RIVIERA BEACH, Fla. The mayor’s race in Riviera Beach is heating up as all but one of the candidates came out and pulled out all the stops in the first Mayoral Debate which took place last week at City Hall Chambers. The four who took part in the two-hour debate were: John Lee Williams, former Riviera Beach Director of Parks and Recreation; Cedrick A. Thomas, former Riviera Beach councilman and former city police officer; Ronnie Felder, CEO of JAY Ministries and Pastor of Transformation Church in Riviera Beach; and incumbent, Mayor Bishop Thomas Masters, who has been elected five times. Candidate Arthur Morrison did not choose to participate in the debate.

The debate was contentious as the word embarrassment was hurled at the incumbent mayor numerous times. He retorted that he couldn’t obviously be considered much of an embarrassment because the citizens keep putting him back in office. He’s been in office for 11 years and is known for working on behalf of the “regular” folks who need an advocate speaking on their behalf. He is also known for his frequent job fairs for ex-offenders.

“The role of the mayor is to be the people’s mayor,” said Masters when all candidates were asked their thoughts on the role of a mayor. “In my past five terms you have seen the role of the mayor in action.” Felder pointed out that a mayor must be a bridge-builder. “We (the city) don’t have a good relationship with businesses. I want to be a bridge builder,” Felder told the packed chambers. “I see the role of the mayor as leadership,” said Cedrick Thomas, who has experience on the dais. “The platform of advocacy is the strongest. We can make this thing better,” he said. “The role of the mayor is not an embarrassment –not having others look down upon us,” said John Williams, who retired from a leadership role with the city for 28 years. “We are at an embarrassment position,” Williams stated.

When asked if they preferred to have a strong mayor instead of a ceremonial mayor, which the city currently has, all of the candidates except Cedrick Thomas said it’s not the time for a strong mayor. “Absolutely! We need a strong mayor!” said Thomas.

When asked about the city’s image and how they would address the constant negative news that continuously plagues the predominantly black city, answers got contentious.

Felder brought up Jonathan Evans the former city manager whose ouster by the council caused a huge uproar in the city. The ouster dogged the news cycle for over a year.

“Jonathan Evans brought integrity and accountability to the city and they got rid of him. We can’t keep recycling this council. Sometimes you have to let old things go!” said Felder.
“Changing the image starts with the mayor,” said Williams. “Every election he (the incumbent mayor) takes a divisive position. Nothing gets done. I don’t want to be a divisive mayor. It’s time out for the embarrassment,” Williams said.

Thomas said the city will always be in the news. “The news is here to stay. They’re not going anywhere.”

A young audience member asked about crime and guns, which also plagues the city. Felder said the council and mayor must be proactive.

“It’s a real issue, not just here but everywhere. We need community policing. We also have to change our narrative that you will no longer get away with crime in this city,” he stated. Masters stated the need for medal detectors and parental involvement.

“Parents need to look around. There are signs. It takes a holistic approach.” Cedrick Thomas, a former officer said the police force is up to par.

“We have one of the best police departments. I promise I will reach out to the young people and bring them to the table on the issue.”

John Williams stated crime is uni”Guns are universal,” he stated. “There’s no quick fix, but I’m willing to sit down once a month and seek solutions,” he said.

The debate was organized by Brother Carl Muhammad and Claudius Nalls, with Nalls serving as host. Co-hosts were Daphne Taylor, author of this story and local attorney, Byrnes Guillaume.