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Akron Mayoral Candidates Debate Homelessness, Economy And Hamburgers

Akron’s mayoral candidates faced off Wednesday in a midday debate that was more of a low-key meeting of the minds than raucous political showdown.

Akron's incumbent mayor, Democrat Dan Horrigan, and Republican challenger Josh Sines agreed more often than not on Akron’s needs when it comes to tackling homelessness, youth and gun violence, welcoming refugees and next steps to continue economic development.

When given the chance to question each other directly, the candidates swapped suit-shopping tips (for his “debate suit,” Sines went to JCPenney in Chapel Hill Mall; Horrigan wore a 4-year-old Jos. A. Bank purchase) and where to get the best burger in town (Sines is the co-owner of Bob’s Hamburg on East Avenue).

Both candidates said they would seek to continue to reduce Akron’s infant mortality rate, which is down by about 9 percent since 2016, according to the city’s statistics, from 7.55 to 6.90 per 1,000 live births last year.

“Do I have a goal for the infant mortality rate? Yeah. Zero,” said Horrigan, who started work on a five-point plan for better birth outcomes in January. “We’d like to cut it in half in a second term.”

Both candidates acknowledged the answer to Akron’s homelessness problems requires wraparound services, including mental health and substance abuse treatment.

Sines envisions a cluster of tiny homes in a “little village” that also houses a center with showers, social services and more. Horrigan said a daytime drop-in center would be helpful.

“It’s not just one problem. You don’t just end up homeless,” Horrigan said.

And both candidates are concerned that African-American Akronites feel excluded from the city’s economic development and growing opportunities.

“We have to create opportunities,” Sines said. If elected, he would seek to leverage his own experience and work with would-be business owners to help get paperwork filed and new ventures off the ground.

One of the few major points of divergence for the candidates was on the possibility of population growth for the Rubber City.

“Progress” can be measured in many ways, Horrigan said, and he hopes to see it reflected in population growth, should he win a second term.

“There were 300,000 people in Akron when I was born. Now we have 200,000. Where did they go?” he said. “I’d like to see growth over 200,000.”

Between concerns about high property taxes and a sewer replacement project cost into the billions of dollars, Sines was not as optimistic.

“I doubt we will ever get back to a city of more than 250,000,” Sines said.

The debate was presented by the Akron Press Club and co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters of the Akron Area and the University of Akron’s Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics.

Horrigan was elected in November 2015 as Akron’s first new full-term mayor since Don Plusquellic was elected in 1987. Prior to taking office, Horrigan represented Ward 1 on Akron City Council, served as Clerk of Summit County Court of Common Pleas and taught social studies at his alma mater, St. Vincent-St. Mary High School.

Sines, who is also a ring announcer for wrestling, boxing and mixed martial arts events, acknowledged his comparative lack of political experience, offering his business and analytical acumen as a small business owner as points in his favor.

“I study hard, and I work hard and I will dedicate myself to the people of Akron,” Sines said in his closing statement.

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