Candidate walks away from debate


Bronson Williams


Staff Writer

Friday, August 16, 2019

One of the four candidates for mayor of Rocky Mount ended up leaving a debate before the event started on Thursday at Benvenue Country Club, apparently over wanting to video the event.

The gathering was sponsored by the local Kiwanis Club and local television WHIG. Retired Brig. Gen. Arnold Gordon-Bray, the club’s president, asked Bronson Williams to ask his cameraman to turn off his equipment.

Gordon-Bray was a co-moderator of the debate and as WHIG was ready to video the event live, he made clear to the audience that others in the room could only take photographs of the question-and-answer period.

Gordon-Bray told Williams although Williams’ cameraman was supposed to be taking photographs, “because of the type of camera you’re using, I request that you ask your cameraman to please just shut it down — for the sake of all the body here and all the folks that have assembled.”

“What I will say is, general, I told you what that camera has the capability of doing — and despite what someone may feel it has other things to do — it is certainly within my right to have my image captured, no matter in what setting that I’m in,” Williams replied. “So at this time, I don’t think that I’m inclined to ask the cameraman not to do that.”

“No problem,” Gordon-Bray said.

Then, Gordon-Bray told Williams, “If that’s how you feel, regretfully, I would ask you and the cameraman to please depart.”

“Absolutely, absolutely,” Williams said.

The debate began moments later.

Afterward, the Telegram asked the other three candidates — Robert Lee Alston, Kevin Jones and Sandy Roberson — for their comments about Williams having left.

“That was his decision,” Alston said.

Jones said he understands why Williams left, but said, “I feel like this is a chance to really engage many, many voters — and they deserve that. The voters deserve that level of engagement.”

While continuing to emphasize he understood Williams’ position, Jones added, “I feel like there should have been some level of sacrifice in laying down of the sword, if you will.”

“I was a little surprised — and I don’t understand why he would miss the opportunity to share his message with the group,” Roberson said. “It’s just unfortunate.”

Later in the day, Williams emailed a statement saying he had negotiated to have the camera at the debate and was of the understanding that bringing a camera would not be a problem.

Williams, in his prepared remarks, said WHIG President Sandra Smith would not video the debate as long as Williams’ camera was present.

Williams said his cameraman was asked by Gordon-Bray to move to the back of the room because he did not want to interfere with WHIG’s broadcast.

Williams said after complying with the request, Smith still was not satisfied and refused to video and broadcast the event, delaying the start of the debate in the process.

Gordon-Bray, when reached later by the Telegram, said the campaigns of all the candidates were advised they could take photographs as the debate was in progress and could have raw video footage afterward.

Smith could not be reached by the Telegram on her cell phone before presstime.