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District 2 candidates make sales pitch to Vero Highlands

VERO HIGHLANDS — County Commission Peter O’Bryan Monday night hosted a candidate forum for the five men and women seeking to represent commission District 2 after the November election.The meeting took place at the Vero Highlands Property Owners Association headquarters and ran slightly more than one hour. After having an opportunity to introduce themselves to the 40 or so people in attendance the candidates fielded unfiltered questions from residents.The forum was somewhat unique, as it gave the public the chance to see and hear candidates from three political parties together in one place, as opposed to a partisan event. Republican Incumbent Joe Flescher and Republican challengers Dale Simchick and Charlie Wilson, Independent Carolyn Corum and Democrat David Snell attempted to put their best foot forward and to convey their top priorities as commission hopefuls. While trying to stay on message, none of the candidates did a great job of answering specific questions posed by those attending the meeting.Wilson, whose campaign has seemed to stray from the populist tenor of the past few months into an appeal to the more right-wing segments of his party, emphasized how government is “broken” and named one thing he would want to accomplish is making deputies of the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office enforce immigration laws.Simchick is running on her professional and political experience, her background as an ex-Marine and the platitudes of being a “community patriot,” a term which she uses frequently in campaign correspondence. A former Sebastian City Councilwoman, Simchick described herself as a consensus builder who will educate herself and make decisions for her constituents.”I want what you want,” she told the POA members seated at round tables as she strolled the room Oprah Winfrey style. In closing, Simchick gave her standard stump pitch, “If you make a commitment to me, I’ll make a commitment to you.”Flescher spent more time talking about his background as a New York City police officer and former Indian River County Sheriff’s deputy and about his family life and work experience than he did discussing pressing issues facing county residents. Known to address topics candidly but with a broad brushstroke, Flesher characterized the situation when he was elected in 2006 by saying “the challenges were great” as he described the shrinking of the county budget by about $200 million dollars during the tough economic times which will persist into the upcoming budget year.Corum cited her experience as the former Mayor of Sebastian and an environmental activist who has worked on conservation and land use issues. She remarked that she had worked had done her research while in office in Sebastian and said that she aspires toa  higher office than the county commission. She said she welcomes the opportunity to work with state leaders, as she has in the past on the protection of the Indian River Lagoon and its shoreline on the Sebastian riverfront.Snell, who was by far the most compelling and inspirational speaker of the panel, attempted to tap into a sense of patriotism, optimism and civic duty in the audience. He began his comments by harkening back to the Founding Fathers and the ideals on which the country was founded, asserting that those ideals are not only alive and well, but relevant and necessary to public discourse today.The candidates agreed that public safety — namely police and fire protection — is an area where the county can’t cut corners. Flescher said residents deserve to “get the help you need” when calling 911. Simchick stated that people’s most important assets are their family and their homes and that they don’t want to take a chance on something happening and help not being available due to budget cuts.Corum and Snell agreed that mass layoffs, though an expedient way to cut budgets in both the public and the private sector, is not always the right course of action. Snell said governments and businesses should use “creative reorganization” to make the most of what they have, as he said job loss has a trickle-down affect because unemployed people can’t support local businesses or the tax base.”My feelings are hurt when people lose their jobs,” Corum said, adding that she supports unions and thinks that public service workers who are unionized accomplish a greater good for the community.Wilson slammed any “special interest” attempting to wield power and influence over government officials and county staff. Wilson recycled a few themes from his Vero Beach City Council run last year and relayed a story to the crowd of an elderly woman who voiced concern to him that she never thought “government would have so much and I would have so little.” This story has become part of Wilson’s call for smaller, more efficient government which lives within its means.On a more positive note, Snell reminded the voters in the room that each and every one of them has the power to change the way government works and to make it work for them.”If your expectations are colliding with your experience, you need to get involved,” Snell said, invoking the language of the preamble to the U.S. Constitution by saying that no matter the issue or the decision, it all comes back to “we the people.”District 2 spans Gifford, parts of Sebastian and Wabasso, Grand Harbor and the barrier island north of State Road 60 to the Brevard-Indian River County line, but county districts are at large, meaning that every registered voter in the county may cast a ballot for any open seat, regardless of the district where they live. In November, Snell and Corum will go up against the winner of the Republican primary in August.

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