Des Moines City Council Ward 3 forum: Neighborhoods and advocates

Thanks to Stefanie Running for a play-by-play of the October 10 candidate forum for Des Moines City Council Ward 3, featuring Michael Kiernan, Josh Mandelbaum, and Abshir Omar. First-person accounts of campaign events are always welcome at Bleeding Heartland. -promoted by desmoinesdem

6:30 PM
It’s really a lovely night. Mid 60s, you can smell fall emerging from the hundred-year-old neighborhood trees and the glowing sunset inching forward sooner each day. Max Knauer and Kate Allen have been working with neighborhood associations and advocacy groups since August putting this forum together. I volunteer as a social chair for Gray’s Lake Neighborhood Association (GLNA), so I’ve seen the work that they’ve put into the program. They’ve scheduled the forum right in the heart of my own neighborhood, so it’s barely a half mile for me to travel.

As I arrive, other neighborhood reps are setting up, Knauer fields questions from co-sponsors and attendees alike. The candidates arrive. I’ve spoken to all three digitally via email or facebook. Tonight I introduce myself. I’m Stefanie Running. I’ll be the rep for this very neighborhood. I’ll also be writing about tonight’s forum for Bleeding Heartland. All three are gracious and welcoming.

Unpacking my camera gear, I realize it’s non-functional. I forgot something. I can’t go back home because the event is about to start and I didn’t drive. So I sit and I prepare to take notes. I apologize, dear reader, for my lack of photos. That’s my favorite part. Sadly, what I lack in photos, I’m going to make up for in article length. I apologize in advance.

To make this article a little more readable, from this point on I’ll show the panelist’s comments in bold, the candidate responses will be in standard font, and my own comments in italics.

7:00 PM
Kate Allen is our emcee. She explains the rules and asks us to turn off our phones. She forgets to turn off hers, which we’ll find out a little later when it starts tauntingly buzzing across the lectern.

She welcomes us all to the Unitarian Church. They are always very welcoming and open for community use. They let us use their large hall for our neighborhood meetings. It’s comfortable and familiar.

Kate asks the candidates to introduce themselves, and give opening statements.
The candidates oblige.

Abshir Omar lives in the downtown area. He’s from Somalia, as a very small child he lived in a refugee camp in Kenya. His journey story is impressive, and I encourage you to hear him speak at some point. He grew up in Seattle, had a great education, later moved here to attend Iowa State.

He’s hopeful for the future of Des Moines, he calls it a vibrant community for the first time of many. This is a theme he’ll continue throughout the night. Things still need to be done, he says. Affordable housing, criminal justice reform. Waterways are polluted, it’s an ecological disaster. And our city council needs to start standing up for its citizens.

He believes we need to be a welcoming city. At the latest city council meeting, when the community demanded to be considered such, they council balked. They made a “Pinky Promise” instead of a resolution. This conjured images of elementary school for me. They declared an inclusion proclamation. He doesn’t believe it’s enough.

He wants to bring city business into light of day. He hopes to be a change maker, to speak for communities not heard, like LGBTQ, Muslims, Latinx. Des Moines city council needs diversity, its current state is all white, all Christian. Affordable housing will be key issue for him as well.

Josh Mandelbaum is a Roosevelt High School graduate, raising two kids in same community. He jokes that he hopes they graduate. The crowd laughs.

Probably because of course they’ll graduate. They aren’t at risk. We have a lot of kids here that are. It’s clear he already knows this and he acknowledges his privilege.

His family has had access to opportunity for a long time. His great grandfather came to the U.S. as a Jewish German immigrant. He opened a store and eventually created a better life for his family and generations after. That’s what we need in Des Moines, Mandelbaum says. That’s what a great American city can do. Opportunities for all to help generations. We need to create that same opportunity for everyone.

Des Moines should be a place to live, work, raise a family, and retire.

Mandelbaum mentions his time as policy staff for Governor Tom Vilsack and Lieutenant Governor Sally Pederson.

