Long Beach Councilman Dee Andrews and his challenger, educator Suely Saro, debated the city’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, housing, police reform and others issues facing the 6th District in a virtual debate hosted by four local publications Wednesday night.

Both candidates shared how they would address the district’s high rates of COVID-19 infections, with Andrews stressing education and the need to follow science while Saro emphasized an expansion of Project Roomkey for essential workers or residents who live in overcrowded households.

As with the 2nd District debate, police reform also became a contentious subject. When Andrews was questioned about campaign text messages touting his police reform work, he pivoted to the need for an audit of the police department, saying he would be willing to agendize this request.

To date, local police reforms have come from within the department or handed down from the state.

Andrews also criticized Saro for not holding police accountable as past chair of the Citizens Police Complaint Commission. Saro, for her part, explained that the commission’s role focuses on making recommendations to the city manager’s office who then decides whether to sustain or throw out complaints.

“Certainly there were barriers in what we were able to do as a commissioner,” Saro said.

Both candidates said they would consider taking funding from the police department’s budget and distributing it to community programs.

Andrews said he would consider an audit of every department to see where money would be better spent. Saro suggested looking at the social issues police are being asked to respond to and pivot those tasks to experts like psychologists and trauma-informed psychologists who can serve as first responders.

With tenants citywide facing evictions and harassment by landlords despite state eviction moratorium, candidates were asked if they would consider supporting a local anti-landlord harassment ordinance and any local plan to address evictions happening locally.

“It takes a conversation with tenants and landlords,” said Andrews regarding any local rent control or stabilization laws and who also expressed support for any such ordinance.

Saro also supported a possible anti-landlord harassment ordinance and suggested a more comprehensive plan locally to address evictions, including extending an eviction moratorium or proposing rent control or rent stabilization. But Saro also proposed looking at how to increase affordable housing and incomes that also affect housing instability.

“We’ve got to think of all of these factors contributing to this right now,” Saro said.

In their closing statements, Andrews touted his work helping create Cambodia Town and his leadership over the last 12 years that he claimed the press has ignored.

Saro emphasized the need for both policy and community engagement and a campaign driven by people power.

“My opponent has had over 10 years to address the issues that we’ve just discussed and has not finished yet and he’s saying he needs more time,” Saro said. “I say, ‘times up’. District 6 cannot afford to wait for change and improvement and have four more years of neglect.”

Stephanie Rivera is the community engagement editor. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter at @StephRivera88.