MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — News13 hosted a debate between three candidates for Mayor of Myrtle Beach.
Current Mayor Brenda Bethune, Gene Ho, and Bill McClure all answered questions from News13’s Bob Juback. Questions ranged from growth, homelessness, and crime.
In order to qualify for the debate, candidates must be legally qualified and listed on the ballot, must have accepted at least $5,000 in campaign contributions and at least $2,500 in Myrtle Beach.
Watch the full debate in the video player above.
McClure is a retired businessman from the Washington, D.C. metro area and a Vietnam veteran. His top issues are infrastructure, crime, homelessness and mental health.
Ho is a professional photographer who moved to Myrtle Beach at age 18 and built a business from scratch. Ho was a campaign photographer for former President Donald Trump in 2016 and is the author of “Trumpography.” He promises a no-tolerance crime policy and giving a voice to all residents.
Bethune is seeking a second term after being elected in 2017 in a runoff against long-term mayor John Rhodes. She’s born and raised in Myrtle Beach and is the owner of Better Brands, Inc. Her top priorities are crime and public safety.
Biggest issue facing Myrtle Beach
McClure said an issue that’s been on his mind is uncontrolled growth.
“I do not believe the infrastructure is set up to support the growth now,” McClure said. “It certainly isn’t set up to support the growth in the future.”
McClure said his campaign is focused on putting citizens first, putting neighborhoods first, and putting small businesses first.
Ho said his goal is to make Myrtle Beach a family-friendly beach again.
Bethune said there are several issues that snowball off of each other.
“Let’s not bury our heads in the sand and pretend we do not have a crime perception,” Bethune said.
Bethune also talked about homelessness and opioid addiction.
McClure said homelessness is a big problem in Myrtle Beach but said he’s not sure of the exact fix.
“I think you have to look at what are the core reasons we have homeless people,” McClure said. “One is involuntarily — people are just homeless. Others have to do with the opioid addiction. Others have to do with a lack of education and a place to go.”
McClure said he thinks there are enough programs in the city that have been in place for a long time that can be enhanced.
Ho said his job as mayor will be to make sure the city is clean and safe.
“My job as mayor is to do one thing, to make these streets safe and clean,” Ho said. “To do that we have to get rid of the homeless problems. We have to move them out of the city.”
Bethune agreed with McClure and said there needs to be an understanding on what the homelessness issues are.
“We have to look at this holistically and humanize it, not criminalize it,” Bethune said.
Bethune cited several issues such as possibly not having a family support system or a way to get an ID to get a job.
“You’ve got to look at what is the core reason for crime and once you do that you can start to attack it with the right programs,” McClure said.
McClure said he’s a fan of community-oriented policing so officers can work with the communities to solve the problems.
Ho said you can tell Myrtle Beach has a crime problem based on people calling it “Dirty Myrtle” and “Murder Beach.”
Ho said he wants to take successful programs from other places and implement them in Myrtle Beach. Ho said the crime needs to be controlled. He said North Myrtle Beach has done wonderfully in crime.
Bethune said every city has crime and gun violence and crime are at an all-time high. She said comparing Myrtle Beach crime to North Myrtle Beach crime isn’t a fair comparison.
“We have over 180,000 hotel rooms in the City of Myrtle Beach, over 20 million visitors,” Bethune said. “North Myrtle Beach does not have that.”
Bethune said while some reports show Myrtle Beach as the third worst place for crime, but said that report is based off of the permanent population of 30,000 people, not the average daily population of more than 160,000 people.
“That does not minimalize that yes, we do have crime, and yes we are addressing it, by adding more police officers,” Bethune said. “We’ve added more than 30 police officers in the last four years, we’ve increased the budget to the police department by over $3 million the past four years, and we will continue to do so.”
McClure said I-73 is a necessity. He said the big question is how is it appropriately paid for. He said that issue also affects other municipalities.
“I-73 sets up the catalyst to bring other industrial investments into the Grand Strand area,” McClure said.
He also pointed out that it’s needed for hurricane evacuation.
Ho said he’s all for I-73 but the problem is how to pay for it.
“If we can figure out how to pay for it without being on the back of our local taxpayers, it would be wonderful,” Ho said.
Bethune also said I-73 is needed and council has been committed to paying for it.
“We have to expand our industrial base, and the only way to do that is to have an interstate connection,” Bethune said.
She also brought up hurricane evacuations, and specifically pointed out the Hurricane Florence evacuations. Bethune proposed making I-73 a toll road so the people who use it pay for it.
McClure said one of his biggest concerns is that the area doesn’t have the infrastructure to sustain the growth over the next four to five years. He said more hospitals are needed in the area.
Bethune said the growth needs to be smart and balanced and pointed out that hospitals have to be approved by the state.
McClure said he sees the people in all areas of the city and stands with them. He specifically pointed out the Withers Swash area and the issues in that area.
Ho said it’s all about crime and safety. He said he’s going to make Myrtle Beach safe in a short period of time by having residents work together to change the city’s reputation.
Bethune said she wants to continue her role as mayor because Myrtle Beach is a great place and people wouldn’t want to move here if it wasn’t a good area. She said there’s still a lot of work to do and the city is headed in the right direction.