MIAMI (CBS4)- Two weeks before voting concludes in the Miami-Dade County mayoral race, five of the candidates — and, briefly, a sixth — met in a debate Tuesday morning to discuss what remain top issues across the region following the searing recession: fostering economic development and creating jobs.

At the forum, each of the candidates spoke about cutting red tape so small businesses can open and operate with a freer hand, putting government incentive programs under one roof so business owners can more easily access them, and declared they will operate as the county’s top salesman, according to CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald.

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“It’s about leadership,” said Marcelo Llorente, who pledged to be the county’s “chief economic development officer.”

Julio Robaina said the region has “failed horribly” at business development. The Hialeah mayor said the region remains “one of the poorest communities in the country.”

Unemployment currently stands at 12.9 percent in Miami-Dade and, more broadly, the region is continuing an effort to diversify from an economic base long supported by staples like tourism, trade and real estate construction. There are some bright spots. The University of Miami Life Science & Technology Park in Miami’s Health District, for instance, along with projects nearby, such as Scripps Research Institute in Palm Beach County, have injected some optimism about new industries emerging.

Early voting is under way in the race that will be decided on May 24. If no one wins more than 50 percent of the vote, the two top finishers will go to a runoff on June 28.

The debate, sponsored by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, featured five of the candidates: former county commissioner Carlos Gimenez, business executive and one-time commissioner Jose “Pepe” Cancio, former county transit director Roosevelt Bradley, former state legislator Llorente and mayor Robaina.

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Five other candidates were not present: Eddie Lewis, Wilbur “Short Stop” Bell, Farid Khavari, Jeffrey Lampert and Gabrielle Redfern.

Redfern appeared after the debate and complained that said she had not been invited. “I thought this election would be open to all, not a few,” she said.

Chamber president and CEO Barry Johnson told Redfern that “everyone was invited.” The candidate said they were not.

Meanwhile, Luther Campbell, the former frontman for rap group 2 Live Crew, was invited but didn’t show up until the conclusion of the debate. He walked in as candidates prepared to give closing remarks.

Campbell apologized for being late but promptly took aim at the Chamber. “I’m a little disturbed,” Campbell said. “The Chamber says it is about the all the community. But I don’t think it’s been serving all the community, just some parts.”

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