Council Opponents Face Off Tonight

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It all comes down to a final face-to-face encounter tonight and then a precious few days to the May 21 finish line.

After months on the campaign trail, a series of debates, and a primary election that left two races undecided, the four remaining candidates will square off at 7 p.m. Friday evening in the Payson High School auditorium. The debate, co-sponsored by the Payson Roundup and Library Friends, will be moderated by Roundup publisher Richard Haddad.

Mayoral candidates Ken Murphy and Jim White will debate first, followed by council finalists Robert Henley and Kenny Knapp. Each debate will last 45 minutes.

White outpointed Murphy by 342 votes in the primary, while Knapp fell just 29 votes short of a majority in leading Henley by 266 votes. A total of 3,673 ballots were cast, representing 41.5 percent of registered voters.

The four weary candidates expressed varying degrees of combativeness in discussing the debate and the rest of the campaign, with White threatening to walk out if the questions stray from issues into areas he considers personal.

"If it's on issues, I will be there and I will speak," White said. "If it gets dirty, Mr. White will apologize to the people that are there and I will get up and leave.

"This is not a Ken Murphy rally, nor do I want it to turn into a Ken Murphy rally. If we speak to the issues, I'll be more than happy to be there."

Murphy expressed mild surprise that White finally agreed to a debate. He issued a public challenge to White the day after the primary.

"I'm surprised, but I'm glad he accepted," Murphy said. "I hope he'll be real clear on what he plans to do (if elected), because he's been pretty vague so far."

Murphy said he also hopes the issue of a full-time mayor comes up. White has espoused the need for a full-time mayor in recent campaign ads.

"This thing about the full-time mayor is pretty hilarious," Murphy said. "It's a slap in the face to every working person in Payson who may have an interest in serving in government some time as an elected official. Not everybody who runs for office has to be retired."

Henley and Knapp, who previously focused on their similarities, now seem to be emphasizing areas of disagreement. Knapp says Henley's recent affiliation with People for Payson a pro-growth group made up of business people, developers, Realtors and some council members does not bode well.

"I thought we had similar views until he joined People for Payson," Knapp said. "Who knows where he's at now? I'm not a politician, but I know that if people spend money on you, they expect you to go their way."

Knapp also accused the current council of "protecting their hides from the money people who are behind them."

"Water is my issue," he said. "I've done my homework on it, while the people on the present council are in a state of denial on the subject."

Meanwhile, Henley took issue with recent insinuations by Knapp that he represents special interest groups.

"(Knapp) said he doesn't represent anybody but homeowners," Henley said. "My position is that I will represent everybody, regardless of their hobbies, what they do to earn a living, or whether they own a home. We all have special interests, and that's just part of life."

Looking beyond the debate to the closing days of the campaign, all four candidates expressed a desire to meet as many voters as possible on a one-to-one basis.

White said he will be addressing a number of small gatherings and walking neighborhoods.

Murphy is holding a fundraiser from 2-5 p.m. Saturday at Fargo's. He said he'll be out meeting as many people as he can in "getting ready for the final night."

Knapp, who attributes his primary success to a door-to-door effort, plans more of the same.

Henley promised not to rest on his laurels. "We're working on several things," he said. "We're out there banging away."

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