DALTON, Ga. -- The two candidates in the Dalton mayoral race defined how they differ on taxes and business development, trading several jabs during a 90-minute debate Monday evening.
Nearly 200 people crowded into City Hall to listen, lining the walls after the seats filled. More watched the live stream online.
David Pennington, who is running for his second term against political newcomer Joel Goldberg, touted his record on cutting taxes and spending, renovating downtown and building a new community center.
"Elections have consequences; I first ran for mayor because I knew I would have a voice," Pennington said.
Goldberg said he would focus on bringing jobs to a city where the unemployment rate hovers above state and national averages, and two carpet mills announced plant closings in recent weeks.
"Our No. 1 issue is economic development; we have to be on the same page," Goldberg said. "I may not be successful, but it won't be for lack of trying."
While the mayor's race took off slowly after the men filed to run, it has heated up in recent weeks. Signs supporting both candidates have sprouted across the city, and many in the audience sported labels with their candidate preference.
During the debate, the two took prepared questions, some that had been submitted online and a few from the debate audience.
They quickly differed on how to best grow the local economy. Goldberg said he favors tax incentives and working with the Chamber of Commerce and other local agencies to attract diverse industries.
"I'm more of a consensus kind of guy," he said. "I think we need to throw everything at it, including the kitchen sink."
Pennington said he opposed tax incentives, calling them "capital cronyism." Low taxes, cheap utilities and low energy taxes offer the best way to attract and grow industry, he said.
When Pennington touted his tax cuts and his goal to eliminate all city property taxes, Goldberg said he believes cutting taxes could be taken too far.
He cited eliminating numerous positions from the building inspectors' office as one example, saying code enforcement had become lax.
Pennington countered the positions had been eliminated because building almost had halted in recent years.
"I'm sure there are plenty of people to do code enforcement if they want to," Pennington said.
The two also grew testy when Goldberg said Pennington had been quoted as supporting a merger of Whitfield County and Dalton governments. Goldberg pulled out newspaper articles to prove his point, but after a few exchanges, the argument was halted by the moderator.
Goldberg said he opposed the merger now, but said it may be a possibility in the future.
Pennington said he supports studying the option but is reserving judgment until the study is complete.
Cindy McKinney said she waited to decide for whom to vote until she could see both men in the debate. She said she supports Pennington because of the improvements she's seen in the last three years.
"He's done more than any mayor we've had," she said.
Jack Davis, a Dalton Realtor, said he leans toward supporting Goldberg. He liked what he saw in the debate and liked that Goldberg was an accountant, Davis said.
"He a fresh young face, and he's a numbers guy," Davis said.
Contact staff writer Mariann Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 706-980-5824.