With ballots promised to arrive any day (we hope), silly season has taken on a fevered pitch. Climate has received the usual complaints about candidates and campaigns, and read many others in the online forums. Last night at Climate’s Forum, a disturbing story surfaced. During one of the forum’s questions on whether Redwood City embraces or resists diversity, candidate Jason Galisatus recounted how earlier that day, he discovered an anti-gay slur – “#gay” – tagged on his landlord’s fence.
A subsequent investigation by Redwood City police found the graffiti was not related to the campaign, as it pre-dated Galisatus’ tenancy in the complex. Regardless, the incident placed the issue of increasing ugliness in our political discourse front and center ahead of the November elections. The tone in this election cycle has reflected the tone of our national politics. Sad, but true.
But there is a grain of hope in all this – the candidates themselves. To this point, in a hotly-contested election, the seven Redwood candidates for council have shown remarkably civil tones and collegiality – at least in public forums. There isn’t a Trump in the lot.
At Climate’s 2.5-hour forum, and the VOCA forum a few nights earlier, I learned a lot listening to them. They were all impressive and demonstrated poise and command of the issues.
This, sadly, has not rubbed off on all of their supporters. If you watch the commentary online, it has become abhorrent. Sexist attacks on female candidates running, independent expenditure committees playing on fear to dissuade support of certain candidates. Some good old fashion McCarthyesque redbaiting over policies on rent control. Class warfare on “techies” and their salaries. Allegations of candidates and elected officials being “bought off” because of donations or because they voted in a way that an individual disagreed with. Nativist rants demanding that welcome mats be removed for newcomers are frequent—and usually accompanied with ancestral claims to the real Redwood City in a manner akin to a proper Boston Brahmin tracing their roots to the Mayflower. What is the equivalent of Redwood City’s Mayflower anyway?
As my mother would say, it’s all just foolish.
Still there is hope. Amid the hateful attacks, the candidates showed the night of the Climate forum that they could battle it back with respect, poise and wit. The outside noise seemed to clear, and the candidates talked about themselves and what they stood for. Mark Simon’s moderation of the event and the event format specifically allowed more time than usual forums for candidates to express themselves and talk directly to voters about Redwood City’s future.
Before knowing the results of the police investigation, all candidates expressed remorse for what happened to Galisatus in their city. Candidate Gisele Hale, a relative newcomer on the stage, says she herself has experienced hostility during the campaign online. Her dire sin? Being born near Milwaukee, not here. She chose to come here, raise her family in this remarkable place and enjoy a booming economy—both qualities that did not exist where she came from. She said the community has become part of her family. A tightly knit neighborhood where everyone cares for one another and is a primary motivator for her desire to give back and work to make Redwood City a better place.
Council member and candidate Diane Howard recalled her own difficulties coming to Redwood City “so long ago.” She came with little and knew no one. She built a life here and has been a remarkable community advocate and participant for so many years.
Candidate Rick Hunter made a heartfelt call for civility, not only in our actions but also in our decision-making as a City. He called for calm discussion about our differences of opinion, including everyone, and having conversations focused on making the best decision.
Candidate Diane Reddy talked about her participation in training sessions that dealt with, in part, white privilege, and how she came to terms with knowing that she both experienced it and had exhibited symptoms. She also claimed to be “colorblind” and from a diverse background.
Candidate Ernie Schmidt recalled his reluctance to enter the race early on, stating he “wasn’t sure he had the earmuffs for it.” The noise is difficult, and in order to focus he has left Facebook in order to knock on doors and have conversations with neighbors.
Candidate Christina Umhofer talked about how she is known to have the orphans’ Thanksgiving house, liberally inviting other candidates and audience members to come on by. She also offered to help repair Jason’s landlord’s fence (an offer that several members of the audience echoed).
My hope came in the reaction and the humanity on display by the dedicated people that were there to ask for your vote, as they have many nights before tonight. In that span of the debate, it seemed that all differences were put aside. Outside agitators, including the virtual pitchfork carrying mobs on Facebook, were drowned out in favor of constructive conversation. At least that was what I took from it. A lot was said over the 2.5-hour forum. Watch the (admittedly rather poor quality) Facebook Live of the event to see and judge for yourselves.
Regardless of who wins in November, I hope down the road whoever they are remembers this moment in the campaign and bring, as candidate Rick Hunter stated, civility to our decision making process. I, for one, hope that isn’t too much to ask.
Climate also commits to play a role, as we endeavored to do at the Thursday night forum, to be a purveyor of fairness and facts and, through this message and our ongoing efforts, to promote civility and respect for an honest dialogue on the difficult challenges facing our City.