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Waynesville candidates make their cases

By Julia Merchant • Staff Writer

Over 50 people came out to hear Waynesville’s next mayor speak at the this election season’s first mayor’s forum, held by the recently formed chapter of the League of Women Voters.

The four candidates — Bernie Branhut, alderman Gavin Brown, Mayor Henry Foy, and Hugh Phillips — had one minute to answer written questions from the audience. Questions were submitted before the start of the forum and read by Kathleen Balogh, the League’s advisor.

The Sept. 27 forum was a chance for voters in Waynesville to see their candidates in action. For the candidates, it was the first time they were able to show their leadership styles and personalities to their future constituents.

Branhut, the first to speak, presented himself as casual — he apologized for not wearing a tie — and established himself as a champion for the younger generation.

“Too many years have passed by where the young person in this town has been disregarded,” he said. Branhut, though, didn’t always know how to answer some of the questions the audience posed. He wasn’t sure what the solution might be to affordable housing. He also wasn’t able to provide answers to some of the more technical questions, like what the town will do about water and sewer capacity.

Gavin Brown, who’s served on the town board for 8 years, spoke charismatically and attempted to woo voters with his list of qualifications and his mantra of a “stable and prosperous community” for Waynesville. Brown, an attorney, appeared well-versed in presenting his case in a concise, effective manner to an audience.

Mayor Henry Foy trumped his experience as a selling point.

“I’m bringing a different expertise than any of these fellas are bringing to the floor,” he said. A seasoned politician, Foy relayed his answers slowly and clearly.

Hugh Phillips readily admitted that he lacked the experience of the other candidates (though Branhut, too, has never served in an elected office), but said he is willing to learn. He seemed more informed on issues than he did a month ago in an interview with the Smoky Mountain News. He said he’s heard what’s on voters’ minds from customers at his Bi-Lo store, where he a manager, and that he’s ready to take action by running for office.

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