I’ve sat through 17 years of political forums in this community and it never gets old. My wife can’t understand my enthusiasm towards these evenings that the majority find awfully boring.
Part of the answer to my interest in these evenings is that I’m a political nerd. The personalities and issues of politics interest me more than most of my peers. For my friends it’s ambient noise, for me it’s a popular playlist.
The best part of these public evenings is not necessarily the substance or the style, it’s the subtleties. I head to these events already knowing plenty about the platforms. That’s my job. When it comes to who gets my vote, however, these nights help by looking for the little things that are not always obvious.
On Tuesday night, the Nelson Star, 103.5 The Bridge and the Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce invited candidates for city council, mayor, and Areas E and F to a night of questions and answers. It was a packed house at the Prestige Inn. Those fighting for electoral seats had an opportunity to sway those in attendance on their Saturday decision.
Having a front row view, I was able to make a few observations that helped with tomorrow’s decision.
TIGHT RACE FOR COUNCIL
Eight people are on the council ballot, so only two of them won’t be sitting at the table for the next three years. It’s unfortunate there isn’t more choice, but the good news is all eight are pretty strong.
After the evening I asked one of my media colleagues, who is somewhat new to the community, which council candidate won the night. Without hesitation this journalist answered Donna Macdonald. I agreed.
Macdonald’s experience is a huge asset for this community. She is wise and her responses Tuesday night were thoughtful. She is in a political league above everybody else on the ballot and it would be a major blow to this city if she was not returned to office.
Determining the other five is much more difficult. Even perennial political underdog Charles Jeanes gave pause for consideration.
The two newcomers — Candace Batycki and Paula Kiss — not surprisingly lacked the substance of the incumbents. Some of the planks in their platforms look good on paper, but Tuesday night it was apparent some might be a little harder to pull off in the everyday reality of City Hall. Still, both women showed they are comfortable speaking in front of a crowd and provided some thoughtful answers.
If Batycki and Kiss are both to earn seats Saturday night, that means an incumbent will fall. It wouldn’t be without justification. For veteran councillors, it was disappointing to see answers that were more well-tested crowd pleasers than reasons to mark an X.
NOT ENOUGH HATE
For political observers, the race for Nelson’s mayor has long been a cage match. Exner vs. Macdonald, Exner vs. Macdonald II, Exner vs. Elliott, Elliott vs. Dooley, Dooley vs. Aaron… these battles had hatred and often times it was nasty. I’m not a fan of hate, but I do like to see passion in politics.
Though challenger Richard Rowberry has stepped up his campaign from lark to listening to voter concerns, the mayor’s race can hardly be considered one. Though Rowberry did a fine job of answering questions on Tuesday night — we would expect nothing less from a theatre veteran — there was little substance in his presentation.
Even though the challenge is not serious, incumbent John Dooley did have his game face on during the forum. He answered the questions the same way he has when battling Elliott and Aaron, even getting a bit testy at points.
One of the most impressive traits Dooley has in his political arsenal is ability to engage a crowd. For his opening, Dooley talked off the cuff, without referring to a written speech. Where some of candidates had a hard time getting their clunky rehearsed speeches within the one minute allotment, Dooley ended smoothly at exactly 59 seconds.
Ability to speak and persuade is a very important tool for leaders. The mayor is one vote at the council table, but the mayor’s role as community ambassador outside City Hall is just as important. Few people can do it better than Dooley.
MEANWHILE, ON THE OUTSKIRTS
The results I’m most interested to see on Saturday night are those in Area E and Area F. As a Nelson resident I don’t get to vote, but the outcomes have the potential to have a significant impact on life within the city limits.
Area E incumbent Ramona Faust and Area F incumbent Ron Mickel are both being challenged from ghosts of our stormy political past. A time when relations between the city and the RDCK were tense.
Area E challenger Josh Smienk and Area F challenger Mike Keegan are both champions of lower taxes. There’s nothing wrong with that, except it can often translate into more icy relations when it comes to chipping in for city-funded services.
It’s pretty easy for candidates to lead tax revolts, but the fallout is usually not what we expect and does long term damage.
Whether a casual observer or political nerd, there’s plenty to think about when heading to the polls tomorrow. Good luck with your decisions.
Bob Hall is the editor of the Nelson Star. He can be reached at 250-352-1890 or firstname.lastname@example.org