It became a common theme in Harlem on Thursday night: Beat up on Columbia County for often leaving the city out of county project lists and budgets.
State representative candidate Terry Holley: "There are certain parts of this county entitled to benefits Harlem is not."
State senatorial candidate Anna Marie Hargis: "What has the county done for us? You've got to go to the other side of the county to see all the money being spent."
Harlem City Council candidate Rudolph Dixon: "This side of the county has been a stepchild. We've gotten very little help from Columbia County."
Candidates for the Georgia Senate, Georgia House of Representatives, mayor of Harlem and the Harlem City Council gathered at the HarlemWoman's Club public forum Thursday night, each telling voters why they were the best choice.
For former Columbia County Board of Commissioners Chairman Barry Fleming, the forum was a chance to do something he hasn't done a lot on the campaign trail: make a promise.
"I will promise you one thing: I'll never do anything that betrays the trust you place in me and I'll never do anything to embarrass this community," he said.
He said he'd like to change the rules for some government grants so Harlem can apply based on the city's demographics, not Columbia County's.
"Columbia County has such a high median income Harlem can't qualify for the grants," he said.
Fleming is facing Democrat Terry Holley, who talked about growing up in Harlem and focused on Harlem's standing in the county.
"We just want Columbia County to remember Columbia County as a whole does not stop at the interstate," he said.
Holley chastised local Republican legislators for not bringing more state money to Columbia County. He also offered a reason, courtesy of Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, who recently spoke at the county Democratic Party headquarter's grand opening.
"Columbia County doesn't get because Columbia County doesn't ask," Holley quoted Taylor as saying.
State Sen. Joey Brush - who faces Democrat Anna Marie Hargis on Nov. 5 - said the county does ask and he's often told the county has enough money, and it doesn't need state funds. He also had a message for Taylor.
"If the lieutenant governor said that, the big guy just went to the big lie," he said, panning Taylor's re-election commercials.
Brush told the audience about his experience in the state Senate and how it is time for a change in the state's governing party.
"The Democrats have been in charge for 130 years," he said. "Their ideas have run us in the ground for the most part."
Hargis said the problem in Atlanta is representatives and senators who represent political action committees, companies and lobbyists - not the people who elected them.
"You don't have to wine and dine me," she said.
She also promised to cut frivolous spending in the state, starting with $105,000 for the Senate photographer. Plus, she's got a plan to clean up corruption and waste, and it starts with building a prison.
"We'll put the politicians and the lawyers and the judges in it," she said.
But the speeches weren't limited to candidates for state office. Harlem Mayor John Bentley said the past 22 months have been tough, but he has made positive strides as mayor. He listed the city's accomplishments, ranging from extending the terms of the mayor and city council members from two to four years to implementing a meals on wheels program.
"We were able to do all this during a learning phase," he said. "I can only imagine what we'll accomplish in four years with experience behind us."
Now it's time to focus on things like finishing repairs to the city's sewer system among other improvements, he said.
"We have to ensure the integrity and appeal of this community," he said.
His opponent, former city councilman Scott Dean, said the city must be operated by the city council as a team and communication between team members is imperative.
"If the mayor won't listen to council, he shuts his ears to part of the city," he said. "The role of the mayor is to change 'me' into 'us' and 'I' into 'we,' thus bringing us all together."
Dean said it is time for the city to revitalize its once-thriving downtown area by starting a business owners association.
"We need to get people to stop and shop," he said.
There also are two seats up for grabs on the city council and three people running - current city councilman Rudolph Dixon, former city councilman C.D. Morris and resident John Thigpen.
Dixon said his experience should return him to the council.
"I will serve with honesty," he said. "I will serve with integrity. I will serve with ethics."
Morris, who pointed to his work on getting the state Department of Transportation to make Harlem-Grovetown Road safer, said he would keep a tight reign on the city budget.
"If you've got a dollar going out, you better have a dollar's worth coming back in," he said, echoing a comment earlier in the night from Dixon.
Thigpen said he's ready to take his public service to the next level. A firefighter and EMT in McDuffie County, he's served on several committees in Harlem.
"I'm for sensible, controlled growth," he said. "I want to promote an environment of openness and integrity."
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