Two questions at the Thursday political forum impacted the entire city. The chamber asked the mayoral hopefuls about the sale of Memorial Hospital.
Republican Billy Hewes said, "I do think it's a good idea," though he believes Gulfport citizens should vote on it first. The other four candidates had no interest in selling the hospital.
The other broad question dealt with Gulfport's ongoing budget battle. Councilman Hewes had first crack at explaining how he would balance Gulfport's budget.
"I'm not for tax increases," he said. "I'm for letting the people vote on these issues to see if they want to let the free enterprise system take over and work in that manner."
Political newcomer Brent Warr told the Orange Grove Lyman Chamber city hall should be run more like his clothing shop.
"We don't need to levy fines. We don't need to raise taxes," the republican said. "We don't need to sell hospitals in order to make this city work. We need to just run it like a business."
Steve Dickerson told chamber members that more economic development projects would build a stronger Gulfport budget.
"That's the key," Dickerson said, "and that's where my background is. I'm an economic developer. That's what I've done for this city, for you, for the last two years of the 14 years total experience I have. And I have a positive track record."
Councilman Kim Savant said Gulfport must do a better job of prioritzing city needs.
"We have to set priorities," the current mayor pro tempore said. "Priorities have to be agreed upon by the mayor and the council. And they have to be the priorities that meet the needs of the people. That's how you balance the budget and improve your infrastructure."
And Gulfport educator Kim Stewart told the chamber group his administration would push for a tax idea originally proposed by Mayor Ken Combs.
"Let's go back to the state, the legislature and present them with the idea of creating a one percent increase in sales tax," the fifth republican in the race said.
The political forum also included democrats and one independent.
Democrat Howard Page was born in Gulfport.
"The specific proposal I offer is impact fees," he said, explaining the revenue source he believes could bolster the budget. "They're used in every area like Gulfport that's fortunate to be growing like we are."
G.W. Simpson said he's noticed holes in the city's day-to-day operations that could be filled to reduce budget worries.
"It looks like to me talking to the folks, and listening, that we have people actually stealing time at work, not doing their jobs, not efficiently doing what has to be done in this city," Simpson said.
The other democrats running for Gulfport mayor are Charles Walker and Clyde Williams. Neither man attended the Orange Grove forum.
But the lone independent in the race was there. C.N. Daughdrill attends Trinity United Methodist Church.
"I agree economic development is the answer," he said. "We can only cut the pie into so many pieces no matter what the budget is. And the only answer is to bring in more revenue through economic development."
City primaries are May 3, 2005. Any runoffs will be held two weeks later. The general election is the first Tuesday in June.