TURLOCK -- City Council hopefuls needled each other over big-dollar campaign contributors and the deadlock over a solution to house the homeless this winter, getting in their final word at the last debate for the candidates Thursday at California State University, Stanislaus.
David Fransen threw the first punch.
"The problem with special interests in Turlock ... there gets to be a point where it crosses the line to be unethical," he said.
Would your voice get the same consideration as someone who gave, say, $10,000? he asked the audience. (Candidates Kurt Vander Weide and Amy Bublak both accepted $10,000 donations from a company that owns Monte Vista Crossings shopping center property).
"I'm going to have to say, probably not," Fransen said.
Vander Weide, who is vice mayor, said he was proud of the support from "significant contributors."
"If anyone thinks that I am going to make decisions based on the dollars placed before me, they are seriously wrong," he said.
Bublak did not attend the debate.
The candidates, who are running for two seats, deflected questions aimed at their perceived weaknesses by voters:
Does 32-year-old city maintenance man and Webmaster Fransen have enough experience to serve on the City Council?
Does Mary Jackson's campaign focus on more than arts and recreation?
Does Vander Weide, who frequently votes in a bloc with conservative councilmembers Ted Howze and Kurt Spycher, have a unique voice?
And the granddaddy of them all, to Jim Sarnowsky, whose Web site details his 20 years as an alcoholic, 15 years as a drug addict, jail time for attempted murder and stints in state mental hospitals: "How will those experiences make you an effective council member?"
"I learned not what to do," Sarnowsky deadpanned, prompting laughter from the 200 audience members, mostly students.
Candidates also responded to a score card on 10 issues that came before the city, from selling the warehouse that housed the city's cold weather homeless shelter to reinstating arts funding for city programs.
Jackson, Fransen and Sarnowsky favored keeping the 400 B St. warehouse, saying it was a bad move to sell it during a depressed real estate market, leaving no backup plan for a shelter. Vander Weide stuck by his vote to seek buyers for the shelter.
Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2337.