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Thursday, September 3, 2009
Notes on Meeting the Candidates in American Fork, Part 1: General Observations

The first thing to be said about tonight's meet-the-candidates event at Barratt Elementary in American Fork is that the stars of the show were the audience.

The Real Stars

The first thing to be said about tonight's meet-the-candidates event at Barratt Elementary in American Fork is that the stars of the show were the audience. What I mean is that . . . they . . . we . . . you . . .

Okay, time out already. I need to choose a pronoun to represent the audience. I could say "they" instead of "we," because I was there wearing not just my serious-about-being-an-informed-voter hat, but also my blogger's hat, my dutiful-consort-to-the-candidate hat, and my sometimes-my-friends-who-are-running-for-office-ask-me-to-help-them-too hat. So I might not fit in with the rest of the audience well enough to use "we."

(That's too many hats to wear at a time, I know, but such is life.)

"We" should still work, because of that serious-about-being-an-informed-voter hat I mentioned, but maybe that's too much like patting myself on the back, since I'm about to praise the audience.

"You" particularly suits a fine fraction of the audience, because a number of this blog's regular readers were there -- including some I didn't previously know or suspect are regular readers.

(Thanks for reading. We'll choose a pronoun now and move on.)

"You" it is.

You didn't ask brilliantly probing questions of all the candidates; it wasn't a question/answer format. You didn't "speak truth to power," in that puffed-up, self-congratulatory way that makes me cringe. And you didn't really do justice to the chocolate cake provided by Gandolfo's.

Here's what you did.

First, about 100 of you showed up to a local campaign event. That's a lot for any event at any time in the local election cycle, let alone one which was scheduled with only eight or nine days' notice, and before Labor Day at that. (Is it just me, or is September 15 two or three weeks too early for a local primary?)

You applauded every candidate politely and with commendable vigor (one or two candidates slightly more than others, perhaps).

And many of you stayed for half an hour or even an hour afterward, talking with the candidates individually about whatever issues are on your minds. You were so preoccupied with local government that a surprising quantity of  the aforementioned cake survived your large numbers, but I think I'll give you a pass there. Your negligence, though regrettable, was in a good cause.

What It Means

Someone suggested to me tonight what the high turnout might mean.

I don't think large numbers of people are getting excited about the city council election, and I didn't hear a lot to get excited about tonight in that race. Come to think of it, several of you with whom I chatted afterwards seem to have a sensible grasp of the issues; I found myself thinking that it might as well have been you sitting up front, facing the audience. (Maybe next time?) That's not as harsh a criticism of some of the candidates as it may seem; you are plenty sharp.

The suggestion I heard was that it's principally the mayoral race that's drawing the attention, and that it's not a long leap from there to this thought: If you weren't looking to see if there's a good alternative to the incumbent, or if you were already firmly persuaded that one of the candidates is the right man for the job, you wouldn't have turned out in such unusual numbers, on short notice, during the week before Labor Day.

The comments I heard tonight, after the formal part of the evening had ended, seem to confirm that none of the mayoral candidates has sealed the deal with the voters who are paying attention at this point. I don't know whether this bodes ill or well for any particular candidate; it's still early yet -- except that the primary is less than two weeks away. Did I mention that it's too soon for a primary? In any event, I think the fact that many of the most diligent voters are undecided at this point might actually be encouraging to all three candidates, assuming they are confident in their respective abilities to close the sale in coming days and weeks.

The possibility exists that we'll have a good race on our hands.

The Format, the Venue, the Conspicuously Absent, Etc.

We were situated in the gymnasium at Barratt Elementary, with a microphone and a good sound system. Short notice or not, this was the best venue I've seen for such an event in years in American Fork.

The local Rotary Club sponsored the event. Rob Shelton emceed quite capably. He took a reasonable number of minutes at the beginning to tout the organization and its considerable activities. It's the price of admission, and it wasn't boring, either. Councilman Shirl LeBaron, another Rotarian, was behind the scenes, helping to organize the event.

Each candidate was allowed five minutes at the microphone, and no one abused the timing. The mayoral candidates spoke first, then took seats in the audience to listen to the council candidates. Ample table space was provided for candidates' flyers, displays, etc., along one wall.

Three city council candidates were absent. Ordinarily, I'd suggest that a serious candidate adjusts his or her schedule to accommodate such crucial events, but given the short notice I'm not inclined to be critical of the absences. One of the absentees, incumbent Dale Gunther, had a personal obligation at the other end of the state, so he sent a representative with a short statement. Challenger Gretchen Wiltbank had a last-minute conflict, and challenger Andy Dobmann's absence was unexplained; both would have done better to send brief statements of their own, if they had to miss the lone meet-the-candidates event before the September 15 primary.

A subsequent post, coming tomorrow (I think), will discuss the mayoral candidates' statements at some length.

[To be continued . . .]

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