Long Beach mayoral candidates debate in open forum [slideshow]

The candidates addressed issues such as the port and CSU funding.

  • Candidates for mayor of Long Beach present their platforms at a debate hosted by Cal State Long Beach and the Press-Telegram at the Beach Auditorium on Wednesday. (Todd Johnson)
  • Candidate Damon Dunn (Michael Ares)
  • Candidate Bonnie Lowenthal (Michael Ares)
  • Candidate Doug Otto (Michael Ares)
  • Long Beach mayoral candidate Bonnie Lowenthal, left, listens as Doug Otto, right, presents his platform during a debate hosted by Cal State Long Beach and the Press-Telegram at the Beach Auditorium on Wednesday. - See more at: http://www.daily49er.com/news/2014/03/19/long-beach-mayoral-candidates-debate-in-open-forum/#sthash.1dUViR4S.dpuf (Michael Ares)
  • Candidates for mayor of Long Beach present their platforms at a debate hosted by Cal State Long Beach and the Press-Telegram at the Beach Auditorium on Wednesday. (Michael Ares)
  • Candidate Robert Garcia. (Michael Ares)
  • Debate overflow watches outside the forum on computer screens in the University Student Union on Wednesday. (Todd Johnson)
  • Candidate Gerrie Schipske (Michael Ares)

Neil Bedolla, Staff Writer

Five Long Beach mayoral candidates addressed issues such as economic development, funding for Cal State Long Beach and plans for the city in a debate at the Beach Auditorium Wednesday.

The audience packed the auditorium to capacity for the debate, in which candidates agreed that plans for job creation and economic development are priorities. They also agreed on the importance for education and additional funding for the Cal State University system.

More than 100 students, faculty and members of the community were forced to wait in the lobby and listen to the live broadcast because of the inability to accommodate everyone inside the auditorium.

The debate’s panelists included Melissa Evans of the Long Beach Press-Telegram, CSULB Academic Senate Chair Dan O’Connor and Daily 49er Editor in Chief Daniel Serrano.

Mayoral candidate Damon Dunn, a local businessman and retired NFL player, began the mayoral debate by emphasizing that the newly elected mayor should have business insight.

“It’s an exciting time for Long Beach. There are a unique set of challenges and a unique set of opportunities,” Dunn said. “We need someone who knows how to structure these deals. Business acumen is required, and this will put Long Beach in the best position for the future.”

Mayoral candidate and Vice Mayor of Long Beach Robert Garcia focused on the progress he has made while in office.

“Long Beach has had a successful record,” Garcia said. “We have gone from a budget deficit to a surplus. Investment is what makes Long Beach a great city. Our best days are ahead of us.”

Evans opened the panel questions by asking the candidates for their spending priorities.

Bonnie Lowenthal, assemblywoman representing the 70th District, focused on economic development and addressed her concern of being able to meet the demands Social Security and pensions have placed on the city because of retirees who have longer life expectancies.

“We need to assess what businesses are at risk,” Lowenthal said. “We can’t attract new business unless we understand current business. Business coming into the city is the No.1 thing.”

Mayoral candidate Doug Otto, who works as an attorney and local business owner, offered a different perspective.

“There is a very different and bleak future for Long Beach,” Otto said. “We need to move toward a path toward sustainability. This means increasing our revenues, and we need to allow for more development.”

Gerrie Schipske, 5th District councilwoman and part-time CSULB faculty member, addressed concerns about education and government transparency.

“To make education meaningful, we need to make it accessible,” Schipske said. “We need to make government open and transparent, focus on economic development and hold city government accountable.

One of the major economic issues discussed at the debate was dealing with development in the Port of Long Beach.

“We need to move forward,” Dunn said. “Let’s start looking for solutions and take the politics out. It should be run like a business.”

Another important issue was supporting the additional $95 million in funding for the CSU system that Chancellor Timothy P. White and other CSU officials requested from the state government.

Schipske said the problem is with tuition.

“We are accommodating every student,” Schipske said. “It’s the tuition. We need to address education and make sure CSULB and the entire system has the financial resources requested.”

Lowenthal also spoke about her support for the CSU system.

“I will be happy to work on a budget,” Lowenthal said. “Instead of students graduating in six years, with the necessary resources, students can graduate in four or five years.”

In their concluding statements, candidates urged attendees to vote in the primary election on April 8.