Disclosure: during his tenure with Vilsack/Pederson he worked with a family member of mine. However, I do not know him outside of this candidacy. He’ll bring up those names a couple times tonight.

He’s currently an environmental attorney, his clients include clean water and clean energy non-profits.

He believes the city council should stand up for Des Moines residents in the water quality debate, get police and fire departments the resources they need. He mentions his endorsements by the DMFD and DMPD unions. He wants to create strong neighborhoods, start with basics like roads and infrastructure. We need to work on how to coordinate between neighborhoods and the city council. Assets like parks and libraries should complement schools and neighborhood activities.

He believes we need to bring the success of downtown down to Fleur, SW 9th, and other corridors. This will be a key refrain from Mandelbaum tonight.

Michael Kiernan first wants us to know that he’s served on city council. He will repeat this for each question he is asked. For good reason, it’s likely his main strength as a candidate.

He tells us he grew up on a farm in Madison County until his parents divorced when he 10. He then moved with his mom and brothers to Des Moines, to the home where his mother still lives today.

He wasn’t a Rhodes scholar, he tells us. I don’t know that any of the candidates are, the comment seems a non-sequitur. He speaks of the hard work he did to get where he is today. He worked at super value sacking groceries as a teen. He worked his way through school. He quit school to get job at QT as night manager to help pay for his family’s bills. He went to DMACC and wanted to join the police force. Then he went to Wartburg, and changed majors.

Kiernan came back to Des Moines in 1997. He worked for Preston Daniels on his mayoral campaign.

Later he sat on the zoning board as a small business owner. With David Schlarmann, who Kiernan points out is sitting here as a panel member, Kiernan opened Metro Market. They hit problems with City of Des Moines. it caused some sort of cash flow issue, but he didn’t get into detail as he had only a couple minutes So he ran for council after Frank Cownie resigned his seat. He was a council member from 2004 to 2010 and during that time, the city saw its greatest economic boom. Kiernan shares that previously there was nothing going on in the city, he had to take calculated risks to attract business and people, and the proof of his success is in the pudding that can be found from gateway west through the east village. Those were projects started in City Council during his tenure.

We learn that during these last two years he’s been taking care of his son. Has a beautiful wife on TV, you all know. And yes, we do all know. She’s on TV most days, in most ads I’ve seen for him, and she’s also sitting here with all of us in the auditorium. Being incredibly pretty. She’s much further back than I am, so I didn’t see her react to his compliment. I’m sure she took it with the same grace and intelligence she demonstrates on her news broadcast each night. He shares with us that they planned to have a child for many years, but didn’t plan how to care for the child, so he stayed home to take on that role.

When he saw a father killed in front of his three kids, he felt compelled to rejoin city leadership. He feels we need to get back to basics, need to have a larger conversation about public safety, and what it takes to keep the city working together.

He thanks Knauer, and said he’s been working with him since he was 20. I don’t know either’s age. Kiernan mentions many well connected community members throughout the evening, so we know he’s been building relationships with them all for a long time.
Another disclosure: through Kiernan’s positions within the Democratic Party and his mom’s political engagement, he has come to work with two members of my family. As with Mandelbaum, I only know him because of this election.

6:15 PM
We move to the panelists.
The first question comes from our emcee, she’s speaking on behalf of advocacy groups:

Allen participates actively in two social justice organizations that are part of the Unitarian Church. The UU has a long history of advocating for social justice.
The first group is Energy and Justice; they focus on environmentalism and how can we locally and globally lessen the impact of climate change. The second; Anti-Racism Collaborative (aka ARC), whose goal is to teach themselves and others about systemic racism and become knowledgeable in their role in it.

Many residents of DSM feel left behind by high-class downtown development that ignores some of our struggling neighborhoods. At the same time, many feel that economic opportunities or even fair treatment are not shared equally by all. Our city is playing a part of adding to the global climate crises while ignoring solutions that could be developed right here.

What vision do you have for economic and social development in Des Moines, that serves and promotes diverse community development and economic opportunities for all, and turns our city toward sustainability? Please give specific examples and ideas that you have.

