Walking the Streets
There’s probably nothing more small town than campaigning for the Representative Town Meeting. Fairfield’s divided into ten districts and each district has five representatives. As a result, each district has about ten candidates crisscrossing the streets, shaking hands, knocking on doors and talking to neighbors.
When I first ran in 2005, the Republicans had no one in opposition so campaigning was non-existent. In 2007, there were three opponents but they didn’t appear to mount much of a campaign. Still, the five Democrats campaigned; we walked the district, covering about 90% of the streets.
This time, we’re all incumbents campaigning for re-election while a full slate of five Republicans is hoping to win some or all the seats in District 8. Fortunately, a long-standing agreement between both sides has meant not wasting money on cluttering the streets with lawn signs.
Instead, we walk. About two or three afternoons a week, I’ve knocked off around 4 and walked with Larry Kaley. On weekends, I try and partner with one of the other candidates and using walking lists, we go door to door to door.
It never ceases to amaze me how often we have to explain what the RTM does, even to long-time residents. In some cases, we are caught short by people thoroughly unaware there’s an election despite the plethora of lawn signs and mailings from town-wide candidates, articles in the three local weeklies, and so on.
While going out, I bring along a clipboard to hold the walking lists but also to take notes. As a representative, we’re also advocates for the residents. All too often, months go by without our hearing from anyone in the district. Usually, our inboxes fill during budget season but even then, the comments are usually limited to just the school budget.
I like being able to help, to use my knowledge of the town to get things done. We’ve had Public Works and the Tree Warden out to look at homes where residents said attention was required. One parent of a special ed student heard that the full budget for special education was not passed. I had the special education coordinator on the phone with the parent the following day (it was erroneous information).
Last time, we heard a lot about zoning issues and over construction. This time, though, that came up only once. The number one issue raised from one end of District 8 to the other was speeding. Unfortunately, it’s not something the RTM can get involved in. On the other hand, we’ll be talking to Police Chief Peck about this and see what the police department can do to address the issue.
Overall, people have polite enough when they answer the door. Some have questions, most complain about property taxes, admit it’s an issue coast to coast and then bring up things they’ve heard about. At every opportunity, I remind them to keep in touch, lend their voices to the town debate so when we vote, we’re being truly representative of the entire district.
When the weather has kept us indoors, we’ve occasionally gone to headquarters and made calls. Getting the vote out on Tuesday is now critical so a truly representative sampling of the populace votes for Board of Ed, Board of Finance, Town Planning and Zoning in addition to the RTM. Last time, turnout was 42% or so, but without a First Selectman’s race, we’re expecting sharply lower turnout despite how critical these boards are in shaping the way the town functions.
It’s been rewarding walking streets I never otherwise have a need to be on. The Halloween decorations are more elaborate than ever and it’s always interesting to see how people maintain their homes and grounds. We have one weekend left, then standing at the polls on Tuesday.