Dalton, Ga., mayor candidates welcome Hispanics

Dalton, Ga., mayor candidates welcome Hispanics

October 20th, 2011 by Mariann Martin in News

America Gruner, center, interprets and emcees a candidates forum in Dalton, Ga., on Wednesday featuring candidates Mayor David Pennington. left, and Joel Goldberg. The forum was sponsored by the Coalition of Latino Leaders, of which Gruner is president.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

Joel Goldberg, right, mayoral candidate, talks with Dora Price, left, and Jorge Araya before the Candidates Forum in Dalton Wednesday. The forum was sponsored by The Coalition of Latino Leaders, CLILA, a local grassroots organization.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

Dozens of Latino residents attend a Candidates Forum in Dalton Wednesday featuring Mayoral Candidates David Pennington and Joel Goldberg. The forum was sponsored by The Coalition of Latino Leaders, CLILA, a local grassroots organization.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

DALTON, Ga. -- Dalton welcomes Hispanic newcomers and wants to make the city a great place for all its residents to live, both candidates for mayor told a group of mostly Hispanics on Wednesday night.

"You are not a minority, you are half the city," Dalton Mayor David Pennington said. "I have worked to help every area of Dalton, not just one, the west or north or south side."

His opponent, Joel Goldberg, said he would like to see Hispanics serving on the city council and as mayor.

"We need a government that represents all the people, not just a portion of the people," he said.

About 100 people attended the debate between Pennington, who is running for a second term, and Goldberg, a political newcomer. The event was hosted by the Coalition of Latino Leaders, a local nonprofit organization.

Dalton has a Hispanic population of about 48 percent, but has never had an elected Hispanic official, and few Hispanics serve on city boards. The Hispanic community also has a low voter participation, compared to the other groups in the city.

The Latino coalition has worked to get more of the community involved and helped more than 100 people register to vote in the last few weeks, leader America Gruner said.

During Wednesday's debate, the two men spoke briefly before taking questions from the audience during an almost two-hour meeting. On many subjects the two men agreed -- Dalton needs more jobs, more retail stores, an educated workforce, green spaces and an atmosphere that attracts young people.

But the two men differ on taxes. Pennington said his goal is to eliminate property taxes for the city. He also opposes a 1 percent sales tax increase, a referendum that is on the ballot in the November election.

The mayor said a lower sales tax would bring more retail stores to the area, a short-term way to quickly bring in jobs until the community is able to attract manufacturing jobs.

Goldberg warned he does not support cutting property taxes at the expense of services. He said he supports the 1 percent sales tax increase and believes most of the projects it would pay for are needed.

"I don't like everything on the list, but I think the positive outweighs the negative," he said.

When asked about public transportation, Goldberg said he would turn to experts to see if it would be possible to provide a transportation system. He would try to combine school transportation with public transportation, he said.

Pennington said he did not believe a public transportation system was feasible for a city the size of Dalton. To pay for the system, tickets would have to be so high that no one could afford them, he said.

The two men also were asked about police roadblocks. Earlier this year, some residents said they felt Hispanics were targeted in the roadblocks after several were arrested and then detained for not having documents to be in the country.

Pennington said the roadblocks were for public safety, and there was no indication police targeted Hispanics. Goldberg said information he was given indicated the same thing.