Paducah Mayoral Candidates Talk Jobs, Racial Justice At NAACP Forum
The three men looking to replace Paducah Mayor Brandi Harless appeared onstage at a forum Thursday hosted by the Paducah-McCracken County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
The debate took place at the Clemens Fine Arts Center on the campus of West Kentucky Community and Technical College. Businessman George Bray, City Commissioner and Mayor Pro Tem Richard Abraham and Actor Dujuan Thomas took questions from community members on a wide variety of issues. Bray and Abraham will appear on the general election ballot after defeating Harless in the June primary. Thomas is seeking to win the mayoralty through write-in votes.
Paducah’s mayor is a voting member of the Board of Commissioners. The city operates under a city manager form of government, with the city manager executing the day-to-day operations of the city. The mayor serves a four-year term while the commissioners serve two years.
Find summaries of the issues discussed at the NAACP forum below:
Many of the questions in Thursday’s debate centered around the ongoing dialogue concerning racial justice. Kentucky is at the focal point of national conservation after the death of Breonna Taylor at the hands of Louisville Metro Police Department officers in March. Attorney General Daniel Cameron announced Tuesday the three officers who served a search warrant on Taylor’s residence will not face charges stemming from her death. One officer, Brett Hankison, faces wanton endangerment charges after he allegedly fired shots that endangered Taylor’s neighbors. Thomas said the lack of murder charges in the Breonna Taylor case is a miscarriage of justice. He said he hopes her death leads to change in criminal justice policies.
“We have to have understanding because in times like this, emotions run high,” Thomas said. “But what’s more important is representation.”
Bray said he felt AG Cameron used the evidence to come to the best possible conclusion in a difficult situation. Abraham said he will support policies in city government that prevent issues of police brutality, and will investigate any complaints of discrimination throughout local government or the community-at-large.
All three candidates agreed to work for better employment opportunities in local government for Black Paducahns and others from underrepresented demographic groups.
“When I’m elected Mayor, I will advocate for increased representation of Blacks both in City Hall and outside of City Hall,” said Bray.
Abraham said he supports more diversity in government, but recognized his limited ability to shape hiring policies in the private sector.
“Elected officials have very little to do with private businesses and their hiring practices,” Abraham explained.
Thomas said his experience as a Black man will help him to make decisions with Paducah’s Black community in mind.
Removal of Confederate Relics
The three candidates weighed in on the national movement to relocate relics of the Confederacy including statues and memorials. Thomas called for items of Confederate significance to be relocated to more appropriate venues including museums.
”In the current climate that we are in today, I believe that we shouldn’t put these statues on a pedestal,” Thomas said. “You don’t go to Germany and see Hitler statues or swastikas all over the country.”
Bray agreed that Confederate symbols, including a battle flag located on Paducah-bound Interstate 24, present a negative image of the community.
Abraham noted the government would have difficulty attempting to alter Confederate relics located on private property.
“I will not be a part of any piece of legislation that would discriminate against a group of people just because we don’t like what we perceive they stand for,” he said.
A key issue for Paducah’s next mayor will be recovery from the economic devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Abraham encouraged Paducah residents to support local businesses to boost the economy. Bray said he personally organized a campaign known as “Paducah’s Tip Jar” which raised more than $53,000 for displaced workers during the pandemic. Thomas pledged to donate his first year’s mayoral salary back to the city in an effort to boost the city’s coffers.
“COVID’s not over, and we don’t know how much longer it may last. So I’m going to make sure that I am that leader that they can depend on and that will guide them in the right direction,” Thomas said.
One of Mayor Harless’s signature initiatives, a proposed aquatic recreation center, is unlikely to survive the next administration after all three candidates pledged to spend the funds appropriated for the project in other areas. Bray and Thomas said the long-term stormwater needs and sewer projects should receive part of the $20 million from the aquatic center project. Abraham said development on the city’s south side is long overdue.
“People want to see their neighborhood enhanced,” Abraham said.
Bray said that improved infrastructure will come alongside an enhanced economy.
”Any improvement in our city starts with more jobs, better jobs,” Bray said.
Thomas praised the idea of an aquatic center, but said the time was not right. He expressed support for Harless as he said the outgoing mayor was “blasted” in the media over the aquatic center and other proposals.
Paducah’s 40th mayor will be elected in the November 3 general election. Find more information on absentee and early voting here.