Friday, September 6, 2019

A Reader's Account Of Getting To The Forum

Submitted by Molly Aunger, one of the organizers of Thursday's Democratic primary mayoral candidates.  Editor's note: There is a video of the event available HERE.
Forum Week’s Close, Making New Connections, and the Big Push to Next Tuesday
Did you have candidates knocking on your door all summer? I did. However, it always happened that when they’d come by - we’d be out. (Candidates seem to have a knack for this). So, back in August, when I read the article in the Middletown Press – “2 Middletown Dems want public debate ahead of Sept. 10 primary”, I thought – “I want a space to hear from the candidates, and - I could be the person that puts this thing together!”

My first step on this journey was to reach out to a neighbor to ask where a good location could be to host a forum. And then a woman - whom I’d never met before - replied and offered to help with booking a space at the library. “Great!” I thought. Fast forward a week, and we arranged to meet in person at the North End Farmers Market where, not only did I receive a free Middletown reusable tote bag, I made a new friend – Izzy. It turns out Izzy is British, and so is my husband, so we spoke about very important things like Brexit, and where the best place to buy Mcvities Dark Chocolate Digestives might be.

So, Izzy and I communicated back and forth about potential dates, space (will it be big enough?), should we invite the Common Council, BOE, and P&Z candidates to also speak? Could we even get ALL the candidates to come? Lots of questions for two ladies who had never planned a political forum before. So, enter Barbara Arafeh. Barbara was also someone who I’d never had the pleasure of knowing, but she had been involved with the AAUW for 50 years and knew they’d have solutions to our many questions. Also, we started to include another lady in our conversations who knew a thing or two about Middletown politics – former Mayor and AAUW member, Domenique Thornton. I had known about Domenique during her time as mayor, but never really knew her. Now I get to call her “D”, because that’s what her friends call her. So, we had our little coalition of women who wanted to hear from all the candidates, I made 3 new friends from town in the process, and we were going to make sure this thing happened. And we did, because women are awesome.

Around the same time, others in Middletown were also having similar thoughts of hearing from the candidates before the primary – NEAT planned one for this past Tuesday, and students from MHS planned one for Wednesday. Luckily for us, our moderator was free on Thursday, and we were able to secure space – so this was now shaping up to be a full week of forums. Each forum was unique, and each forum was fantastic. I went to all three in solidarity with the organizers, because as I was finding out, planning a forum is a TON of work.

In case you missed any of the forums this week, the topics were wide ranging and included (but not limited to): riverfront plans, education, diversity, Route 9, economic development, policing, the North End, property taxes, climate change, regionalization, gun violence, taxes, senior citizens, mental health, the opioid epidemic, walkable streets, overhauling city hall, tourism, the arts scene, and so on.

Also during the lead up to this week, I heard from some people about wanting to have a real head-to-head, tough questions style debate between the candidates. They wanted audience questions that the candidates would not be prepared for, and potential exposure of truths or rumors that they may, or may not have heard or read somewhere.

Perhaps someone else will plan something like that in the future at another debate when the field narrows down, but this past week was really devoted to the voters, as a way for them to get to know each candidate better and decide who is most aligned with their values and hopes for a better Middletown. Local elections, in my opinion, are THE most important to voters as they directly impact day to day life. Lots of things seem out of our control lately - but who sits in the mayor’s office, who decides what type of education my children will receive, who decides what businesses set up in town, who is making sure I’m safe, who is making sure the water and air I breathe is clean, who is going to listen to ME? Your local officials will. 

So, see you all on Tuesday and happy voting.

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