Elections can change more than who is in office
By Kevin E. Foley
In planning our forum for the Cold Spring Village mayor and trustee candidates, uppermost in our thinking was trying to present the jobs and the challenges as realistically as possible. We wanted to provide voters and readers with as clear a picture as we could of what was actually at stake in the election.
Our questions sought to identify specific issues for each candidate to address as fully as they might like. A few of these issues will need almost immediate attention when the new majority of trustees takes office in April. Suffice to say a fair amount of the rhetorical wheel spinning of the last few years needs to be replaced by some considerate collaboration among peers resulting in thoughtful, fact-based decision-making. All the candidates agreed about this, by the way.
We also wanted to have a civil civic discussion approximating many people’s notions of how local government should be conducted. So our approach sought to minimize opportunities for rancorous accusation, belittlement or the sort of speechifying that suggests an individual is auditioning for higher office or just watches too much cable television news.
One big change in our format was not leaving time for audience questions. If that upset people, there was little evidence in the aftermath. We believed journalists who have reported extensively on village matters were best situated to make inquiry of the candidates across a range of issues.
We also knew from past experience that a live forum audience is populated with a healthy quotient of partisan supporters more interested in the shortcomings of opponents than dialogue over a thorny public-policy question. And there are those few for whom a chance at public performance for its own sake, no matter the disturbance to others, proves irresistible.
Judging from reactions immediately after the forum and through social media, we largely succeeded in our primary goals. People, including those who viewed the forum on our website, thought the event fair, informative and above all free of cant and vituperation.
This hardly means we are satisfied. We are already thinking about how we could make the event, the questions we ask and how we cover campaigns more helpful and informative in the future.
The real campaign for village office takes place more under porch lights, in living rooms and on bar stools than through the media. We can set the stage and air out the policy questions, but it is in intimate settings, where we are not invited, that the candidates make their appeals and perhaps whisper warnings about the consequences of their opponents taking charge.
This time around, all the candidates generally made use of most of the opportunities we presented to express views and answer questions about their backgrounds, even for some the potentially embarrassing parts. Many individuals made use of our website to expand on issues they deemed important or to respond to the provocations of others.
Our perspective is that a village election calls for a bit more media restraint than some might think warranted in the heat of a race. Village officials aren’t going anywhere. Once elected they conduct business right in our midst, and despite calls for more transparency and better communication, anyone who really wants to know what’s going on has ample opportunity, including attending meetings, to do so.
From where we’re sitting, the problem is not whether we know what’s going on but whether something worth knowing is going on. This most recent race has prompted thoughts that our coverage should perhaps be less meeting-driven and more issue-oriented so readers can draw informed conclusions as to progress on vital quality-of-life matters in the community.
And yes, there are two papers and websites offering coverage. And yes, there are differences — more from our point of view in quality of journalism rather than in politics, as a few would have it. The Putnam County News and Recorder began coverage of this year’s village campaign with a picture of candidate Dave Merandy supposedly dozing off at a board meeting (we have pictures of many people doing so) and an article smarmily suggesting he might not live in the village, with references to unknown persons spying on alleged furniture moving at his new wife’s house.
Those who believe Mayor-elect Merandy (and his running mate Marie Early) should have participated in the PCNR’s debate should review these stories and look at the videos of last year’s village and town PCNR debates, wherein unfavored candidates were asked difficult, accusatory questions, while softballs were tossed to the favored.
The election results suggest implications beyond the creation of a new majority on the Cold Spring Village Board of Trustees.