CORAL GABLES (CBS4) – The four candidates vying to become Hialeah’s next mayor faced off during a debate Wednesday night at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables.

Political newcomer George Castro, former state Senator. Rudy Garcia, Mayor Carlos Hernandez and former Mayor Raul Martinez answered questions about their plans to bring business to Hialeah, and their views on gambling, and government transparency among other topics.

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CBS4 I-Team Reporter Jim DeFede moderated the debate which was hosted by the Latin American Business Association. .

How the city should handle unions has been a major topic of conversation in Hialeah since the council announced a decision to eliminate forty percent of the city’s fire department after failing to reach an agreement with the union.

Firefighters are back to work now , but the future isn’t clear – and how to handle unions is a big factor in the race.

During the debate, the current mayor maintained it’s up to the union to make concessions.

“We’re a local government. We’re not the United States government where we can go ahead and ask the Chinese for money and print more money. Either we raise taxes or cut expenses,” said Mayor Carlos Hernandez.

Former Mayor Raul Martinez admitted negotiations with the unions might be tense, saying, “contentious yes, will it continue to be absolutely. I respect the unions I respect what they stand for and I can tell you I never took away anything they earned or gained at the bargaining table.”

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Former state senator Rudy Garcia said he’d like to see an audit of the city’s budget.

“As soon as you have a process you can look at that is transparent and translucent they will come to he table,” said Garcia.

Castro suggested looking to the firefighters, themselves, for ways to balance the budget.

“Other people have good ideas,” said Castro. “Maybe the guy who drives the back of the bus.. the back of the fire truck he probably has the right plan.”

This was the last debate before early voting begins this weekend. The election is November first.

According to CBS4 News partner The Miami Herald, absentee ballots for the election, which also includes five city council races, have been out for more than a week. As of Tuesday, 17,780 absentee ballots had been mailed, according to figures from Miami-Dade Elections. Of those, 5,354 had been returned.

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