It’s premature to say that Tuesday’s municipal elections will bring sweeping changes to Keene’s vision and direction. But there’s no doubt the voters wanted to see some new faces in the city’s leadership.
The contest attracting the most attention was naturally the one to replace outgoing Mayor Kendall Lane, and sitting city councilors George Hansel and Mitchell Greenwald waged a spirited race, even if it at times devolved disappointingly into a degree of partisan sniping. The mayor’s role in Keene is a relatively weak one, and at the candidates’ debate which The Sentinel sponsored last week, it was striking how much the two generally agreed on the major issues facing the city — the need for more affordable housing, advancing workforce development, making the business environment more attractive. In the end, Hansel’s argument that he offered a fresh approach to leading the council in tackling those concerns swayed voters more than Greenwald’s pitch that his much longer experience on the council is essential to the role.
Similarly, the results in the council races seemed less about new policy and direction and more about new faces. Of the council’s 15 seats, 11 were up for grabs. Although five of the current councilors running were voted in, there will be six newcomers, and the incoming council will skew more female and more millennial, which, together with Hansel’s millennial status, should offer new perspective on attracting and retaining workers and young families.
Even so, it’s not clear the new council make-up will mean a change in priorities, or just new approaches. In comments on his loss to Catherine “Catt” Workman for one of the Ward 4 seats, current councilor Rob O’Connor said he was “excited” that Workman would be on the council. “I just think she’s gonna bring fresh ideas to the council,” he said.
The overall winner yesterday, as Greenwald graciously commented after his loss, was Keene. The election clearly generated a new level of excitement and interest, and that carried through to election day. Voter turnout was 26 percent, which for municipal elections in recent memory is remarkably robust, and more than double what it was in last month’s primary. At last week’s mayoral debate, both Greenwald and Hansel noted the large number in attendance and expressed hope that more people would attend council meetings. Certainly the turnout Tuesday bodes well for heightened citizen engagement.
The new mayor and council will begin tackling the city’s priorities come January, and with new faces and the promise of fresh ideas, their work will be worth watching.