In the Arena: Dismal turnout for Greenfield primary

  • At-large incumbent Penny Ricketts tallies up preliminary election results for the at race on Tuesday night. Ricketts was the top vote getter with 33 percent of the votes with 724. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The field for the 2017 Greenfield town elections is now set, following this Tuesday’s somewhat dismal preliminary election for two at-large town council seats.

Dismal because even though 90 percent of the people chose not to participate, the town still had to spend $10,000, which means Greenfield taxpayers shelled out $1,000 for every percentage of votes cast.

Not exactly a monument to democracy, but that seems to be the norm these days in municipal elections. People just don’t seem to care about these things they way they once did, but they have no compunction assessing blame for it.

Most often, it’s the media that takes the hit, but Greenfield Town Clerk Deb Tuttle also took some shrapnel Tuesday from voters who wondered why she didn’t take steps to ensure that there was an election story in Tuesday’s Recorder telling people to come out to vote — as if Deb can just wave a magic wand and headlines appear.

How much more was the media supposed to do anyway? The Recorder did profiles of all of the candidates willing to be interviewed and wrote preview stories before that. I wrote about it at least twice in this space, including the Friday before, and I know it was also on the WHAI, Bear Country, WHMP and The River several times up to and including Election Day.

Maybe The Recorder could have used its own vehicles to drive people to the polls? At what point does this stop being the media’s responsibility and start becoming the voter’s?

I understand this wasn’t the flashiest election ever, but a 10 percent turnout in a town as politically active as Greenfield once was is absolutely baffling.

Fortunately, there are other angles that are equally baffling, like Penny Ricketts’ surprise at being the top vote-getter, the second time that has happened in as many elections. I wonder at what point Ricketts is going to realize how big her following has become. It was obviously little comfort to her Tuesday, where she said she didn’t get a great vibe from the voters.

“I’m both grateful and relieved,” Ricketts said. “I know there has been a lot of controversy recently, and I didn’t really have a good feeling the entire day.”

It’s understandable, given what some of the comments from the few who did show up.

“I had people who asked me about Safe City, and why did I go there,” Ricketts said. “And people also asked me ‘if I don’t call you colored, what should I call you?’ I said, ‘how about Penny?’”

Clearly, certain people in this town still don’t get it. It could also be argued neither does the person some feel is responsible for the town having to hold a primary at all.

When the counting was done, former Councilor Joe Gochinski only got 44 more votes than the 100 signatures required to get on the ballot, leaving a lot of people wondering why he bothered? Gochinski did next to no campaigning, which, come to think of it, was the strategy he employed the last time his name appeared on the ballot across from Scott Cote.

How did that work out for him?

I think “Joe Go” was banking on name recognition from his past position as Register of Deeds to help coax older residents to vote for him. Problem is, clearly not a lot of older voters turned out, and the ones that voted for other candidates.

One of those candidates was incumbent Councilor Ashli Stempel, who may be the first person to ever finish in the running in a town election while on a different continent. Stempel was following the election via Facebook while vacationing in Italy, which would ordinarily be a somewhat cute footnote, but may actually end up being an albatross come November.

Tuesday isn’t the first time Stempel’s been M.I.A. from a big moment. She was vacationing in Maine during the Safe City debate where, luckily for her, her “yes” vote would not have impacted the final tally. And it appears she won’t be here for next Wednesday’s council meeting that is expected to include subpoenaed testimony regarding GCET — the qusi-independent municipal internet provider.

Given her popularity and the borderline embarrassing level of voter apathy in this town, it’s doubtful that these absentee moments will stick to Stempel long-term. But if there is any truth to the saying that “decisions are made by those who show up,” it could be argued that Stempel needs to make a better effort to be here when the big stuff happens — especially if she has designs on higher office beyond the council.

Still alive — probably much to her surprise — is Maria Burge, who was convinced she had detonated herself politically by voting against the Safe City Ordinance. Even though she finished fourth, Burge believes she has a chance to take one of the two seats Tuesday’s winners will compete for come November’s general election.

“I’ve been breaking glass ceilings since before it was cool to do so,” Burge said. “I always welcome a challenge and will work hard for the silent majority if elected.”

I hope that majority will be a little less silent, and a little bit larger, when it comes time to go back to the polls in November.

Chris Collins is the Franklin County News Bureau Chief for WHAI, WPVQ and WHMP Radio. He is a former Recorder reporter.