What started out to be a forum for three Helena-West Helena mayoral candidates to debate the issues at the Malco Theatre Thursday night quickly turned into a public relations fiasco by Thursday morning. By Thursday evening, two of those seeking the city’s highest office had withdrawn from the debate.

 

What started out to be a forum for three Helena-West Helena mayoral candidates to debate the issues at the Malco Theatre Thursday night quickly turned into a public relations fiasco by Thursday morning. By Thursday evening, two of those seeking the city’s highest office had withdrawn from the debate.
The Daily World received a letter from challenger Arnell Willis, stating in essence that he declined to debate under the terms set by Elijah Mondy Jr., owner and operator of Radio Station KJIW. According to Willis’ letter, he declined the invitation to debate incumbent Mayor James Valley and Alderman Bruce Hudson at Mondy’s radio station with Mondy as moderator.
“As indicated, those conditions and others were not acceptable to me,” stated Willis in his letter addressed to Mondy.
Willis went onto say that he learned about the debate scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Malco from community supporters, who claimed they got their information by e-mail from the mayor.
“Mr. Mondy, it is most regrettable that the citizens of this community have been invited to an event so important to its future without agreement and input in the planning process from each Helena-West Helena mayor candidate…” Willis stated in the later.
Willis cited as reasons for his withdrawal from the debate, “lack of proper notice and previously planned commitments.”
Valley reportedly received the same correspondence from Willis and wasted little time in responding. According to Valley, Mondy contacted the mayor about the debate and informed him that both Willis and Hudson agreed to participate in it. Valley said he proceeded to publicize the event.
In a return letter to Valley, the mayor indicated that he felt Willis was attempting to discredit Mondy.
“Elijah is an honorable man. He believes in doing what is right. He and his radio station have hosted debates over the years on community issues,” Valley said in his rebuttal letter.
Valley reported that Mondy delivered him the terms of the debate on Wednesday – “No personal attacks” and “no profanity.”
In his letter, Valley also asked Willis to “tone down the highly inflammatory personal attacks that you and your campaign are hurling at me. Too many innocent people are being brought into a public discussion about the future of our community.”
Valley referred to a flyer he claimed was handed out Tuesday night and asked for a public apology for the allegations made in that flyer.
Willis denied having anything to do with the flyer.
“I have never attacked you or Mr. Mondy and I will never do so, privately or publicly,” stated Willis in his response letter. “I have nothing but the utmost respect for Mr. Mondy and I would never do anything to discredit him or his family.”
Willis said he still welcomes a debate under the following conditions:
•It must be held at a neutral site such as the college or the Malco
•Hudson must be included in the debate
•There must neutral moderators; and
•Candidates would answer questions from the audience.
“These terms and conditions were never met,” concluded Willis.
Mondy denied receiving a letter from Willis.
In his response Mondy said, “Arnell and I did have an agreement. I was going to do the debate at the studio like we did when he ran for the state Senate. He suggested the college and even offered to pay for it if necessary…I said okay and mentioned the Malco… He told me that would be better. Arnell suggested recording and delaying the broadcast.”
Mondy stated that Willis withdrew from the debate when he found out that Hudson would not participate.