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Sparks Fly at County Commissioner Debate

With a state-appointed committee considering ways to reform Cuyahoga County's government and an FBI corruption investigation in full swing, Commission President Peter Lawson Jones is locked in a race with Republican challenger Debbie Sutherland.

At the start, Sutherland, who is Mayor of Bay Village, demanded Jones answer questions about the corruption case - a direct challenge he chose not to address.

Jones accused Sutherland of flip-flopping on support of the still unsettled Medical Mart and convention center, and the two sharply split on the idea of bringing Casino gambling to the state.

Audience members attacked Sutherland for firing a fireman who had spoken against city policies alleged to have contributed to the death of a child.

Jones was grilled over his usage of a county-paid driver.

Neither referenced the county's $65 million budget deficit. Both promised to engage PNC Bank as it assumes control of National City, and fight to keep it's jobs from leaving Cleveland.

But the match-up turned volatile when Sutherland answered a question about serving the county's less affluent, with a response that drew gasps.

SUTHERLAND: "What my opponent would love nothing better is to continue to drag this down about race and class and it's not.( JONES :What?) It's about the viability of this county."

Commissioner Jones fairly exploded in response.

JONES: "I have done nothing in this race to play on race and class. When people have suggested (applause) When people have suggested that you ran against me because you thought it might be easier to beat someone who was African American, I stood up for you, and said that that would never play into your calculation."

The pair traded no on-stage pleasantries afterward.

Sutherland had a choice of challenging Jones or Commissioner Tim Hagen, who is running unopposed in Tuesday's election.