A half dozen men are running for Penticton mayor, but two held the microphone for most of Wednesday night’s debate at the Penticton Lakeside Resort.
Incumbent Andrew Jakubeit and entrepreneur Jason Cox traded barbs, questions and rebuttals frequently during a two-hour event attended by well over 400 people.
Cox repeatedly hammered Jakubeit for a lack of transparency at city hall — while the sitting mayor persisted that things have improved dramatically since the Skaha Lake waterslide fiasco, something he called his "greatest regret."
“I think we’ve been more transparent than any other council has been in the past, over the last two years” Jakubeit said to Cox. “Our engagement process — do you not see that there has been a stark difference of these last two years than previous?”
“Frankly no,” Cox replied. “There have still been backroom meetings. There are still things done in the shadows that we don’t find out about until it comes to public hearing.”
Public safety and downtown vagrancy was a dominating topic, leading Jakubeit to put some distance between himself and his chief of police, stating he wished the RCMP had a heavier hand downtown.
“I’d rather see our police chief being more public about being tough on crime and inappropriate behaviour than pushing social changes,” he said, admitting to “some frustrations" but touting the increased spending on bylaw enforcement and new BC Housing units coming online.
“We have a crisis in our community where things are bubbling over,” Cox said, referring to petty crime.
“Since before Mr. Jakubeit was mayor, our crime severity index has gone up by 35 per cent — don’t compare us to other communities, compare us to before Mr. Jakubeit and since Mr. Jakubeit.”
Local businessman and former city councillor John Vassilaki claimed the city only recently sprang into action on downtown crime after city property started being damaged.
“Until then, for 3.5 years, nothing happened to stop to stop the crime,” he said.
Vassilaki also took aim at city hall for a number of lawsuits during Jakubeit's term, including an appeal in the midst of a labour dispute with the firefighters union and the infamous $30,000 Paul Braun panhandler case.
“There has been nothing happening but lawsuits by the present administration at city hall, we’ve got to do something to change it.”
With his lone question of the night for another candidate, movie-theatre manager James Blake opted to ask Laurio “how he found the strength to run for mayor” as a convicted criminal.
“I believe,” replied Laurio.
In response to questions from the media panel, Laurio maintained that his sex crime conviction from the 90s is ancient history should not impact his job should he be elected mayor.
Dominic Wheeler, the sixth candidate, did not present much in terms of a platform or proposed policy, often rambling off-track when faced with a question.
Thursday will see a crowded stage of 25 council candidates seek the rooms approval, starting at 7 p.m.