About halfway through the Columbus Exchange Club’s candidate forum Thursday, my thoughts turned to a line from one of my favorite movies, “As Good as It Gets.”
In the scene, a character is explaining to a neighbor a crisis he is facing and seeks his advice. But he soon grows frustrated by the response he is getting.
“I’m out here drowning and you’re on the bank describing the water,” he laments.
That was the impression I took away from Thursday’s forum. The five city council candidates who participated — Pierre Beard, Kori Bridges, Rusty Greene, Kallie Phillips and Marty Turner — along with Jacqueline DiCicco, who has no general election opponent and will be seated as the Ward 6 councilman on July 1 — all were able to “describe the water.”
Crime, street conditions and city services, budget management were on the lips of all of the candidates. But, at least during Thursday’s forum, specific plans to address these issues were few.
Greene suggested divvying up public works money among the six wards and Phillips suggested privatization of some city services to relieve budget pressures, but aside from that, solutions to the problems were noticeably vague.
For the past three months, the candidates have had time to really give some thought to the challenges the city faces. Presumably, those candidates began to think about those issues long before deciding to run for the city council.
It seems to me, if I were running for office and was serious about it, I’d spend plenty of time not only determining the issues I wanted to confront — most of them in plain sight — but coming up with four or five specific ideas about the solutions and what those solutions would require. I would expect no less from any competent, serious candidate.
Yet with all that time, the sense I got from listening to the candidates Thursday was sort of a “I’ll figure it out when I get there” attitude.
Historically, voter turnout for municipal elections is low, an indicator that voters are skeptical, perhaps indifferent. Maybe this is a part of the reason why that is.
What inspires voters are candidates with real plans and solutions. If elections are reduced to little more than popularity contests, a whole lot of voters are going to take a pass on the election altogether. Candidates who believe voters are inspired by the sheer magnitude of their personality may be in for a rude awakening. Or, at least, they ought to be.
The candidates who gathered Thursday provided little to inspire voters, but at least they showed up, something that could not be said of Ward 1 incumbent Ethel Steward and Ward 3 candidate Sally Brown Tate.
When the smoke clears after the June 8 general election, those who form our city council may turn out to be great leaders and effective representatives. They may implement real changes and make our city better. That’s something we are all hoping will be the case.
But to date, there has been little evidence of that, and little reason for voters to be inspired to turn out at the polls.
The only good news I can think of right now is that the candidates may yet inform voters of specific policies they will pursue to address the issues facing our city. They still have about a month to do that, but Thursday’s candidate forum was an opportunity missed.
I believe that a candidate with real plans will be rewarded.
In the absence of that, apathy will rule. We don’t need leaders to describe the water.
We’re drowning out here.
I have to ask: Is this as good as it gets?
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]