I had the pleasure of attending the debate between City Councilwoman Judy Swift and Mayor Chuck Fewell.
Yes, you read that correctly; I said “pleasure.” I believe it is the nature of local politics to contribute to such seeming oxymorons. Debate and pleasure. A truly odd couple in most circumstances.
The article in the Thursday, April 9, 2015, Daily Reporter said as much. Samm Quinn, the article’s writer, made much of the similarities between the two candidates and their level of friendliness.
The room was full. Everyone was given an opportunity to submit questions in writing. There were supporters of each candidate in the room. One might think this a perfect recipe for a hotly argued debate. It was not.
We learned some about each person and their plans while serving in the office of mayor. Both had plenty of opportunity to share their visions with the audience. We learned how much alike they are.
And, we learned some important differences.
The county’s Chief Probation Officer, Wayne Addison, served as moderator. While he made much of the impartiality that is required of his position, he went well above that in using his trademark humor to diffuse any possible conflict.
He also made much of his inexperience as a debate moderator, but he did not show that inexperience, likely because of his years of appearing in courtrooms and managing auctions.
And yet, again, this debate could have been a very tedious affair. So what else made it so pleasurable? I believe there were many factors.
I believe, and I have heard others say it, being mayor is one of the most difficult political and governmental positions to hold.
If the dogs bark, if the snow flies, if the garbage rots at the curb, it is the mayor’s fault.
And it is not like the mayor is in some far-off office making policy or passing laws. The mayor shops in the same town, works in the same town and often goes to church in the same town as the constituents he or she serves.
If someone does not like something about the way the city is running, there are plenty of opportunities for constituents to let the mayor know about it.
And I think this is, in part, why this debate was so calm and enjoyable and allowed us to learn about these two people.
But it is not the only reason this occurred. You see, these two people are genuinely good people who are interested in those they serve. While I recognize Fewell and Swift were politicking, I appreciated their ability to connect with me when they talked to me, both before and after the debate.
And, I saw them doing this with many others in the room. Swift remembered I was behind the effort to gain a connection to the Pennsy Trail from my westside neighborhood. Fewell listened carefully as I explained a new mission my wife and I have started and asked for information about it.
This ability serves them both well as they learn from their constituents. It helps people feel heard.
And I believe the audience played a role in the tenor of the debate being so congenial. There were no angry outbursts. There were no attempts to trip up either candidate. There were plenty of insightful questions, and the candidates did their best to answer them.
Is this level of friendliness always a part of local politics? I don’t think we need to think very hard on that one.
There have been several races in the last few years that degenerated in to a level of vitriol that made most of us uncomfortable.
Because this is a small community, many of these candidates were forced to work together after the election was over. I cannot imagine how they would have done that.
And I believe this will not be the case in this race. These two people will continue to work together while serving the people of Greenfield, and we can see that happening.
One can be an opponent without being hateful. It works out best for all when it is done this way.
Good job, Fewell and Swift. May the best candidate win.
Jim Matthews is a Greenfield resident.