2014-07-31 / Opinion

Look and Listen

With the summer months humming along all too quickly and the beginning of the school year just around the corner, the realization has set in that election season will soon be galloping in with gusto.

But Newporters have already been looking ahead to November by vigorously debating the merits of several local initiatives surrounding a casino, a facilities bond, and proposed Charter amendments.

Such measures generally need to be in the Secretary of State’s office by early August so that ballots can be prepared. So those questions are presumably set to go.

Perhaps our attention will now naturally turn to the slate of candidates who hope to lead our state and city in addressing our current challenges and facing additional ones that will inevitably arise over the next few years.

Ready or not, we will be hearing more and more from those who aspire to national, state, and local offices who are anxious to get their messages heard over the general din that grows louder throughout the weeks leading up to the mid-term elections.

Beyond the blare of filtered radio and TV advertisements, one can easily glean information about our political candidates, especially incumbents, from watching them in action.

On the local level, several city councilors recently revealed a slice of their governing philosophies, political approaches, and possible campaign themes during their debates on whether to move proposed Charter changes to the ballot.

For instance, at the July 23 City Council meeting, Councilor Justin McLaughlin explained his rationale for not sending the Charter Review Commission’s four-ward proposal to the ballot. “[ The voters] look to me to tell them what’s important sometimes. They [also] look to me to tell them why something is important.”

Perhaps responding to criticisms from ballot proponents, McLaughlin also stated that “I’m not depriving anybody of the right to vote. I’m making a decision as to what I think is best for the community at this point in time, based not just on the seven-and-a-half years I’ve been on this council but on the 38 years I spent in a professional career, making decisions that had impacts on other people’s livelihoods.”

Advocating a differing approach to the same issue, Councilor Kathryn Leonard said, “I’m not one to say ‘I think I know what’s better for you.’ I am one voice among many. I have the right, as your representative, to let you tell me what you want.”

In political science debates that ask whether an elected official should govern based on what he thinks is best or, rather, on the wishes of constituents, McLaughlin and Leonard would fall at different points on the spectrum.

Councilor Naomi Neville’s comments stressed oneness. During the four-ward debate, she said, “I’ve sat up here for the last three-andone half years working on a policy theory of unity. I work on trying to bring the three communities on the island together. We are working on regional efforts for IT, I try to bring the schools working together with the city, and I try to get fire working with the police. To me, the [proposal for four wards] is the antithesis of that.” Councilor Marco Camacho emphasized the interests of traditionally disenfranchised voters in his ward, while Councilors Jeanne-Marie Napolitano and Michael Farley joined Leonard in articulating arguments in support of their belief that the Charter proposals deserve to have citizen input through a referendum.

In short, the council session offered ample opportunity to learn about our city councilors as they prepare to launch bids for re-election.

Whatever your political stripes, whatever issues are important to you, and whatever your broad views of representative government, there will be many occasions in the coming months to observe our candidates vying for City Council and School Committee seats.

Take the time to engage so that your vote cast in November is an informed choice for candidates who resonate with you.

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