A multi-neighborhood candidates forum tentatively scheduled for Monday may have created a debate of its own.
Moe Baddourah, the front-runner in Columbia City Council’s District 3 runoff, got caught in a dust-up Friday with Sustainable Midlands, which was trying to organize the forum on behalf of several participating neighborhood associations. Baddourah turned down the invitation to the forum, citing a scheduling conflict.
But Ryan Nevius, executive director for the nonprofit, also said Baddourah told her he “did not have time for a debate” before the April 17 runoff election.
Contacted Friday, Baddourah told a reporter he declined the invitation because he had an afternoon fundraiser and had committed to another, later-in-the-day forum being hosted by the Melrose Neighborhood Association, at 7 p.m. Monday at Melrose Park, leaving him little time that day to knock on doors.
“Monday is the first day when people come back from vacation, so that first day is when I can make a connection with people.”
Baddourah said Sustainable Midlands had already hosted one forum and that he thought it was time to do something on the other side of town, in the Garners Ferry Road area, or in a “neutral location.”
“It’s my responsibility to make sure everyone’s voice is heard,” he said.
Baddourah also said two debates held before the Tuesday vote were hosted by Daniel Coble supporters, so it makes sense to hold a forum somewhere else. Sustainable Midlands and Shandon Neighborhood Association are Coble supporters, he said.
Baddourah went on to say he thought “someone” from Sustainable Midlands or the Shandon Neighborhood Association provided questions to Coble ahead of at least one forum earlier in the race.
“I’m suggesting that,” he said. “Do I have proof of that? No.”
Nevius said her organization’s forum, held at 701 Whaley, was hosted by multiple groups and that the moderator was the League of Women Voters.
“I can absolutely say no one discussed or gave those questions to Daniel Coble,” Nevius said. “I find it sad that someone would think that the neighborhood associations were working in a devious manner.”
Coble, when asked by a reporter if he had received the questions in advance, said he found the allegation “absurd.”
“It’s an insult to me, and it’s an insult to the neighborhood leaders,” he said.
Some of the questions at the 701 Whaley forum were submitted in advance by various people. Neighborhood groups also were allowed to ask questions.
Baddourah said that, after eight forums so far in the race, he would like to spend his time talking to people he hasn’t yet addressed.
In addition to the Melrose Neighborhood Association’s forum Monday, the candidates will meet again in a WIS televised forum to be taped Thursday and televised at 3 p.m. April 15.
Baddourah finished first on Tuesday in a three-person race, with 1,325 votes. Coble was second with 1,265 votes.
Reach Lucas at (803) 771-8657.