ERIE, Pa. - Seven candidates, a variety of ideas, but all with one goal: to make Erie a better place.

Democrats running for mayor of Erie debated some of the city's biggest issues during a forum hosted by Mercyhurst University and sponsored by Erie News Now and the Erie Times-News.

The city's former top cop, Steve Franklin wants greater emphasis on combating Erie's growing gang problem, and new strategies to do it.

"I would sit down with the command staff from the police dept., the chief on down, and make sure we're all on the same page when it comes to what we're going to change," said Franklin, who served as police chief for over 20 years.

While all candidates Wednesday night agreed they want to implement Erie's comprehensive plan (Erie Refocused) quickly.

But Erie City Councilman Bob Merski and former Erie City Councilman Joe Schember call it their top priority.

"We've got a once in a lifetime opportunity to transform Erie with all of the private development that's been announced," said Schember.

"When we feel that confidence, it's going to create optimism and create those jobs and move the community forward," said Merski.

The role a mayor should play in the community, a hot topic among the Democratic nominees. They all want to forge better partnerships between the city and other local governments. Erie County Council Chairman Jay Breneman wants to start with the Erie School District.

"City hall is absent when it comes to supporting our school district," said Breneman. "As a parent of a public school student, I'm appalled by that."

Perhaps the biggest issue facing not only the city, but the entire region is jobs. Creating jobs, and spurring economic growth are on top of the to-do list for former Erie City Councilwoman, Rubye Jenkins-Husband.

"We will put together economic development packages and incentives that will attract people to our area," said Jenkins-Husband.

For some candidates, organization is the number one issue.

"The first day would be a learning day for me... meeting people, touring all of the offices," said Lisa Austin, a professor at Edinboro University and community activist.

"I think meeting the staff then will be a huge help in the collaborative effort to move forward," said Almitra Clerkin, executive director of the Erie Playhouse.

Erie News Now will host the Republican candidates for Erie mayor starting at 6p.m. It will air live on both WICU and WSEE.