s next mayor struggled to differentiate themselves Monday night, discussing mostly similar policy ideas at a candidate forum.
During a 50-minute discussion, candidates Vic Morgan, Rawley McCoy, Brent Carter and Steve Meacham talked about the city’s economy and attracting businesses and better-paying jobs and reflected on the most publicly controversial moments in their careers.
The mayoral hopefuls were most distinct when discussing their personal experiences.
Morgan, the former president of the University of Houston- Victoria, pointed to the public conversations he had about transforming Ben Wilson Street from a public thoroughfare to a boulevard through the middle of UHV’s expanding campus. McCoy, an architect and the president of Rawley McCoy and Associates, discussed the fraught public conversation about the county’s juvenile jail, which McCoy found was not in compliance with state standards, he said.
Carter elaborated on the 2009 federal case in which he was indicted by federal prosecutors and accused of insurance fraud. Carter was found not guilty by a jury.
“If you call getting indicted by the United States government an issue, I would say that would easily be my most controversial moment ever,” Carter said. “My role in it, and what I ultimately proved after two weeks in federal court, was that I was the wrongly accused.”
Carter said his boss “was convicted of three counts of mail fraud” that weren’t ultimately related to the insurance itself.
Meacham, a financial adviser, told a packed audience about a “parting of the ways” with a former employer.
“I had to remake my life over here again in Victoria,” Meacham said, adding he heard multiple false rumors flying around after he left the job.
“I heard everything about the reasons why I left the bank, everything from the affairs that I had and drunk driving and bank cars, just outlandish things. You have to sit there and you gotta get tough,” Meacham said. “I’m stepping up here for y’all, just like I ... (created) myself all over again for my child and my family here in Victoria.”
When it came to policy, the candidates often echoed each other’s ideas and suggestions. All agreed that attracting new businesses to the city was a top priority for Victoria’s future and that encouraging such business growth would in turn make the city more livable and attractive to young residents.
Candidates only showed major differences when discussing the city’s most pressing infrastructure needs, particularly in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
McCoy pointed to the city’s water system, which was crippled for multiple days during Hurricane Harvey, as an essential priority for the city to invest in.
“We need to make sure that what happened with our water supply never happens again,” McCoy said. “When I learned that our water towers were allowed to drain dry, I was livid.”
Carter, an insurance agent, said his priority would be improving the city’s aging streets.
"My biggest issue for this city, post Harvey…is the roads," Carter said. "We need to fix our streets. We need to make Victoria a more inviting city for people to come to."
The candidates addressed a packed auditorium at the University of Houston-Victoria, where residents interested in the May 4 elections crowded into the aisles to listen after all seats were taken. The forum was hosted by the Advocate, the Victoria Chamber of Commerce and the Golden Crescent Black Chamber of Commerce. Randy Vivian, the president of the city’s chamber, moderated the discussion.
In discussing the city’s lack of affordable housing and rising cost of living, candidates agreed that the city should do as much as possible to limit restrictions on new developers.
“I think eliminating impediments to the developers in the building of affordable housing is an important aspect to what the city can do,” Morgan said, adding that a coalition of community members and nonprofits could work with the council to address the issue.
During a discussion that largely centered on similar policy ideas, candidates tried to distinguish themselves through their personal experiences and histories. Carter vowed to keep Victoria "open for business,” telling voters they had a choice to keep Victoria a “sleepy little town or move forward and embrace the opportunities that our fantastic location offers.” Carter also said he had “a program fairly well lined out that’s going to help with (city employees’) insurance,” referring to the most pressing concern during the 2018 budget discussion. Last year, multiple first responders told City Council that the city’s health insurance plan for employees was too expensive and made it hard for them to afford living in Victoria.
Morgan pointed to his 25 years as a university president, first at Sul Ross State University and most recently at UHV. He also noted that having retired as head of UHV in August, he would be the “only candidate that’s going to devote full-time to this job.”
McCoy told voters his hometown had “fallen behind” and said the city needed to focus on creating a base of high-paying local jobs, keeping businesses open and repairing the city’s infrastructure. He also proposed more public work sessions with the council “where we can have real discussions about issues” instead of only congregating during formal meetings regulated by Robert’s Rules of Order.
Meacham promised to treat all of the city’s residents like his neighbors and to approach the job with a spirit of service.
The deadline to register to vote in the May 4 election is Thursday.