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Detroit — As a lifelong Detroiter who has worked in law enforcement and served in the community, Roy McCalister hopes to draw on his experiences helping residents to best represent their interests if he’s elected to fill a vacant seat on the Detroit City Council.

“That’s what you need — people who are going to be fighting for you,” he told a crowd Thursday evening at the AFSCME building in downtown Detroit.

McCalister was among 12 of the 16 candidates vying for a vacant at-large seat on the City Council who shared their views with community residents as well as answered submitted questions during a nearly two-hour moderated forum.

The council is interviewing applicants selected from a pool of 135. The candidates are seeking to fill the post that second-term member Saunteel Jenkins left last year to lead the Heat and Warmth Fund, a Detroit nonprofit. The council has not yet set a date to narrow the list to the top contenders.

The aim of Thursday’s forum was to give those competitors a chance to “talk about what they could bring to the table,” said Lon Johnson, chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, which coordinated the event along with the African American Alliance. “We wanted to hear about their ideas on how to create a better Detroit.”

For the candidates, that often involved topics such as creating jobs, rejuvenating neighborhoods, boosting businesses, tackling crime, strengthening schools and working closely with residents.

Tyrone Carter, who spent more than 20 years with the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office, said the new City Council member should focus on ensuring that police are present, which is key in drawing more potential residents.

“Public safety is a huge issue,” he said. “If people don’t feel safe in their community, they’re not going to come.”

Candidates also discussed possible paths to push the city forward in the post-bankruptcy era, including curbing blight, launching programs to provide affordable housing and exploring ways to generate more revenue.

Some of the talk also centered on the council’s authority and working on behalf of residents rather than outside or personal interests.

“We have to make sure that when we speak, we speak the voice of the people,” said Wanda Redmond, who is on the Detroit Board of Education.

Some community members welcomed the forum.

“I think the information that was given to educate the audience … was important,” said Shecara Vardiman, an entrepreneur. “I think each candidate was able to show what they have to offer. … This was very eye-opening and enlightening for me.”

But other attendees thought the candidates’ plans lacked details.

“I wanted to hear a more specific idea of what they’d do to advance the city of Detroit,” said Michael Goodwin, a city native who works in real estate.

Besides McCalister, the other candidates who attended were:

Dustin Campbell, who works for Goodwill Industries of Greater Detroit

Robert Thomas, a consultant and vice chair of the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals

Bernard Parker, a former Wayne County Commissioner who founded Operation Get Down

Adam Hollier of Hantz Woodlands, who previously worked for the Dave Bing administration and ran for City Council

Fred Durhal Jr., a former state representative

Rev. David Bullock, former at-large candidate for council and community activist

David Nathan, a former state representative

Beverly Kindle-Walker, legislative assistant to Wayne County Commissioner Tim Killeen, District 1

Debra Walker, a retired Chrysler Corp. executive and volunteer

Detroit News Staff Writer Christine Ferretti contributed to this report.

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