PITTSFIELD, Maine — Whether it was because of voter apathy or election coverage saturation, the turnout at the traditional ARTS Club candidates night Wednesday was dismal.
In past years, election interest was so high that the ARTS Club event was standing room only and often lasted for hours as residents quizzed the candidates.
But that wasn’t the case this year.
In fact, most of the candidates didn’t even show up. Of the 15 central Maine candidates invited, only three attended. Of the 12 people in the audience, more than half were related to the candidates or members of the ARTS Club. The entire event was over in just one hour.
“There are a lot of unopposed seats,” organizer Bev Rollins said, trying to explain the poor turnout by both residents and candidates. “Maybe people felt it was unnecessary to come.”
The three candidates who attended were Gary Jordan, who is seeking re-election to the Pittsfield Town Council as an at-large representative; Valory Slymon, the Democratic candidate for House District 29 (Clinton, Detroit and Pittsfield); and Stacey Fitts, the Republican incumbent for that seat.
Eight candidates indicated to Rollins that they were unable to attend and three failed even to respond to the invitation. One candidate who had indicated he would attend, failed to show up.
The audience had frequent and insightful questions for the politicians who did attend, and their concerns ranged from school consolidation to welfare benefits residency requirements, to energy issues and the state budget shortfall.
“This budget cycle is going to be ugly and there are going to be some upset people,” Fitts said. “It’s an emotional process.
Fitts, 46, is seeking his third term and said experience was essential in being effective in Augusta. “Even though we are facing huge shortfalls already in the upcoming budget, I believe there are still ways to save money, still efficiencies to be found.”
Slymon, 52, and a newcomer to politics, said, “Good jobs, the economy, health care and energy are on all our minds.” She said she wanted to devote her time to helping people “find their way through the web of bureaucracy. We are facing some difficult issues and there are no easy answers. I’m willing to work hard and listen.”
Jordan has served in Pittsfield politics for 12 years, including eight years on the Town Council, four as mayor. He also has served as chairman of the planning board. “I have experience and a working knowledge of town operations and departments,” he said. Jordan said SAD 53 and the dredging of the town’s sewage treatment plant lagoons are two priority issues for 2009.