Politics & Government

City Council candidates discuss economic growth, political pressure at Pachyderm Club

A debate over economic terms was among topics kicked around Friday by some of the candidates for two City Council districts.

Standing up to political pressure also drew responses from the candidates at the weekly Pachyderm Club meeting in downtown Wichita.

Three of the four candidates — Jeff Blubaugh, Craig Gabel and David Glover — for the open seat of southwest Wichita’s District 4 spoke. Joshua Blick wasn’t able to attend because he was sick, Pachyderm officials said.

They are vying to fill the spot vacated by Michael O’Donnell, who was elected a state senator last fall.

Clinton Coen was the only candidate for the south-side District 3 to attend the meeting. Incumbent James Clendenin and Mary Dean were no-shows.

Before a full house at the Petroleum Club, the candidates talked about their priorities.

Blubaugh, a real estate broker and a member of the Goddard school board, said basing business decisions on data and creating more jobs are his top concerns.

Gabel, who owns Mike’s Steakhouse, said he would provide vision for the city.

“I don’t have to go to some place like Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to figure out what the vision should be for Wichita,” said Gabel, referring to Visioneering Wichita, a group of civic leaders and elected officials, going to that city two years ago.

Glover, a Wal-Mart employee, kept his responses short.

“I’m not the most polished public speaker,” he said.

Glover said his priorities are transparency in government and being a good steward of taxpayer money.

In District 3, Coen said it was important to improve roads in his district and create accountability for the city government.

“We have a problem,” said Coen, a 21-year-old economics student at Wichita State University. “Businesses see they don’t stand a chance. Their competitors are subsidized as long as they give donations to the government. You don’t have a fair market that way.”

All of the candidates were asked to describe the difference between economic development and economic growth, resulting in varied responses.

Blubaugh said economic growth is being able to see actual growth through more jobs and increase in housing prices.

“The economic development side of it, I see that as the competitive nature of helping our businesses here, plus bring in new businesses,” he said.

Glover saw economic growth as generating wealth, while “development you’re just investing in infrastructure.”

Coen said economic development “is picking and choosing who should get money and who shouldn’t. With economic growth, everybody is better off.”

Gabel agreed with Coen, adding that economic development is building “a pretty new library or pretty new airport” while people are out of work and losing their homes.

On tax subsidies, Coen said he opposed them because they hurt growth. Glover said he would support them “if they create jobs.”

Gabel said tax incentives “cut the pie a little thinner.” He said he would only support them if they brought a very large business, such as Boeing, to town.

Blubaugh also said he would favor the incentives if they made a “big enough impact.”

All of the candidates indicated they would stand up to political pressure if elected to the council.

“I’m an individual thinker,” Blubaugh said, noting he’s sometimes on the short end of 6-1 votes on the Goddard school board. “I have no problem voting against the herd.”

Glover said he wouldn’t hesitate to go “against bad policy.”

As for Coen, he said, “I’m not scared of their tactics. I’m not going to fall for developers’ money game. I’m a principled man.”

Gabel said he could be the “lone vote of reason.”

Next Friday, Wichita school board candidates for District 2 and 5 will speak at the Pachyderm Club, as will at least some of the candidates for council District 6.

Council districts 3, 4 and 6 will have a primary election, Feb. 26. There won’t be any primaries for school board districts. The general election is April 2.