There’s a definite aura of political excitement in the air these days in Keene.
Nearly two dozen Democratic (and an occasional Republican) presidential candidates have been popping up for several months now at the college, local businesses and homes, touting their big ideas and asking for big checks, and votes. That will all continue to rev up through the New Hampshire primary, still more than three months away. Then it will restart for the buildup to next November’s state and national election.
Given how much seems to be at stake for our nation, our economy — even the planet — that’s no surprise. But there’s also a bubble of excitement in the city this season because of Keene’s own municipal election, which features multiple well-qualified mayoral candidates and a baker’s dozen vying for five at-large City Council seats.
Yes, the oft-overlooked citywide races — and those in the wards — have drawn quite an array of candidates. So many so that on Tuesday, a primary will offer the chance to pare their ranks down to manageable numbers.
Note the city’s primary differs from state and national primaries that are run by and used to winnow candidates from the two major political parties. Democrats are far more interested in the coming New Hampshire primary than Republicans, because while a few rogue candidates have announced bids to unseat Donald Trump within the GOP, there’s very little chance he won’t be the nominee of that party as long as he remains in office. Despite the best efforts of at least one mayoral campaign to portray this election as partisan, Keene’s primary is meant solely to narrow the number of candidates to two for each seat, regardless of party.
And that’s needed, because there are nearly five dozen candidates. There are contested seats for Ward 2 councilor and a vacant Ward 4 council seat. A whopping five people have filed for three positions as Ward 2 selectman, typically a position generating little interest.
Among the 13 at-large council candidates are some familiar names — incumbents, sitting ward councilors and past councilors, and a former Keene Board of Education member. But there are also a handful of new faces, with a variety of visions and agendas for the city. All spoke to their plans in a report this past weekend. And each had the opportunity to answer a Sentinel questionnaire, as did the ward council candidates and those for mayor. Those questionnaires, which each election offer one of the best views of the candidates, can be found at SentinelSource.com.
The interest in running for local office is a good sign for the city. And while they’re understandably intrigued and energized by the parade of would-be presidents streaming through the state, we hope Keene voters don’t overlook Tuesday’s voting.
The biggest threat to our democratic process is voters who don’t care enough to participate. It may seem at times there isn’t much at stake in local elections, but those elected in the city’s November voting will control spending of more than $70 million, and have the power to enact local rules, change zoning and more.
In short, they’ll have a much more direct effect on the wallets and the quality of life of Keene residents.
That ought to be worth paying attention to.