Wed. Sep 27th, 2023

Action News 5 hosts Memphis Mayoral Candidate Forum

By Lydian Kennin

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) – A mayoral forum hosted by Action News 5, the Commercial Appeal, and the League of Women Voters of Memphis-Shelby County took place Thursday at the University of Memphis’s Rose Theatre located at 470 University.

The six participating candidates included:

  • Floyd Bonner
  • Karen Camper
  • J.W. Gibson
  • Michelle McKissack
  • Van Turner
  • Paul Young

The candidates answered questions about the future of the Bluff City submitted by Action News 5 viewers. Early voting begins Friday.

Question 1: The DOJ has launched a pattern-or-practice investigation into the Memphis Police Department. As mayor, how would you work with the DOJ to ensure MPD is following the process and how will you respond once the DOJ provides its recommendations?

Floyd Bonner responded by emphasizing the need to know what’s going on in your agency and said he hopes to better MPD.

Karen Camper said she welcomes the investigation and hopes to work with the Department.

J.W. Gibson said total transparency is vital under his leadership.

Michelle McKissack also said transparency is the first thing that comes to mind and said she plans to hire a “Crime Zar” to work with agencies and apply changes in real-time before the investigation is complete.

Van Turner cited the 52 deaths at 201 Poplar and said he opts for a top-down reform to prevent incidents like Tyre Nichols’ death in the future.

Paul Young said he welcomes the investigation and cited the importance of rebuilding trust within the community.

Question 2: BlueOval City is expected to create 20,000 jobs in Haywood County, less than an hour away from our city. What practical, specific ways will you get Memphians to Haywood County to get those jobs?

Karen Camper said she’s passionate about what BOC will do for Memphis. She said she wants to invest in new forms of infrastructure like light rail and shuttle stations to get employees to and from work.

J.W. Gibson also expressed the importance of BOC and said he wants to invest in MATA to help transport employees.

Michelle McKissack, a member of the MATA Transit Board, said she’s opting for a shuttle service or regional transit system that extends beyond Memphis.

Van Turner said public transportation is “the No. 1 issue” and stressed the importance of building a plan to get employees to and from work. He pitched the idea of light rail and stressed the importance of BOC helping to build wealth in low-income communities.

Paul Young said he hopes Memphis will become a hub for electric vehicles. He pitched the idea of a shuttle service and added that he hopes to see more facilities like BOC in more areas in and around Memphis.

Floyd Bonner said he believes the shuttle bus service is the answer, but said he knows the state is already working to provide accessibility to those getting to and from work at BOC, citing his excitement to see those additions that are presently in the works.

Question 3: Memphis is a rapidly diversifying city. At Cordova High School, the student body represents 37 different countries. How will you make city resources accessible to immigrants?

J.W. Gibson cited his personal connection to this question through his twin daughter’s school, Lausanne High, with 61 countries represented in its school body. He said he hopes to expand the City of Memphis’ Multicultural Department and pitched working with non-profits to help immigrants’ voices be heard.

Michelle McKissack, an MSCS school board member, said she hopes to see the City of Memphis reconnect with the school district and wants to see the relationship between the two improve in order to make a positive impact on immigrants.

Van Turner, a county commissioner, said he presently fights to make Memphis a “sanctuary city,” but as mayor, he would hire from the immigrant community to make sure the city’s services are extended to them. He also suggested partnering with non-profits like Latino Memphis and investing in resources for the immigrant community.

Paul Young said he wants translation services made available for those who speak different languages and provide a way to allow immigrants to call in crimes without fear. He said he also supports an Office of Multicultural Affairs and fair housing enforcement.

Floyd Bonner said he wants to engage with immigrants at an early age with a hand extended in friendship to help with the language barriers he says immigrant children must overcome.

Karen Camper cited the economic impact of the immigrant community and said the city needs to reflect that appreciation. She said she would do this by inviting immigrants to work within her administration.


Which candidate on the stage with you would you consider appointing to your staff?

Floyd Bonner said Karen Camper

Karen Camper said Paul Young

J.W. Gibson said Michelle McKissack

Michelle McKissack said Karen Camper

Van Turner said Michelle McKissack

Paul Young said Karen Camper

Which neighborhood in Memphis do you think needs the most investment or focus?