Omar is an advocate for the environment. In this city we need to work on creating an infrastructure for the future, focus on how we can make the city more sustainable. Our city has taken on many projects making sure all city owned buildings both new and being retrofitted are LEED certified, that’s a step. We need to push developers to make sure all buildings are environmentally sustainable, conserve energy, make our city more economy viable for people. Millionaires receive hundreds of millions in TIF [tax-increment financing] money to develop lux boutique hotels and apartments. They build these structures, but no one is building affordable housing.

He mentions a few local builders benefiting but contributing little to the affordable housing need, including one that shares a name with one of his opponents, Mandelbaum. When he mentions the name, he gestures toward Mandelbaum.

He’s brought this up at other forums and debates. It’s not clear if it’s a deliberate attempt to conflate.

He continues, The Guardian reported that Des Moines has worse affordable housing statistics than Brooklyn, NY. Less than 14 available units for every 100 families in need. We need to prioritize tax structures to build affordable housing, make our streets walkable, and ensure public transportation that’s viable. DART is nonsensical. Recently a friend of his, a teacher, took a trip less than 6 miles round trip and it took 3 hours. That’s unacceptable.

Mandelbaum notes up front that Omar mentioned a construction company that he is not part of. A cousin of Mandelbaum’s owns the company, and he wants us to know that isn’t him or his immediate family.

His background is in the environment. He wants to create a more sustainable community. Including improving energy efficiency in city buildings. It can reduce our footprint and save money to focus on other priorities. There’s more we can do for renewable energy. In 2014, he worked on a case about third-party financing for renewable energy systems. He won. Since then many other communities are taking advantage of that opportunity, Des Moines hasn’t.

There are things we can do to make the community work better for everyone. Make it more accessible, walkable, bikeable, transit accessible. Making work, childcare and school work better for everyone. He’d like to focus on those corridors. Fleur, SW 9th, University. Address affordable housing crisis. Create inclusive housing policies, incentivize maintaining affordable housing. Time is up, but he wants to talk more about this later.

Kiernan tells us that everyone agrees when we talk about environment we think of Des Moines Water Works, which needs to continue to be an independent authority and shouldn’t be dismantled by the state. He tells us everyone at this table agrees our number one resource to protect is water quality.

Regarding plans for sustainability, when he was on the city council, he was able to get city to switch from those awful curbside open tubs to the closed lid tall bins. There was pushback at the time, but now those bins are full for many residents.

He wants to look at other things, while the city has done a good job with LEED standards, he wants to look at nuts and bolts that can help our city. Recent Des Moines Register articles look at fed tax giveaways and their relationship to environmental efficiency. Some people have questions, are we getting back what we put in for these savings over time.

For low-income housing, it’s a product of federal government. When they cut back on tax credits, when the state does that, it affects us on a local level. He questioned the removal of abatements for townhomes. They are starter homes for some people. Also, why can we build as many homeless shelters as we want, but can’t build inclusive planning that gets them off the street and gives them mental health services and moves them off the street and up. He met with a developer recently who wants to build a tiny home subdivision. He believes this is an intriguing idea.

Our next panel member, Phil Kresnor of Woodland Heights:

Traffic is a problem in many Des Moines neighborhoods. The traffic department isn’t part of the neighborhood planning and revitalization process. Collector streets are being used as alternate arterial routes to avoid heavy traffic on main streets like Ingersoll. We want that planning to include traffic department.

What would you do as a city leader to make our community safe in terms of traffic, in volume and speed?

Omar kicks off his response with an apology to Mandelbaum. He’s not trying to mislead anyone, he says. The developer’s name is Mandelbaum Development, and it wasn’t meant as a slight against the candidate.

He continues, making sure traffic is safe for all residents, we need to look at devices, speed limits. Bigger question is how to develop city for the future. We are growing by leaps and bounds, and need to find alternatives to driving. How we can make this city thrive by providing reasonable transportation services. Seattle has a great system, two blocks away from any point in Seattle. We need affordable busing. We need to look at light rail for suburbs. These will support families who sometimes have to work two or three jobs.

