SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Six candidates remain in the race for the Mayor of Hilton Head Island. The second public forum was held Thursday night for those candidates to answer up to 52 questions composed by the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce.
Current Mayor, David Bennett, announced he would not seek re-election on the day of filing. The 7th candidate, Sandon Preston, withdrew his nomination due to “work-related time constraints” last Friday.
Self-proclaimed Holocaust revisionist, Michael Santomauro, was the first candidate to answer the series of questions within a 10-minute time frame. Santomauro paused to address a note slipped to him while entering the meeting.
“I am not anything that’s derogatory about me because I care about people," shouted Santomauro. "The fact that I advocate for the Palestinians not to be ethnically cleansed - how does that make me a fascist?”
Santomauro was quieted by forum leader Hannah Horne, Vice President of Public Policy and Programs for the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce, and asked to stay on topic.
Highlights from the forum include:
♦ Santomauro felt the island did not need to grow in population, rather maintain the status of the population. He also felt unoccupied commercial space should be developed and re-purposed as art galleries. Santomauro claims he does not want to increase lighting throughout the island on streets or bike paths. He feels the increased light would be detrimental to the ecosystem, especially the island’s wildlife.
♦ Town council member Kim Likins spoke to the importance of preserving the Gullah communities and their land. Likins also addressed the need for workforce housing, but more importantly public transportation for those that need to commute to the island for work. The council member feels the town also needs a working relationship with Beaufort County.
♦ Longtime islander Alan Perry began his time on the stand exclaiming, “this is the best day of my life.” Perry pushed for ecotourism in the community and sports tourism in the off-season. He also advocated for a town recycling program, saying everyone would need to be on board for the program to work. Finally, he says things like shaving down glass panels to make sand for dune restoration are among many of the conservation efforts in which the island can invest.
♦ Rochelle Williams, a native to the island, expressed her desire to bring younger people to the area and develop the north end of the island. Williams believes the north end is unfairly zoned and unequally attended to. Finally, the native said abandoned buildings should be utilized for workforce housing.
♦ Town council member John McCann spoke to transparency saying, “I think everybody should be 100 percent transparent, including the Chamber.” McCann says he brings quite a lot of business experience to the position, and feels development in healthcare on the island is critical. He also says every change should be added to a comprehensive plan, including improvements to parks and traffic studies.
♦ Real estate agent Barry Ginn shared a story of a bicyclist that was killed on the Island Expressway. Ginn pushed for safety improvements, but pushed against commercial development in the area. He says a traffic engineer needs to evaluate the island before any more timeshares are put in place.
The final mayoral public forum will be held October 29th at 5:30pm.