Being There, 2007 

Recently, various members of the Flyer editorial staff were sounded out by a newly established local political-action group for help on the score of drumming up the voter turnout for next week's city election. Opinion among us was divided, with some concurring with the local group's basic goal. Others, however, argued that increasing the number of voters without corresponding increases both in their appetite for voting and in their awareness of the candidates and the issues could be counterproductive.

Which is to say, some of us will gladly take our consistent sub-50-percent turnouts for city elections in preference to the nearly 100 percent turnouts boasted by such enlightened political systems as Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, and Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Coincidentally, perhaps, virtually all of the votes recorded in those places went in one direction — which was, generally speaking, the only direction available.

Even so, the basic outlook of the group soliciting our support was sound enough, based on the theory that for a democracy to work, it requires citizens showing up and being there.

There's a corollary to that: In an age in which direct communication is in danger of being overwhelmed by various forms of P.R., electronic and otherwise, in which truth isn't served nearly so consistently and so well as is someone's checkbook, it is necessary for the candidate to show up and be there too.

This is the case even at the presidential level. The reason for tiny New Hampshire's longstanding pre-eminence as an early primary state is precisely that its distances are small enough that dedicated candidates have a fair chance of encountering most interested voters.

No presidential hopeful would dare try to electioneer in New Hampshire — on in Iowa, another early state, for that matter — without pressing as much flesh and engaging in as much discourse with their opponents and with the public as possible.

Why then should we have had several conspicuous examples locally of candidates eschewing such contact? The best-known example is Mayor Willie Herenton, who forsook any and all give-and-takes alongside his challengers at the several scheduled public mayoral forums. The mayor did, however, conduct public rallies and submitted to media questions here and there. Councilman Joe Brown, another elusive candidate, has been harder to find in his race for reelection, avoiding all forums, but his constituents presumably know where to find him.

More befuddling is the case of Reid Hedgepeth, the intended heir-designate for the seat of outgoing councilman Jack Sammons, who has played shepherd for the well-financed young developer's campaign, apparently ruling out all appearances by his protégé at candidate forums or before inquiring neighborhood associations. Hedgepeth — who may, for all we know, be God's gift to the council — is sighted mainly via TV spots and via the medium of his highly proliferated campaign signs. That is unfortunate, especially since the rest of the field seeking Sammons' super-district seat seems especially talented and willing to lay things on the line.

All three of these worthies may win, and, if so, all three may do well and commendably in office. But they've all slighted the process by keeping the people they wish to serve at such a distance.


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