Mandelbaum believes traffic issues, walkability, bikeability, transit accessibility are vital. We must think about how we make our community more accessible. It will help with traffic and other areas.

First step: Traffic culling measures. That needs to extend beyond corridors. Example: 42nd street created bump outs, it slows the cars in that that neighborhood. That can make that area safer and calmer. On corridors we can create bike lanes and bike infrastructure. That’s not just for bikes. They make traffic slow down, they help economic development along the corridor. It comes back to collaboration: safe routes to school, making sure kids are safe walking and biking to schools, that will create safer traffic flows. We need to think about a full range of options.

Kiernan mentions that as he looks out at the crowd and sees Lyla Dozier and he knows that the traffic on Woodland is twice as bad because of construction on Ingersoll, along with being a DART bus line. He agrees with his opponents ideas on traffic culling measures. He mentions that he learned from his experience on the city council that it’s a chicken and egg scenario. When he first got development going downtown, there weren’t enough people for a grocery store. As people start to move in, they’ll open a grocery store and other amenities. He says that light rail is too expensive. We do have support for something look like light rail on tires like Portland, OR. A bus or trolley? I’m not sure what he’s describing here. We should look at how DART is measuring routes. They cancel routes when companies close. It’s about growth. We didn’t have the population but now we do.

He brings up the issue we experience here in GLN, and that is a lack of trail connections. He mentions that he talks to Ben Page of Parks & Rec about this. Moving traffic is a real growth issue.

Our next panelist is Prakash Kopparapu from the Asian & Latino Coalition.
Major investments by large companies in suburbs, they skip Des Moines. How can we make DSM more attractive for investments and what sectors have potential to tie into Des Moines?

Mandelbaum starts with the difference he sees between Ward 3 established areas, where you can’t attract large data centers in populated areas, as they want greenfield areas. Kum & Go is example of bringing a headquarters downtown. Bring in more of those companies that want to build their headquarters, where you’ll see the workforce. We are bringing in young people who make a life in this community, and who want to work near where they live. It strengthens the community. That will attract those businesses downtown and to certain pockets of our community. The next step is bringing some of those walkable, bikeable and transit accessible options along the corridors. We need to look at reinvesting in those areas. Invest in that connectivity to those corridors to encourage smart growth.

Kiernan says he speaks from the perspective of someone who has been on the city council when it grew from less than 30K to more than 80K residents. He subscribes to Richard Ford’s theory that government has changed. Today young people live in inclusive communities with cultural opportunities and the jobs will follow those people. It’s everything they’ve done from Gateway West to Des Moines City Music Coalition to 80/35. We have room in this ward for that. He won’t give out money just to compete with West Des Moines to say he created 49 jobs in a warehouse full of servers.

We need the right tool for the job, he learned growing up blue-collar. Some of these projects don’t need the handout. We should create a community where we can attract other businesses and we’ve done it. It’s about balanced growth. Now neighborhoods need attention. Look at TIF for all projects. Have there been enough fees kicked off from TIF for the impact of those developments to pay for the increased resource needs of our police, fire, public works departments. That’s the challenge. We’re on course, we don’t need to give away anything more. It’s a world class city.

Omar recently spoke with the Mayor of Waukee. They gave millions away there. That’s not a good decision for less than 50 jobs. We need to stop giving away money, and start supporting students that graduate from Des Moines public schools, provide them opportunities for debt-free college. We have a retiring population in health care. We need tech training, to strengthen STEM, to support small businesses. Kum & Go got millions from the city to relocate and then bought a $20 million jet. We should focus on public development and not corporate development. If our workforce is educated and motivated, the companies will come here looking for them. They won’t need those big incentives. Encourage a vibrant work force, make sure young people aren’t crippled with debt, so they can buy cars and homes. Create a workforce, not a $5-10 million handout.

George Davis of Southwestern Hills is up next on our panel.

Our Police Department is down 20-25 percent. This will impact neighborhood resource officer program, school liaison program, if we don’t get that up. Our Police Chief has much support when he says he won’t substitute quality for quantity. What can we do to help the police chief bring in and fill those open positions?