Paul Young said North Memphis

Van Turner said Box Town

Michelle McKissack said Westwood

J.W. Gibson said South Memphis

Karen Camper said South Memphis

Floyd Bonner said Orange Mound

Question 4: The elephant who is not in the room is Willie Herenton, who declined our invitation to be here tonight and who has won this race five times. Herenton is widely considered to be a front runner in this race but has yet to appear for any mayoral debate. What is your greatest concern if he wins a sixth term?

Michelle McKissack said her greatest concern is that Herenton is “incredibly out of touch” and not answering to his city’s questions. She said she’s troubled by his inability to step forward.

Van Turner said Herenton is a part of the “Moses generation” and cited his respect for him, but said, “it’s time for the Joshua generation to move forward” and time to pass the baton.

Paul Young said he remembers Herenton being elected when he was 12 and has great respect for him, but said he also thinks it’s time to turn the page.

Floyd Bonner said so much has changed since Herenton was mayor, and not being in office for 15 years is cause for concern in his mind, citing how important it is to be up to speed in order to tackle the city’s ever-changing crime problem.

Karen Camper said she also remembers Herneton being elected and making history in Memphis, but she said she is concerned about him being mayor since he hasn’t invested in his community. She said he was in a position to empower more but didn’t, and that bothers her.

J.W. Gibson said the focus needs to be on moving the city forward and not living in the past in order to make Memphis better.

Question 5: This is a question from a downtown resident. What is your strategy for taking full advantage of our position as the largest Black-majority city in the U.S.?

Van Turner said Memphis has Atlanta’s potential as a “Black Mecca” and that the city needs to invest in Black businesses and address poverty to build the city up.

Paul Young said his goal is to make sure the title of Memphis being the largest Black city in America is seen as a positive. He said diversity is Memphis’ superpower, and he wants to see Black wealth grow and lean into the city’s creative culture.

Floyd Bonner said he wants to see the growth of Black businesses in Memphis but that this vision needs to be shared in order to make Memphis an example of the South.

Karen Camper pledged to sign contracts like that of Blue Oval City to move the city forward. She said collaboration is key to building Black wealth, and stressed the importance of managing retirement funds for these businesses so that wealth can be passed down generationally.

J.W. Gibson, a businessman himself, said he hopes to be a model for Black constituents and give Black business owners hope and support to build them up.

Michelle McKissack said poverty needs to be addressed to help Black Memphians, especially young adults. She also pitched working with the city’s two Black business associations to help businesses grow.

Question 6: As of September 7, 2023; 8,787 cars have been stolen in Memphis, according to MPD. Just last week there was a shooting inside FedExForum. Violent crimes like these are top issues for Memphis. As mayor, how would you address those issues?

Paul Young said holding repeat offenders accountable is key. At the same time, he said the city needs to provide opportunities for the young people who are headed down the wrong path and work with existing programs that already do this.

Floyd Bonner vouched for tougher sentencing laws, more officers on the streets, and newer policing technology like AI.

Karen Camper said the city needs to come up with a long-term strategic plan to address crime at its source because the current strategies are not working. She pitched working with law enforcement agencies to move the needle and investing in a vocational space where youth can gather, get creative, and learn valuable skills.

J.W. Gibson says he also wants to stop the revolving door through tougher sentencing laws and working with law enforcement to crack down on crime and take back Memphis’ streets.

Michelle McKissack said the city needs to be smart on crime as well as tough on crime, which includes lowering the reoffender rate. She believes crime prevention can be achieved through investing more in young people.

Van Turner said the focus needs to be prevention and intervention, adding that the city needs to be tough on those who decide to repeatedly not do the right thing. He also shared his support for witness prevention programs and getting firearms off the street.


12 days ago, Tom Lee Park reopened after an extensive renovation. Rise your hand if you’ve been there since the reopening.

All six candidates raised their hands.

We’re a city of shift workers. Would you support MATA offering 24-hour service? Raise your hand if yes.

All six candidates raised their hands.

Will you enforce the youth curfew?

All six candidates raised their hands.

Should the Mid-South Coliseum be reopened?

Only J.W. Gibson and Michelle McKissack raised their hands.

Do you support prioritizing the renovation of Mud Island. Raise your hand if yes.

All candidates raised their hands except Paul Young.

This next question comes from a Cooper-Young resident. State officials have been exploring the expansion of Amtrak service in Tennessee. Would your administration work with officials in Nashville to ensure expanded service for Memphis?

All six candidates raised their hands.

Question 7: Residents live in constant fear of being without electricity any time there’s bad weather. Home medical devices can’t run, food goes bad, and residents sit in sweltering heat or freezing cold. How would you tackle longstanding issues with MLGW in order to increase the reliability of our electrical system?

