By Mac Cerullo
---- — AMESBURY — Residents eager to hear directly from the two candidates for mayor will finally get their chance. Mayor Thatcher Kezer and challenger Ken Gray will take the stage in tonight’s mayoral debate sponsored by The Daily News and the Amesbury Chamber of Commerce, in cooperation with Amesbury High School.
The much-anticipated debate is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. in the Amesbury High School auditorium, and residents who can’t make it will be able to watch it live on Amesbury Community Television channel 12. It will also be streamed live over the Internet at http://amesburyctv.org/, and through The Daily News website, newburyportnews.com.
Mike Pomp, who works as the news director at WTSN AM 1270 radio in New Hampshire and hosts its morning “Open Mic” talk show, will serve as moderator for the debate, and the candidates are expected to answer approximately a dozen questions, including many submitted by the public.
The debate is formatted so that for each question, a candidate will get to answer, and then the opponent will have a chance to respond, and then the original candidate will get to rebut. Then for the following question, the other candidate will go first, and so on.
Audience members can also submit questions of their own at the debate. Questions will be accepted up to the start of the debate, and will be reviewed by an onsite panel for fairness. Residents watching at home or online can submit questions over Twitter using the hashtag #amesburymayor. Those questions will also be reviewed for fairness.
Toward the end of the debate, the two candidates will also have a chance to ask each other two questions directly, and then debate each other’s responses.
The marks the first opportunity for voters to hear directly from each candidate ahead of the Nov. 5 election, and it will also offer the candidates a chance to lay out their goals, question their opponent and share their vision for Amesbury’s future.
Kezer has been in office since 2005 and is running for his fifth term as Amesbury mayor, while Gray is a newcomer to politics and has spent the majority of his professional career working as an engineer and executive in the technology sector.
The candidates have both made improving the city’s school system a top priority, but other than that they differ greatly on most pertinent issues. As far as taxes are concerned, Gray has said the city’s high tax rate is a problem that must be addressed, while Kezer has argued that the more important metric is the city’s average tax bill, which is approximately the same as the average for all of Essex County.
If elected, Gray has pledged to rein in Amesbury’s spending and try to slow the growth of Amesbury’s tax rate, if not reduce it outright. Kezer said he plans to continue focusing on growing the city’s commercial/industrial tax base through projects like the Lower Millyard revitalization effort, which is scheduled to begin later this fall.
Tonight’s debate is expected to be the only one held between the two mayoral candidates prior to Election Day, Nov. 5.