Sparks flew, and while no one got burned, the heat was felt Thursday when Paul Blackburn and Greg Colt appeared before Hood River Rotary.
Colt questioned Blackburn’s qualifications as mayor due to what he described as lack of business experience, and pointed to the city’s budget deficit that prevailed while Blackburn sat on Council in 2004-08.
Blackburn suggested a realtor serving as mayor would constitute a conflict of interest.
“If you haven’t owned your own business, you aren’t qualified to be mayor,” said Colt, a long-time realtor who owns Colt Listing Service, a sole proprietorship. “If you haven’t had to implement a sales blitz just to make that month’s rent, you’re not qualified to be mayor.”
“When a realtor makes money with transactions of real estate, he has a financial incentive when those changes happen and I don’t think that’s what we want,” Blackburn said.
Colt, on the other hand, stated, “I like our town just the way it is. I don’t want to see any more growth. We don’t have the room, school teachers can’t afford to live here. We have to solve those problems before we create more jobs.”
Said Blackburn, “The reality is the city has very limited tools to stop growth in the city limits, within the Urban Growth Boundary. If someone wants to build a zillion-dollar home, they get to, or to start a business, they get to. It is a great town. Let’s not go careening off one way or another.”
Blackburn also rejected Colt’s assertion that the council in 2004-08 failed to pursue an affordable housing project, citing million-dollar budget deficits and the decision not to take away open space.
“The tone of the council was ‘we don’t want to lose the park, and we don’t have the money; maybe someday we will have the money to use the space, but the open space is still there.’”
He advocates forgiving of system development charges, where possible, to help bring down the overall cost of housing, and said, “I look forward to working with the county on the piece of land they just picked up to continue to add to the inventory of homes that all of us can afford.”
Blackburn said another concern he has about Colt is that “a year ago we were in the midst of a recall of the mayor and my opponent was front and center in that effort.” Colt said he called upon the recall committee to disband when he decided to run for mayor.
One more point separated the two candidates: asked about the Sustainability coalition of three city council candidates (Becky Brun, Peter Cornelison and Tim Counihan), Blackburn said, “I’m not a huge fan of coalitions, but it has achieved their goal: they have separated themselves from the other candidates, and you know their names.”
Colt said, “I’m a little afraid if all three get on, they would establish a voting bloc and all they need is one more person to see their goals through, and that scares me.”