I devoted most of my attention last night to video-recording the opening and closing statements of the sixteen candidates in attendance at the neighborhood group-sponsored forum at the Dom Polski Club. Last night I posted links to all of those videos. I did pay attention to what the candidates had to say, so here are my general impressions:
The candidates seemed sharper and more polished last night than at their initial forum. With two more to go (Monday, October 3rd at 7 pm at the Wang School Auditorium and Saturday, October 15 at 11 am at the Shedd Park Pavilion), the candidates will undoubtedly improve their content and technique as the election gets closer. As for the substance last night, a couple of things struck me. At first hearing, many of the questions (what to do about over-flowing trash containers or abandoned mattresses, for example) seemed kind of mundane, but as the candidates answered, you realized that such things are the essence of local government. Whether it’s a mid-sized city or a small town, many of the things essential to our everyday lives like getting clean, safe water in our houses, or being able to reliably flush our toilets, or have our trash picked up, are almost solely the domain of local government. A related observation is that these are complex issues. At a candidate forum or in a campaign ad, it’s easy for a candidate to translate these into black and white issues (“fine the offender” or “fire the non-performing employee”) when it’s never quite that simple.
The complexity of these types of issues was illustrated in one response by Bill Martin (there were other thoughtful replies by other candidates, but this one sticks out in my mind). When asked about businesses that fill more than one-third of their window space with signs and advertisements in contravention of the city code, Martin replied that the city has tried levying fines on such businesses, but that fines really don’t work. But neither can the city ignore the violations. He suggested that some kind of educational program, where the city provides marketing advice to small business owners might be the best way to convince them that using only the space allowed by the sign regulations in a thoughtful, strategic way, might yield the best results for the business. An education program would be complicated, would cost money and would take a lot of effort to implement effectively. But it would also be the best shot at actually solving the problem, not just scoring easy political points by advocating simple solutions to a complicated problem.
Whether it comes to the code department or enforcing a sign ordinance, none of this stuff is simple which is why simple solutions offered in a campaign should in many cases be viewed with some skepticism, because they’re more likely to contribute to the problem than to find a true solution to it.