The five candidates for Worcester mayor participated in an open-format debate Monday night, hosted by GBH News and moderated by reporter Sam Turken.

One topic of conversation was the Worcester Police Department, which has been in the news for a Department of Justice investigation into excessive force and discriminatory policing as well as claims of harassment by the former police chief. Turken asked how the candidates would ensure the department is held accountable.

GBH Worcester DEBATE
Donna Colorio, left, and Guillermo Creamer Jr., right, attend the first debate in the Worcester Mayoral Race hosted by GBH News in its Worcester Bureau in Worcester, Mass. on Oct. 16, 2023.
Carlin Stiehl for GBH

Vice Chair of City Council Donna Colorio mostly deferred answering the question, saying that “that's really in the H.R. department.” Guillermo Creamer Jr., former chair of the Worcester Human Rights Commission, said he disagreed with Colorio, saying police should be “held to the highest standards,” and that elected officials should be “challenging them to ensure that they are creating an equitable city and really approaching things in a different manner.”

But the question became most contentious as incumbent Mayor Joseph Petty and City Councilor Khrystian King engaged in several back-and-forths, which included King accusing Petty of being “silent” on concerns over the city’s police department.

King said he had worked on equity audits with regard to the police department, and worked on recruiting and retaining a more diverse police force.

GBH Worcester DEBATE
City Councilor Khrystian King speaks during the Worcester mayoral debate hosted by GBH News on Oct. 16, 2023.
Carlin Stiehl for GBH

“The Public Safety Committee has failed to conduct any oversight hearings with regards to the concerns [around the police department],” King said. “The mayor in our rules is able to chair any committee at any time that he or she feels necessary. And it simply hasn't happened.”

Petty pushed back against King on the issue.

“We have a chief diversity officer that we just hired here in the Worcester Police Department,” Petty said. “We have an appeals procedure if people feel that they’ve been wronged. … Our current chief believes in accountability and transparency.”

Petty went on to say, “I don't divide; I work quietly sometimes in order to get things done.”

GBH Worcester DEBATE
Incumbent Mayor Joseph Petty, left, and activist William Coleman, right, during the Worcester mayoral debate hosted by GBH News on Oct. 16, 2023.
Carlin Stiehl for GBH

Activist William Coleman — the only candidate to have never served as an elected official — took the opportunity to say “the city needs to elect new people to bring new, fresh ideas, a different lens to how the city operates, and looking at the police department.”

The candidates also talked about housing, economic development, education, climate change and whether Worcester should continue to have a city manager or shift away from that form of government, known as Plan E.

Watch the full debate in the player above. Subscribe to GBH News' YouTube channel to get updates on future events and GBH News episodes.