Race relations, economy spark debate at DSU

 

DOVER — The beginning of the gubernatorial candidate portion of ‘The State of Black Delaware’ Town Hall Forum at Delaware State University on Tuesday was affable and and low intensity.

Democratic candidate John Carney even joked:

“We actually like each other, which is good because we’re going to have to work with each other after I win.”

To which Republican candidate Sen. Colin Bonini retorted:

“John Carney is a great guy, please don’t vote for him.”

Candidates for governor, John Carney and Colin Bonini stop for a selfie with moderator S. Renee Smith after a mostly friendly debate.  Delaware State News/Ian Gronau

Candidates for governor, John Carney and Colin Bonini stop for a selfie with moderator S. Renee Smith after a mostly friendly debate.
Delaware State News/Ian Gronau

However, matters took a more serious turn when questions from the audience took the candidates to task on issues of race. Specifically, an audience member wanted to know why either candidate would be different than any of the other candidates who’d come before and made unfulfilled promises to the black community.

Mr. Bonini replied that constituents have had 24 years of the same thing and said that a strong jobs market was one of the best ways forward, regardless of race.

“The bottom line is, I think prosperity will solve most of our problems,” he said.

Mr. Carney urged voters to hold him to his promises.

“:Hold us accountable,” he said. “I’ve stood for office several times since 2000, and I’ve promised people that I will work hard every day and I’ll level with you.”

The debate was hosted by DE Faith in Action Council and Interdenominational Ministers Action Council of Delaware (IMAC). It was in partnership with the Coalition to Dismantle the New Jim Crow, Delawareblack.com, Delaware Racial Justice Collaborative, NAACP and Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice.

The primary focus was on economic development and education policy as they pertain specifically to the black community of Delaware.

Moderator S. Renee Smith, a self-esteem and branding expert and coach, along with panelists Valerie Mack and Rev. Dr. Lawrence M. Livingston, pushed candidates repeatedly for specifics.

A response Sen. Bonini gave to the question, “why did he vote against Delaware offering an official apology for slavery?” drew surprise from the crowd.

“I don’t think the son should be held accountable for the sins of the father,” he said. “I actually think an apology for slavery is a bit of a crutch. I’m sorry, but I’m very concerned about the problems African Americans are facing right now.”

The lieutenant governor debate portion was less amiable. Democrat Sen. Bethany Hall-Long and Republican La Mar Gunn sparred over contentious issues such as right to work laws, unemployment rates in the black community and recidivism.

The Lt. Governor candidates, Democrat Bethany Hall Long and Republican Lamar Gunn sparred over contentious issues such as right to work laws, unemployment rates among the black community and recidivism during the State of Black Delaware Town Hall Forum. Delaware State News/Ian Gronau

The Lt. Governor candidates, Democrat Bethany Hall Long and Republican Lamar Gunn sparred over contentious issues such as right to work laws, unemployment rates among the black community and recidivism during the State of Black Delaware Town Hall Forum.
Delaware State News/Ian Gronau

Sen. Hall-Long extolled the benefits of encouraging a more diverse government that makes anti-discrimination measures a priority.

“We need pathways to prosperity and workforce development,” she said. “African Americans should be right at the table with us when we make these policy decisions.”

Mr. Gunn retorted that offers of inclusion have thus far been empty.

“It’s not good in Delaware right now for African Americans,” he said. “The folks saying they want us at the table haven’t been inviting us, and I’ve heard it said that if you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re on the menu.”

The evening drew to a close with Sen. Hall-Long pledging to use her experience in the state Senate to back whichever candidate for governor wins.

“Whether it’s with Colin Bonini or John Carney who wins, I’ll bring my skills and tools that I have and work hard for you.”

Mr. Gunn added in his closing statement that he felt constituents should be voting for the candidates that best represent them rather than voting along party lines.

“Black people are 22 percent of the population; we determine the winners of these elections,” he said. “Here’s what’s been happening: we’re the only community that votes straight ticket Democrat. White women don’t do that. White men don’t do that. Gays have Republican and Democrat representation, so what happens to us? Democrats have ignored and neglected the African American community. They neglect us because they get our vote for free.”

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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