Perennial Candidate Spoils the Show
By Edward Shanahan
Ouch. It was painful and finally frustrating and, in the end, we had to flee the other night’s Leeds School candidates’ forum before it adjourned.
You could only feel sorry for the 17 public spirited citizens who are running for municipal offices and probably had some good ideas to offer but mostly had to sit silently while one perennial – let’s not even name him—displayed complete ignorance about any of the issues and as a result insulted the impressively large audience and the other candidates.
His performance was not at all amusing, it stunk.
I recall attending countless League of Women Voters forums in the past when apart from the candidates not more than a dozen or so voters would bother to show up.
The Leeds event, smartly organized by the Leeds Civic Association with sharp questions from the moderator, Ben Weil, clearly was seen by a motivated populace as a chance to see in the flesh the range of candidates and hear their views.
But with minor exceptions it never worked out that way thanks to the candidate we will not name.
I did not feel exactly sorry that we did not hear much from long-time City Council candidates Michael Bardsley and James Dostal because they are unopposed and they get plenty of opportunities to talk.
And the two running for Ward 7, incumbent Raymond LaBarge and challenger George Russell are not strong on either ideas or as public speakers. LaBarge is concerned about drug dealing taking place in unspecified sections of Leeds, and Russell believes Look Park is a fine asset for the city and the roundabout on North Main Street should improve traffic conditions. They seem to both favor and be against the expansion of the landfill, but that was unclear.
Among those candidates who sat mute for the longest time were Lilly Lombard, Fran Volkmann and Alan Verson - for the new Community Preservation Committee, and one about whose future role we need much more information. The committee will make recommendations about how special tax assessments will be spent on local community projects.
There was a strong commitment by the candidates to reach out to the public for suggested local projects and a pledge that allocations would be distributed in an equitable way – not merely on downtown enhancements.
And there were a few nuggets thrown out in an early question directed at the four candidates for Forbes Library trustee – Jennifer Higgins, Jesse Adams, and incumbents Bonnie Burnham and Peter Rowe.
Reopening on Sunday was a major point made by Jennifer Higgins and Adams while Burnham and Rowe lamented the financial constraints facing the library staffing the library on Sunday. They said there remains much maintenance work to be done on the library building and they both had high praise for the director Janet Moulding.
The most interesting comments were drawn from candidates for superintendent of Smith’s Agricultural School – John Cotton, David Bourbeau and Thomas Fitzgerald – who stressed the extent to which the school is creating a “green campus” through its energy policies, recycling, and commitment to grow its food locally and coming up with other “local” solutions to problems. They seem to be doing a laudable job at the vocational school without complaining about lack of resources —the preferred mantra for many boards and department heads of city operations.
These few tidbits of information and insights emerged because you-don’t-want-to-hear-his-name was not asked to respond to questions about community preservation or Forbes Library.
When we got to questions for the mayoral candidates, his mouth runneth over so we were on the receiving end of only a fractured debate between write-in candidate Eugene Tacy and Mayor Clare Higgins.
To the outsider it seemed as though many of those on hand were there to hear from Tacy, not a new face to viewers of City Council meetings on cable television, but new to the electoral process.
Among the actions Tacy backed were steps to increase the use of solar energy for school buildings, as well as a commitment to provide a secure environment for students, even at the expense of worries about privacy rights.
Higgins pointed to the steps taken during her tenure to make the city a “better consumer of energy” with the design of the new Senior Center and putting solar panels on the roof at JFK Middle School. She also said the city is acting as an educator of the public about energy consumption and conservation.
In response to a question from Marcie Ayres, a Florence resident, about drug use downtown and her ban on her two young daughters going downtown, Higgins said the police are actively moving against such activities at Veterans Field and at the rear section of Pulaski Park. But she said police resources are limited and therefore it is up to parents to take responsibility as well. She said much of the drug use is by young people coming here from outside, not by Northampton children.
Tacy said manpower shortages have put the police department “in a crisis management” state, and parents need to get involved. They are not monitoring their children’s activities carefully enough.
Higgins defended her support for building affordable housing in Northampton, saying that if it did not meet state requirements in that area, developers would be able ignore local zoning restrictions – thus a developer could build 200 units in the controversial and long-fought Beaver Brook housing development in Leeds.
She also said the some $20 million in permanent new commercial construction is coming on line in the city and another $10 million planned.
Sandwiched between meandering harangues by what’s-his-name, it was apparent that Tacy at this point has a somewhat slim and only general grasp of details of many issues, while Higgins, typically, showed that she has never forgotten a fact about city government operations and enjoys displaying that knowledge.
One of the genuine surprises was how summarily Stan Pollock of Florence was rebuffed in his question to Tacy, Labarge and Dostal about whether they remain opposed to the earlier resolution passed by the City Council to seek a congressional investigation into whether President Bush should be impeached. Pollock said the Iraq war was costing local communities like Northampton millions and millions of dollars in revenue that could be spent locally.
The three quickly ripped into Pollock, saying they remained steadfastly against the resolution and in support of the president.
And so did the Leeds audience, it appeared, with loud applause.
Outside later, Pollock seemed stunned by the reaction to his question in what he had imagined was a much more liberal Northampton.
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