One of my fondest memories of any political campaign takes me back to October, 2003. John Sullivan, who is now a town councilor, was interviewing me in Fishbein Park during Celebrate Wallingford. I was running for mayor at the time. Mr. Sullivan was intending to use the interview for his talk show on WPAA, Wallingford’s local public access television station. Wallingford Center, Inc., which sponsored the event, claimed jurisdiction, however, and stopped the interview. No one who was challenging the mayor would be giving an interview for TV in the public square during that campaign season! Nice try, Mike.
One of the legacies of that dust-up, however, has been the proliferation of unabashed politicking during Celebrate Wallingford on the same piece of real estate where I was barred from giving an interview in 2003. In recent years, during Celebrate Wallingford, you can’t go 10 yards without bumping into a campaign operative wearing political buttons or T-shirts, or candidates handing out stuff like chip-clips, pads and pencils, and trinkets of all sorts. Although many candidates are low-key, the conventional political wisdom is that all candidates should at least be seen at Celebrate Wallingford. (I’ve discounted the rumors that someone takes actually attendance.)
Wallingford Center, Inc. has changed, too. It’s gone radical. Not only is it not stopping campaign activities, it has approved of the idea that both political parties could have fundraising booths as part of the Celebrate Wallingford festivities, maybe starting next year. It’s too soon of course to say what the arrangements will be, or whether the Republicans and Democrats will participate, as there are costs involved. But wouldn’t that liven things up?
Imagine Democrats and Republicans manning their own displays, a place where candidates could station themselves, schmooze, and sell food or other products to raise funds.
Thanks to this new policy, we’d not only get great food from the vendors, but also old-fashioned American grass roots electioneering. You can’t beat that combination.
Has any candidate ever picked up extra votes by politicking at Celebrate Wallingford? I doubt it and it’s all theory anyway. But has anything like this ever happened to you? You go to Celebrate Wallingford and browse the displays. You head towards the food booth that has the shortest line, when out of nowhere ... whammo! It’s a candidate. He/she is polite and pleasant and offers some campaign literature, which you promise to read later. You look around for an escape but the encounter is mercifully brief. The candidate is gone as quickly as he/she appeared. You keep your head down and quickly head to a table to eat. You want a place mat; you look around, and eureka! You reach for the campaign literature and that solves the place mat problem. You stuff yourself with great food, and your tour of the Celebrate Wallingford resumes. But no one changed your vote.
We shouldn’t be reluctant to engage our future elected officials, however, and here is my devilish suggestion. Change your mindset; that’s the new big thing in town. When you go to Celebrate Wallingford, don’t wait for the candidates to approach you. Take the initiative and approach them. Most will stand their ground.
Start up a serious conversation, and tell them what concerns you. Ask about the issues that are on your mind. Give the candidates a chance to earn your vote by giving them an interview like the one John Sullivan and I never got to finish. The candidates should appreciate the time and attention, and it would be useful for all involved.
By the way, while you’re in the area, stop by WPAA’s booth. We hope to be broadcasting a live Citizen Mike Show on Saturday and we might have a candidate or two stop by as guests for a quick, friendly chat. Times have really changed.
See you there!
Mike Brodinsky is a former town councilor, chairman of the School Roof Building Committee and host of public access show “Citizen Mike.”