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Gulfport mayoral candidates to answer questions at Stetson Town Hall

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Stetson University College of Law is hosting Gulfport mayoral candidates Sam Henderson, the incumbent, and Barbara Banno at a town hall forum Thursday in the school’s Mann Lounge.

The candidates will first present their campaign platforms and then answer questions posed by moderator Lance Long, a professor at the school.

Stetson’s Environmental Law Society, Maritime Law Society and Long’s Environmental Advocacy class are co-sponsoring the forum.

It’s likely that the August sewage dump into Clam Bayou by St. Petersburg will take center stage during a Q&A session.

The issue has been the most divisive throughout the campaign with Banno claiming the city needs to do more to prevent future problems with contamination in Clam Bayou.

Banno is calling on the city to reach a stern agreement with St. Pete in which a promise to avoid future events is issued. She also wants Gulfport to increase partnerships with environmental agencies and scientists to explore more comprehensive safeguards for water quality in Clam Bayou and Gulfport Beach citing frequent beach closures as evidence that the contamination has not been fully resolved.

The City of St. Pete discontinued water quality testing in December after multiple reports showed fecal coliform levels within safe limits.

Henderson, by contrast, has been viewed by critics as in lockstep with St. Pete officials who claim the issue has been resolved. During a recent City Council meeting, Henderson got entangled in a heated back and forth with Vice Mayor Yolanda Roman over the issue.

He evoked Banno’s name in a Facebook post after the verbal altercation tying Banno to Roman in an attempt at political pandering.

Banno commented later that the altercation was indicative of Henderson’s leadership style. However, Henderson claimed he was just defending himself with months of “bullying” over the issue.

The Clam Bayou issue has made this Gulfport race one of the most divisive in recent memory for Gulfport drawing passionate support and dissent among the candidates.

The event is located at Stetson at 1401 61st St. S. in Gulfport from noon until 1:15. The public is welcome to attend.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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