Allegations of one candidate using offensive language toward gays and lesbians took center stage at Wednesday’s Bradenton City Council candidate forum sponsored by the LGBT Democratic Caucus and hosted at the Manatee County Democratic Headquarters.
A screen shot of a text conversation between Ward 5 candidate Keenan Wooten allegedly using the language toward incumbent Councilman Harold Byrd Jr. has been circulating in the community and was sent to the Bradenton Herald last week. Because screen shots can be manipulated, repeated requests were made to the sender to bring the phone in for verification, and those requests were ignored.
Wooten called the effort an “obvious campaign smear” after the debate in which Byrd publicly asked him if he used that language and Wooten repeatedly denied it, noting, “I would never, ever use that kind of language.”
The sender of the screen shot refused the Herald’s request to be publicly identified, and the email address was listed as LGBT Bradenton and signed by “Concerned LGBT Citizens of Bradenton,” but no such organization could be found.
The candidates tackled several serious issues facing the LGBT community and the city. Candidates were asked about alleged discriminatory practices directed at religious leaders in the community who say they are not being invited to prayer events because of their support for the LGBT community.
“We are all created equal, and that’s my motto,” Wooten said. “People at these events need to know that, and as a city council member, I will treat everyone the same and create unity, not division.”
Ward 1 candidate Tami Spyker Goudy said, “We are all brothers and sisters. The city is made up of citizens and everyone should be treated equally.”
Ward 1 incumbent Gene Gallo did not attend Wednesday’s event, but his other challenger, Devon Davis, said, “As a spiritual person, we are all created equal. This is a topic that anyone who knows their Bible knows that the Bible does not teach hate or discrimination.”
Candidates took on the issue of bullying of LGBT youths in schools. Goudy said the hardest challenge to overcome is getting children who are bullied to talk about their ordeals.
“The biggest thing is that kids don’t talk about it until it gets to the point they do something to themselves,” Goudy said. “We need to make sure we work with the county and talk about how to get more education, talk to them and look for the signs because the signs are there.”
Locally, the candidates addressed the heroin epidemic plaguing Manatee County. Byrd said that as a councilman, he sees the police reports on a daily basis. He said it’s a three-pronged approach that includes law enforcement, prevention programs and “addressing what happens to those already addicted. It’s good to say you have a strong prevention program, but you have to have programs to address those addictions.”
Davis said Manatee County’s reputation as the overdose fatality capital of the state “is sad to me. We aren’t educating our kids in school. I don’t think a kid gets up and says they want to overdose today. It’s been overwhelming. I believe the Bradenton Police Department should dedicate detectives working specifically on this.”
Goudy and Wooten said it’s time to return the DARE program back into schools. Goudy said it would come at a cost of $3 million to re-implement the program in the school system, “but it’s a good investment.”
On the national front, all four candidates said they would have no problem with the city accepting “screened” Syrian refugees to prevent LGBT refugees from falling into the hands of ISIS.
Wooten reiterated that screening is important, “but I know people are hurting and dying, but screening is important to prevent potentially harming law abiding, home-grown Americans who love their country.”
About a dozen people attended the forum.