GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The banker and the general squared off Tuesday in Gulfport's first mayoral forum. However, if you went to the forum looking for political fireworks, you focused on the wrong primary.
Republican candidates George Schloegel and Joe Spraggins were invited to speak to the Gulfport Business Club. Both men are good friends. So nobody threw mud at each other. Instead, Schloegel and Spraggins simply pitched their visions for Gulfport's future.
The mayoral candidates have vowed to run campaigns based on respect -- for each other, and for the city. "This was supposed to be a debate. We don't have anything to debate about," Schloegel noted. "All we want is what's good for Gulfport."
Spraggins emphasized that point moments later. "One's going to be a winner, one will be a loser, but we're going to be standing side-by-side because Gulfport's going to be a winner," he said.
So how do you differentiate between the republican candidates? Both men point to their upbringing.
Spraggins has always been a civil servant -- first in the military, and then at Harrison County's EOC during Hurricane Katrina. He's the new kid in town. But he says he's ready to lead Gulfport.
"We as citizens, we as business people, we can bring Gulfport back to where Gulfport should be," Spraggins told the 150 people at the Gulfport Business Club luncheon.
His opponent has been in Gulfport for more than half a century. Schloegel started at Hancock Bank in the mail room when he was 16. In fact, he still has the master key he used back then. He retired as its president just months before entering the mayoral race.
In his opening statement, Schloegel said, "We've got to get the hurricane behind us," a statement that drew applause from the crowd.
Schloegel says his administration's first priority is to create a team concept. He wants to do that by mending relations between city hall and the city council. Priority number two is to make Gulfport a builder friendly city. Goal number three is to cash in on stimulus opportunities.
"You know what I want to do in Gulfport?" he asked. "Turn on the vacuum cleaner and suck as much of that down here as we can get."
Spraggins' first goal is to complete promises made the past 10 years by previous mayors. Once that's done, he'll work on recruiting new businesses to Mississippi's second largest city.
"We've got to have somebody there folks. We've got to go out and work for them. We've got to get them. We've got to hunt them down. And we've got to get them wanting to be a part of Gulfport," said Spraggins.
The Gulfport Business Club Mayoral Forum featured the two republican candidates for the city's top job. Gulfport also has two democrats running for mayor. They are Brian Dean and Clyde Williams.
The primary is May 5, 2009.