Keene’s mayor is seen as a “weak” position relative to some cities, in that the city manager handles most day-to-day executive business and the full City Council must approve major decisions. But the position is still key, and among the more influential in the region.
Keene’s mayor sets the council’s agenda and runs the meetings, giving him or her the ability to direct the conversation on key issues. The mayor appoints councilors and others to a variety of committees, and has the authority to create ad hoc panels or commissions. The mayor can also issue proclamations, which can be as rote as officially announcing the time for trick-or-treating — Thursday from 5:30-7:30 p.m. this year — or weigh in on issues as substantial as climate change, energy use and opioids.
This year, with Mayor Kendall Lane stepping down, Keene voters have a choice between two smart and experienced councilors, Mitch Greenwald and George Hansel. Any registered voter in the city has likely received literature via mail touting the qualifications of either or both. They each have been frequent attendees at local events, have appeared on radio shows and have put out their messages online.
Face-to-face exchanges have been few, however.
That changes Wednesday evening, when the two square off in a debate at Keene State College.
Sponsored by The Sentinel, the debate begins at 6:30 at the Redfern Arts Center. Moderated by Jim Rousmaniere, former editor of The Sentinel, it will include questions submitted by the public and from panelists from The Sentinel, WKBK radio and a Keene State College student who lives in the city.
Some of the talk regarding the election has revolved around the involvement of the political parties, though the position is, by statute, a nonpartisan one. In fact, both their voting records as councilors indicate much agreement on many topics. But while both have much to offer, their approaches to some key issues facing the city differ. Those differences are likely to be explored Wednesday evening.
To those for whom the image of political debates is gleaned from made-for-television events involving presidential candidates, it might seem not much of value occurs during such events. But those are image-burnishing opportunities, during which candidates vie to control the next day’s news cycle by conjuring the best sound bite or rousing the crowd.
True debates between serious candidates for local office are a different animal entirely. Those who attend or view them are seeking substance; based on reader-submitted questions we have received, they want to know how each candidate would deal with a wide range of issues, including taxes, energy, housing, potholes and development.
In short, Wednesday’s debate may be the best single opportunity to compare and contrast Hansel and Greenwald and better understand what each would bring to the position, beyond partisan ties.
The event was originally planned for the Keene Public Library’s Heberton Hall, but demand for tickets forced a move to the Redfern. Even so, the event is at capacity. That level of interest is a good sign for the city, but does stand to leave some people out. Those wanting to take in the debate, and we feel all voters ought to, can watch it live through The Sentinel’s Facebook page (facebook.com/thekeenesentinel). It will remain there afterward so those busy Wednesday can view it at their leisure.
But don’t take too long. Voting begins next Tuesday morning.