Kiernan compliments Chief Dana Wingert. We have a great chief who’s done a tremendous job. He met with him when he was 17 on the south side, at Perkins, and Wingert was a rookie. He refers to him only as Dana, but I’ll refer to him as Chief Wingert for clarity’s sake. Kiernan announces he has the support of former chief of police, current Sheriff Bill McCarthy. I’m not sure if that means he has his official endorsement. We have an aging force that wants to work fewer days and longer hours. You must make sure you hire the best people possible, as they’ll potentially be in your community for 25 years as a LEO. Chief Wingert needs our support. We need more community based policing. We should have a serious conversation about how to restructure the DMPD’s involvement with mental health issues, currently a driving force that takes up much of the time they’re on the front lines. We’ve got a serious opioid crisis, and human trafficking. We have to back up the chief. Give him the resources he needs. Kiernan knows because of his time on the council that the chief may say he has what he needs, but because it’s a city manager form of government, they have to say what was agreed to among the city manager and the departments. Chief Wingert needs to know that each member of the council has his back 100 percent because it is about priorities and needing to send a message to the city manager.

Omar notes that our police department has issues that we can’t just overlook. We’ve had officers plant evidence, be reinstated after plea agreements stemming from violent domestic abuse charges and allegations of continued excessive force, convicted of excessive force. The DMPD needs to provides service to all residents. Violent convicted officers are reinstated to service in the DMPD and that doesn’t serve the community. Many people in the community fear officers daily. Omar shares the he’s even afraid. He’s pulled over very frequently because of his skin color without breaking any laws. Immigrants are fearful to step outside in case the local police are working on behalf of the federal government. We should focus on making sure the department provides services for all members of the community instead of giving blind support to a police chief who reinstated violent officers. He is not holding those officers accountable. We should look at those available positions and how to use those positions for community oriented policing where officers walk the streets, meeting neighborhood associations, going into businesses, meeting students at schools, change the paradigm.

Mandelbaum turns the question back to one about getting resources. The panelist interjects “exactly”, seemingly unhappy with Omar’s answer. Mandelbaum says there are a lot of issues related to this question. We have an authorized force of 372 officers, but we hover between 330-340. This lack of officers negatively affects neighborhoods, schools, and patrol unit safety. We should think about resource allocation and focus in terms of how we prioritize where limited resources are used. Focus on violent crimes, not low-level possession or even doing the work of the federal government. We also need to think about training for officers. Mental health is huge piece, crisis intervention training is a positive first step and the academy now requires 40 hours of crisis intervention training. We need more de-escalation training. We also need to consider the mental health of our offices. We know police are more likely to commit suicide than those in other professions. Helping them get mental health training helps them become better officers.

Panelist David Schlarmann from Sherman Hill is up next.

Our Association updated our neighborhood plan in 2017. Have any of you read the plan, or any of your respective neighborhood plans? Secondly, if elected how would you incorporate the plan into your daily workflow.

Omar: No.
Development of neighborhoods is very important. Our city is seeing most of its development going downtown, most city resources are being allocated to hotels and lofts. We need development in neighborhoods. Some are dying. Omar buys homes on verge of being condemned, fixes them, sells them at prices below median prices. We need to see a plan on city council to address the over 300 blighted homes that are bringing down property values. Secondly, seeing resources like DMPD officers being put in those communities making sure every neighborhood is accessible, walkable. For example: Deer Ridge on 63rd has high density of low income housing. There is not adequate bus service, and no sidewalks. They must walk along a dangerous artery. Sherman Hills is a jewel of our community and Omar would love to have a house there someday, but we have to make sure all neighborhoods are taken care of whether it’s affluent or poor. City government should be equitable to all residents, libraries extended for all communities. On Fleur Drive people walk to the stores on manicured lawns when there’s a golf course that gets resources from the city. There has to be a paradigm change where the city is walkable and livable and safe for everyone. We should be neighborhood focused not developer focused.

