Bringing the candidates to the people
After being elected to 12 straight terms and serving 24 years, Preston First Selectman Robert Congdon decided not to seek re-election last November. Though a Republican and a fiscal conservative, Congdon had, in the leadup to the election, begun to conclude that the Democrat was the better candidate to succeed him.
The debate for first selectman, sponsored by The Day, convinced him that was the case.
In endorsing Democrat Sandra Allyn-Gauthier, including in a letter to the editor, Congdon would repeatedly urge voters to watch the Oct. 17 debate, available on theday.com. Not that they needed much persuading. On debate night 200 people had packed the auditorium of the local middle school. Online the debate would attract 1,068 views, impressive for a town of 4,600 people.
Seeing was believing and on Election Day voters in the fiscally conservative town voted to make Allyn-Gauthier their new leader, 1,017-516.
The Day brings a sense of duty to the task of giving our readers the information they need to make an informed vote. And those readers are invested in the process, using email and a form available on theday.com to supply questions for the debates.
In the recent municipal election, The Day sponsored debates for the offices of mayor or first selectman in the towns of East Lyme, Stonington, Montville, Waterford and New London, as well as Preston. While the selectmen’s debate in Old Lyme was sponsored by another group, we recorded it as a public service and offered it on theday.com, along with all the debates.
Online the debates attracted 5,059 views, complementing a collective live audience of about 1,000. Assisting the Day was the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Southeastern Connecticut.
The challenges are significant, including finding locations and dates the candidates can agree on and surmounting technical barriers to provide a quality production for our online audience.
In Stonington a crowd packed a community center hall. In Waterford they nearly filled the high school auditorium. Everywhere attendees thanked us for the opportunity.
As moderator for the events, I got the opportunity to question the candidates about local issues having to do with development, tax policy, public safety, education, the challenges presented by climate change, and numerous town-specific issues.
Every debate was reported on by our staff of local reporters. Readers also benefitted from stories profiling the candidates. And on election night, we were the place to go for results.
The Day was proud to shine a bright light on grassroots democracy.
By the Numbers
Where we set up our cameras to record municipal debates
Mayor of New London: C.B. Jennings International Magnet School
Board of Selectmen Stonington: the Stonington Community Center
Mayor of Montville: Montville High School
First Selectman of Preston: Preston Plains School
First Selectman of Waterford: Waterford High School
First Selectman of East Lyme: East Lyme High School
Board of Selectmen Old Lyme: Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School
Who was watching
Collective online views for the debates: 5,059
Estimated live audience: 1,000
Affiliations: 8 Republicans, 8 Democrats, 1 Green, 1 unaffiliated
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