It should be a nonpartisan issue. The political parties participating in a candidate forum have a right to expect a level playing field in the proceedings, a comfort level that ought to be a given. That isn’t the case now in Southington, where Democrats are balking at participating in the Southington Chamber of Commerce Town Council Candidate Forum next month. The reason? They don’t think it’s fair.
And that’s putting it mildly, compared to what Democratic Town Council candidate Edward Pocock III said about it. Pocock, a former Republican, called the gathering at Hawk’s Landing Country Club an “alcohol-infused GOP booster club event.”
That’s a biting charge. So is his description of chamber CEO Barbara Hekeler as “clearly partisan” and the event format being designed to “sabotage Democrats.”
“I’ll be damned if I’m going to let (fellow Democratic candidates) walk into another trap,” he said.
The response from Republicans included that it’s sour grapes. The GOP fared well the last time around in a municipal election, winning all the six seats for the Town Council allowed in the town charter.
Saying it’s sour grapes is a political response that dodges the question. Democrats aren’t arguing about the last election, they’re arguing about the one coming up. Democrats might not have the right answers for Southington, as Republicans contend, but they do have a right to expect fair treatment in a candidate forum where voters can gauge their proposals.
It might help it if there was a response from Hekeler, but she did not respond to calls for comment in Jesse Buchanan’s recent R-J story. Maryann Stanley, chairwoman of the chamber board, also did not return calls. The criticism about the ability to hold a fair forum should get a reply.
Whether the forum will take place is now hard to answer. Republicans say they’ll participate and be ready to answer questions, but that isn’t solving the problem. Voters deserve to hear as many sides as possible.
Val DePaolo, a Democrat seeking re-election to the council, suggested alternatives, including forums hosted by the R-J or the League of Women Voters. Another approach is ditching the whole process. “Our candidates would rather go directly to the doors to speak with residents of Southington and we look forward to those conversations,” said Erin Cowles, the Democratic Town Committee chairwoman.
While there’s nothing wrong with door-to-door campaigning, it would be a disservice to voters if the two parties can’t agree on a forum that will satisfy the need for a fair exchange of ideas and proposals. People are getting used to partisan bickering and posturing at the national level. Voters deserve an election that won’t be spoiled by it in Southington.