Mandelbaum: No. Has a copy. May have skimmed pieces of it.
It’s important to work with the neighborhoods. We have good neighborhood leaders. Those folks who invest time and effort. There are 18 in the third ward, we need to interact with all of them. If there’s a comprehensive review and effort for a neighborhood plan, it should be a guiding document that informs the way council members work on an ongoing basis. We should be using it as a starting point for discussions with city or developers. We need to work with those neighborhood leaders. He’s door-knocking now and that’s how he’ll approach the job. Listen to those he’s representing.

Kiernan notes that he’s also Dave’s neighbor. So he’s a bit embarrassed to answer: No.
He hasn’t read the plan. He has developed properties with Dave.

He’s sometimes asked if DM Neighbors (a coalition of many of the individual neighborhood groups, but not all) is more important than individual neighborhood groups. It’s a hard question. He names the following: David Schlarmann, George Davis, Lyla Dozier, Dave Carlson all in attendance. He says that they give their time to the neighborhoods.
I think that’s also how they earn their livings. I believe they are all very successful developers.
He’s giving Christine Hensley lots of props, says she’s leaving big shoes for someone to fill. He mentions she’s missed only one Southwestern Hills meeting in her 24 years as a councilperson. She never attended GLNA meetings that I’ve attended, and we are in her ward. He wants to continue her tradition.

Our next panelist is Jessica Avant. She’s from the NAACP of Des Moines:
What do you feel are the primary issues affecting minority and underserved populations? What have you already done as a non-elected official, and what will you do a councilperson?

Mandelbaum believes the primary issue is whether this community working for everyone. He mentions the State of Black Polk County report. Not everyone in our community is accessing the same success many see, this is a crucial issue. He notes that Dr. Mary Chapman is in the back of auditorium. He refers to his time as policy liaison between the Department of Human Rights and the Department of Civil Rights in the governor’s office. There, he was able to work on a range of issues, such as how to close the achievement gap, and disproportional minority confinement. While these are still issues, he worked with Vilsack/Pederson on plans to help address them. Now he volunteers his own time. He sits on the board of Polk County Early Childhood Iowa, which focuses on quality pre-K and quality childcare serving those vulnerable and underserved communities. They target refugee and low-income communities. As a councilperson, he’d look for ways to expand those programs so that kids start out from a better position, so they don’t start kindergarten behind their peers.

Kiernan is confident this issue is about history. Income and education is a tough gap to ever close.
When he was 22, it was important to him that he work for Preston Daniels to get elected and break that glass ceiling. He was in the city council from 2004-2010, where he went on and on with resolutions and proclamations, and job worker training programs. He believes two key things can happen. There’s an opportunity to fill those police department positions with more minorities. That will change the face of the city for decades. Also, the city is currently hiring a social equity coordinator, reporting to civil rights commission. Now, he claims, you’ll have a person full-time to see where we can improve in the city.

Omar tosses the crowd a fun line. Surprise: I’m black. We laugh. It’s been a pretty serious evening. To him, bringing diversity to the city council is invaluable. As the president of CAIR Iowa, Omar works with issues of Islamophobia and xenophobia across the state. He also works with NISAA, an organization supporting domestic abuse survivors in African American communities.
He’s spent time in his life working for student protections. He lectures and speaks with the community to share his experience. He’s concerned that Iowa is #2 worst state for criminal justice for people of color. Our state is setting goals of incarcerating 2,000 more people in the next 5 years. We need to pass that welcoming cities resolution. We have people who live in fear. People need a living wage in POC community, he has been working his whole life on these issues.

The question of the night goes to Joseph Fernandez of LULAC:
So often, just before an election, candidates come out for the first time since the last election to placate minorities by showering them with afterthoughts about their cultural value, and their hard work and resourcefulness in the community.
Can you please take a moment and share with us your vision of what cultural significance and hard work and resourcefulness middle-class white men bring to the community?

The entire crowd laughs and murmurs.

Kiernan’s up next but he’s taken aback by the question, he doesn’t want to be the first person to answer. He asks Fernandez to repeat the question.

