Forum a no go in city? Show to go on, candidate says
By Gordon Dritschilo
Staff Writer | February 12,2014
Rutland City Democrats have canceled their aldermanic candidates forum tonight, citing the “the quality of the candidates” among their reasons. But one candidate says he'll sponsor the forum himself.
For the past few years, the Rutland City Democrats have invited candidates for seats on the Board of Aldermen to a forum at the library during the run-up to Town Meeting Day. That event had been planned for Wednesday, but organizer Mike Austin confirmed Monday it had been canceled.
“There were some issues and also the quality of the candidates and another set of issues,” were the reason given by Austin in a voice mail left Monday evening. Attempts to reach him for elaboration Tuesday were unsuccessful.
The challengers appear on the ballot in a field with five incumbents, while only a write-in candidate has chosen to challenge Alderwoman Melinda Humphrey for her unexpired term. The challengers are John Mattison, who has made two unsuccessful runs for the board; Marge Johnston, who has made unsuccessful runs for mayor; and her son, political newcomer Kam Johnston.
Kam Johnston said he intends to sponsor the event tonight himself, but none of the other candidates who could be reached Tuesday said they planned to attend.
Johnston himself said the only commitments he had received were from his mother and from write-in candidate Dan White. He also said he had been unable to recruit a moderator as of late Tuesday afternoon, and might resort to having the audience elect one.
Humphrey, Board Chairman David Allaire, Aldermen Gary Donahue and Alderman Chris Siliski all said they did not think it was appropriate for a candidate to host a candidates forum, while Aldermen William Notte and Alderwoman Sharon Davis cited previous commitments — Davis said the first she heard of the Democrats' forum was when it was canceled.
Mattison also said he could not make it because of previous commitments, and said Austin's characterization of the candidate field smacked of elitism. He said aldermen are constantly in the newspaper and on PEG-TV, and challengers need chances to raise their profiles.
“Everybody needs to have a voice to be heard,” he said.
Johnston said that if he tried to organize the forum on a different date, the incumbents would likely again refuse to attend, but that making sure tonight's event takes place would make it harder for them to back out of a forum PEG-TV is planning for later this month.
“It's a classic tactic of incumbents — they sit back and ignore challengers,” he said.
Organized forums — typically the Democrats organize one and PEG-TV another — have been well-attended by incumbents in the past few elections. Most of the incumbents contacted said they would have attended the forum had the Democrats gone through with it, and all said they planned to attend the PEG-TV forum, tentatively scheduled for Feb. 26.
Johnston also expressed dismay at the stated rationale for canceling the event.
“They're making a decision for the public that seems inappropriate,” he said.