San Luis Obispo mayoral candidates Heidi Harmon, Cherisse Sweeney, and Sandra Marshall-Eminger discussed COVID-19, recent protests and arrests, and other local issues during an Oct. 27 election forum
hosted by Cal Poly’s Mustang News
Answering questions posed by student reporters Lauren Koziki and Garret Brown, the three candidates agreed on many issues but contrasted on COVID-19 policies, their stances on local protests and police reform, and approaches to homelessness.
SCREENSHOT TAKEN FROM MUSTANG NEWS MAYORAL DEBATE
DEBATE SLO mayoral candidate Sandra Marshall-Eminger speaks during an Oct. 27 virtual election forum hosted by Mustang News.
Harmon, the two-term incumbent, expressed concern about local law enforcement and its tactics used during recent Black Lives Matters protests, including its deployment of tear gas and the arrest of protester Tianna Arata.
Harmon said that she would make antiracism a top priority going forward and admitted a past failure on the issue.
“I’ve known Tianna for three or four years. I met her at a protest three years ago,” Harmon said. “There wasn’t the momentum [then]. … I feel I’m part of the problem. I dropped the ball when I had the opportunity. I’m never going to drop the ball again. I’m committed to bringing this issue forward.”
Harmon expressed her support for reallocating funds from the SLO Police Department to bolster social services and “reimagine” public safety. Marshall-Eminger, a longtime local activist, added that, “I think sometimes the police feel more powerful than they should” and said she supported more “training and peaceful ways of communicating with the public” for the police. Sweeney, a downtown business owner, cautioned against “defunding” the police, but said “we absolutely need more social workers on our police force.”
Marshall-Eminger was the strongest critic of the city in terms of its protection of public health and safety during COVID-19. She recounted a recent experience going downtown on a weekend night. She said she saw far too little social distancing and no enforcement.
“It’s a lot of fun but it’s crowded and people are very close together,” Marshall-Eminger said. “I would suggest we’d find a community group or actually have officers. … We need to have these rules enforced.”
Throughout the forum, Sweeney emphasized the importance of “healthy communication.” Sweeney said it’s a virtue that’s been lacking from the city during the COVID-19 crisis, placing a particular burden on local businesses facing shutdowns and closures.
“At a time when we needed the support and resources most, it was really hard and challenging to find them,” Sweeney, who owns Basalt Interiors, said.
Sweeney also put forward a slightly different approach to homelessness. When Harmon proposed using sales tax funds generated by Measure G—a sales tax measure on the Nov. 3 ballot—to hire a new staff member focused on homeless prevention, Sweeney countered that the issue called for a bigger dialogue.
“It’s going to take more than one additional staff member,” Sweeney said. “We need a dedicated task force.” ∆