More snickering.

Can I pass? He asks.

More snickering

He wades in: I don’t know about middle-class white man, I can only speak as a human being person.
He remembers a speech Tom Harkin used to give. He heard it several times. He mentions his mom was politically active and his dad was county supervisor. He remembers hearing this speech as a little boy. Harkin extolled the importance of leaving that ladder down. It’s been a guiding principle. The ladder should be left down for everyone so everyone has an equal chance. It’s up to them to climb that ladder, a caveat he offers, but it’s there for them.

Omar believes this to be the most difficult question all year. He tells us that immigrants work very hard. His mother was widowed, raised a family, and they lived in shelter while she was working three jobs. She pulled herself up to start her own company and recently retired. He’s very proud of her. But we should cut across every community, we should stop looking at issues of race, everyone has issues, everyone has difficulties, everyone fights battles. Everyone needs a chance to thrive in this country. This city should be as vibrant as possible for all residents whether they look like him or Kiernan.

Mandelbaum again returns to the question asked. Part one of the question, regarding the virtue of middle-class white males. He acknowledges that it’s a position of privilege. Everyone in this country has an immigration story he tells us. Somewhere in their family history, someone came here looking for opportunity. Everyone in the middle class is a reminder of what America should be for everyone. Everyone who wants to be a part of the community should have that opportunity. Everyone who is part of the middle class is a reminder that they once came from that immigrant history at some point.

This generations of refugees should be the next generation of entrenched middle class.
I’d like to point out here that not everyone in Iowa has immigrant roots.

The candidates were also asked a series of questions submitted by the audience. You’ll need to watch the video to get those answers. Nothing came up out of the ordinary, and they mostly agreed in their answers. I’ll provide an update to this post if we receive a copy of the video. For now, here’s an audio file made up of several files stitched together, so expect there to be a few dropped words in a couple spots.


I’ll stop with the formatting changes here, the rest is just commentary. If you don’t like my commentary, you should go ahead and skip the rest of this post.

A Catholic, a Jew, and a Muslim walk into a Unitarian Church. They are all welcome and have a very civil and cordial discussion with members of their community.

After the forum, several people stayed behind in the auditorium to ask their individual questions. Others filed out. As a crowd started moving toward the post-forum refreshments of cookies and assorted delicious baked goods, I started packing our supplies from the table we’d set up with our neighborhood information. As I was packing, a couple men were a few feet away discussing a response they’d heard. I’m not sure they realized I was standing there. I don’t know who they were, but they were very unhappy about answers from one of the candidates, and it quickly turned into racially disparaging comments. I was disappointed but didn’t say anything. Had I known them I hope I would have had the courage to say something.

I’ve spoken with Joe Fernandez about his unique question. It’s stayed on my mind in the hours that have passed. I wondered what he had in mind, what kind of answer was he looking for, what answer would have been the right one.
He explained:

I can’t tell you why I think the way I do. I don’t know from where my ideas derive. I try always to bring something unique to everything aspect of my life. If I can’t make something interesting, to me, I am not serving others; instead, I am taking a space that someone else can use more effectively.

My question at the forum sought no specific answer. I asked it because I wanted the candidates to demonstrate their depth as individuals; I sought answers yet came from the candidates’ hearts, based upon their individual life experience.

I had no answer in mind. I just wanted to give the constituents in attendance the opportunity to experience the candidates’ thought processes.

I’d like to thank him for that input.

I’d encourage you to read through the questions again, and look at the responses. The candidates are not always answering the questions asked. I wrote the responses out as close to verbatim as possible, though speech doesn’t always translate well to the written word. We don’t notice while we’re listening, but trying to transcribe can present challenges as people repeat words, use filler words, change direction mid-sentence or simply abandon a thought altogether.

Please know I’ve done the best I can. I hope you find this useful.

Top image: Michael Kiernan, Josh Mandelbaum, and Abshir Omar at the October 10 candidate forum. Photo provided by Michael Kiernan, used with permission.

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