The six candidates running for mayor of Benton Harbor have squared off for the first time in a debate. Speaking at the WSJM studio Monday, a topic of discussion was economic development and making sure investment in the community is also investment in its people. Candidate Jamie Davis said, too often, there will be developments that don’t result in benefits for residents.
“I see that we have the PGA, I see that millions of dollars are flowing downtown, but those millions of dollars don’t seem to flow through the city, and our people are suffering, living in substandard housing conditions.”
City Commissioner Ron Singleton said attracting investment to all areas of the city is necessary.
“I believe that you have to have your inner city looking good, and a place where somebody would come and say ‘OK, I wouldn’t mind opening a business here and also living here,’ because, taxwise, you can’t continue taxing the residents out.”
Commissioner Juanita Henry, who has represented the Third Ward since 2006, said she has always fought against giving breaks to developers that just want to locate in the city without improving the quality of life for residents.
“We’ve always cried ‘jobs, jobs, jobs,’ and when developers come into our city and they say ‘Well, we don’t have any jobs,’ and they still get their projects done, over the years, it’s made me a bitter, bitter woman.”
Seeking re-election after four years in office, Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad said with the city freshly out of state control, he has helped to preside over a time of progress. He’s looking to foster more economic development.
“Government has to establish itself, and create an environment for investment. Over the past four years, over 31 million has been invested in the city of Benton Harbor, and it may not be readily seen because we’re starting from zero, and it’s going to take hundreds of millions to rebuild the city of Benton Harbor.”
City Commissioner CF Jones says economic development in Benton Harbor should benefit the residents.
“People are not stakeholders if they’re not invested in our community. That’s why they call them stakeholders. We also have got to pay attention to the different businesses that are named and are not named here in the community that are receiving tax breaks, and yet not investing in this community.”
Candidate Margie Carter said investment needs to be made in the people of Benton Harbor so they can create their own opportunities.
“We need to develop an evaluation of our people by skills, and from that, then we know what we could have in this community.”
Carter suggested the city create its own jobs program. A common goal of many of the candidates is to ensure improvements come to more than just the downtown area. After the August 6 primary, the top two vote getters will go on to the November general election.