Floyd Bonner said none of these outages should have happened, citing tree-trimming work that’s been delayed on top of the wealth of MLGW as a whole. He said he wants to take a closer look at the people in power at the utility and they need to be held accountable.

Karen Camper pitched a full internal review of MLGW and wants to discuss introducing renewable energy to the utility infrastructure such as solar.

J.W. Gibson said MLGW’s grid needs a modern overhaul to go alongside the tree trimming and pole replacement.

Michelle McKissack said MLGW needs more oversight, pointing to the fact that the utility refused federal and state funding, and that’s not something she believes is effective.

Van Turner agreed that correct leadership needs to be in place at MLGW and pitched a “top-down assessment.” He added that the grid’s infrastructure needs upgrades so that the city can be prepared for severe weather, and suggested an alternative energy supply for when power does fail. He finally pledged to create community spaces to offer relief for those without power.

Paul Young vouched for MLGW’s five-year plan but said he believes it’ll take time to see that progress. He said he also supports a smart grid system for faster power restoration during outages.

Question 8: What in your experience prepares you to address juvenile crime as mayor?

Karen Camper cited her time in the military, working with young people ready to serve the country. She also noted experience participating in an annual “Day on the Hill” event, a non-profit she created to help disadvantaged young people, and working as a substitute teacher.

J.W. Gibson noted his upbringing, again presenting himself as an example to young people, and prior work with non-profits.

Michelle McKissack said she’s been advocating for young people over the past 20 years, and noted her work with the Hope Academy and helping incarcerated juveniles. She says investing in young people is investing in crime prevention.

Van Turner said he wants to sit down with the Juvenile Court judge and MSCS superintendent to get down to the root of what is causing youth violence in the community. He reiterated a need for intervention and said the city needs to add funding to its schools and add mentorship programs to lift their students up.

Paul Young said his experience as a young Black man in the community lends to his vision. He said he’s also a parent and was once a counselor and wants to see his children raise their families in Memphis.

Floyd Bonner, the current Shelby County Sheriff, cited his 42 years of law enforcement experience as well as his parenting experience.

Question 9: If elected mayor, how would you prioritize the $350 million in state funding considering the needs of both the University of Memphis and the Grizzlies?

J.W. Gibson admitted he doesn’t know the ins and outs of that arrangement, but said he thinks that’s the baseline, and there’s an opportunity to also improve the FedExForum, AutoZone Park, and Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium as well. He said he doesn’t think sports needs to be the priority right now.

Michelle McKissack said she wants to find out how these funds can benefit all of Memphis and suggested exploring the possibility of that money building Orange Mound up through saving the Mid-South Coliseum.

Van Turner said he would put a city attorney in place to help figure out a plan to distribute the funds to all the proposed projects, because he believes $350 million isn’t enough to make it all happen. He says he wants to negotiate on behalf of Memphis and build several communities up in the process.

Paul Young says he wants to bring important stakeholders to the table for these projects to figure out what other sources of funding can be used to make these “game-changers” happen.

Floyd Bonner said Memphis ought to take advantage of this funding like Nashville has in recent history.

Karen Camper said she wants to upgrade the Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium and AutoZone Park. She also wants to ensure the Grizzlies stay in Memphis and believes the city needs a soccer stadium.

Question 10: What do you see as top healthcare issues for Memphis residents and how do you think the city should address those?

Michelle McKissack cited Healthy 901, launched by Methodist Healthcare, and said the community needs the kind of nutrition education that it offers, which can be achieved through partnering with the medical community. She added that she supports finding ways to get people more active.

Van Turner said he also wants to make sure “Memphis is moving” and wants to explore transit alternatives in a city where car commutes are presently the norm. He also wants to tackle food deserts and invest in new health services at the city’s existing community centers.

Paul Young said the city needs to invest in programs that improve air quality in homes. He said he wants to see lower asthma rates and fewer cases of lead poisoning by improving neighborhood infrastructure.

Floyd Bonner emphasized the importance of providing quality food in Memphis’ food deserts. He said the city can work with non-profits to make this happen and build up parks and recreational spaces for outdoor activity.

Karen Camper said accessibility to health care is key. She added that she wants to invest in community gardens and get people outdoors, citing her previously mentioned idea for a vocational space.

J.W. Gibson said he wants to address food deserts and poverty issues simultaneously. He mentioned a development program he founded in South Memphis to address those two issues exactly.

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