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City Notebook
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Democratic candidates debate at packed AASU forum

An overflow crowd braved a vicious early evening thunderstorm to attend a 12th Congressional District candidate forum last week at Armstrong Atlantic State University.

Three local journalists -- Connect’s Jim Morekis, the Savannah Morning News’s Tom Barton and the Savannah Tribune’s Zyon Smiley -- plied the four candidates with questions ranging from Iraq to jobs to black votes.

Two of the candidates, Doug Haines and John Barrow, are Athens attorneys and former politicians. Two are Savannah residents -- attorney Tony Center and activist Caine Cortellino. They face each other in a July 20 primary, the winner going on to face incumbent Republican Max Burns in November.

The four were united in their disdain for both George W. Bush and Burns, with Doug Haines saying the latter is merely a “rubber stamp” for the president, who “never steps out of Bush’s shadow.”

At times the verbiage took the tone of the run-up to a boxing match. Discussing the need to take the fight to Burns, Haines said “now is not a time for a cautious and measured approach.”

Cortellino did that one better, saying of Burns that “it’s time to take him out.”

On the issues, the four were united on the need to revisit Bush’s tax plan. Center scored points with the crowd when he added “I’d like to revisit every single thing George W. Bush has done.”

While all four derided Bush’s energy policy, there were subtle differences. Barrow allowed that “there is no sustainable future in fossil fuel,” but advocated a “bridge the gap” strategy, whereby oil reserves in non- Mideast areas would be opened up further.

Eager to set himself apart as the young firebrand of the race, Cortellino rebuffed Barrow’s measured approach by saying “we don’t have to be dependent on oil at all.”

Returning to a common theme from his run for the seat in 2000, Center said “Alternative fuel sources won’t just help you -- it’ll help our economy so that we won’t be dependent on countries that want to destroy us.”

On education, all candidates were united against Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act. Haines called it the “No White Child Left Behind Act,” saying it is really “a thinly veiled attempt to move us to a voucher system.”

As on energy, Barrow took a measured approach. While the other three teed off on No Child Left Behind, in calmer tones Barrow pointed out what he thinks is the real problem: “Congress appropriates with one hand and authorizes with the other. There are already federal policies in place to put extra money toward schools in need.”

Hanging like a low cloud over the proceedings was the recent acceptance by Doug Haines of an endorsement from Savannah’s key African American power broker, Bennie Polote, with a quid pro quo cash payment from Haines to Polote for campaign services rendered.

Tom Barton asked whether it was wrong to be “pimping the black vote,” especially after the 2000 debacle of the disastrous Polote-supported candidacy of Charles Walker Jr.

Center, a hometown boy who was rebuffed by Polote in favor of the ethically challenged Walker in 2000, answered simply, “Yes.”

Perhaps the most gripping answers came regarding a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

“Traditionally the Constitution is a document that extends rights,” not one that takes them away, Center said.

Haines said, “I’m tired of Republicans perverting our Constitution. Where are these Republicans when someone loses their job, or when someone can’t afford a doctor?”

But ironically, perhaps the most forthright statement came from the only non-lawyer in the bunch, Cortellino.

“I was raised in an openly gay household,” he said. “This is not doing anything but taking us back.”

Cora Bett goes to the dogs

Local realtor Cora Bett Thomas sponsored a “Take your dog to work day” last week behind her Oglethorpe Avenue office.

Over 50 canine lovers attended the event, with donations being accepted for the local Humane Society and Save-A-Life. Cora Bett Thomas Realty Company contributed $500 to each organization.

Attendees signed up to win stainless steel dog bowls, and staff “distributed dog tags to the variety of canine guests enjoying wading pools and toys while owners and dog lovers paused for lunch,” a spokesperson says.