Eight of the nine candidates running for mayor of Calgary were at a public forum on Monday night, giving voters a peek at the diverse field of challengers vying for Naheed Nenshi’s job.

Among the contenders are radio preacher Larry Heather, former bar manager J.J. Sunstrum and competitive BBQ aficionado Jon Lord.

Lord, who rushed back from a cook-off in Kansas City to be at the forum, was also the Ward 8 alderman from 1995 to 2001 and served a term as a Progressive Conservative MLA for Calgary-Currie.

He took aim at Nenshi’s record on taxes.

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Naheed Nenshi makes a point at a public forum on Monday night where eight of his rivals for the job of mayor debated the issues with him. (CBC)

"We've got to stop clobbering small businesses in this town with enormous, outrageous taxes, ruinous taxes,” he said.

Nenshi said Calgary’s taxes are the lowest of any major city in Canada.

While Sunstrum admitted to the crowd he has no chance of winning, Heather said his fundamentalist Christian campaign is serious.

“We have a broken covenant with the God of the Bible that needs to be renewed,” he said.

Urban sprawl debated

Candidate Carter Thomson, a convenience store owner, said Nenshi’s efforts to curb urban sprawl are misguided.

"No I don't think urban sprawl is a problem. Most Calgarians want to raise their families in a house with a yard and we shouldn't be telling people how to live,” he said.

Nenshi countered that with Calgary’s footprint already as big as the 10 boroughs of New York City — but with less than a tenth of its population — the city needs a better balance of housing options.

“And of course people need more choices. The problem is we haven’t been giving them choices. Councils in the past have been putting their thumbs on the scale in favour of one form of housing — low-density single-family housing on the edges of the city.”

“We need a much more balanced approach, and that starts by ending the financial subsidy, the sprawl subsidy that we pay,” he said.

Only woman candidate not present

The only woman running is Sandra Hunter. But she was a no-show.

"It is unfortunate and of concern to me of course that there aren't more women contending for municipal office and it hasn't always been that way,” said Lori Williams, who teaches political science at Mount Royal University.

It also troubles Nenshi.

"We are almost at a record low in terms of the number of female city councillors in this council and certainly at least two of the three existing female councillors have been targetted to be taken out of this council because they're perceived as weak or easy targets,” he said.

Three years ago, former TV anchor Barb Higgins captured 25 per cent of the mayoral vote.

The other mayoral candidates are Milan Papez, Norm Perrault and Bruce Jackman.

The debate was moderated by Calgary Eyeopener host David Gray. Calgarians go to the polls on Oct. 21.