Verbal throwdown: Mayoral candidates debate at Smith
Published: Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, October 5, 2011 21:10
On Oct. 17 in the Carroll Room of the Campus Center, the Smith College Democrats will host a debate between Northampton mayoral candidates Michael Bardsley and David Narkewicz. The debate will be moderated by government professor Howard Gold and broadcast by Northampton Community TV.
"My role is really secondary in this," said Gold. "[President of the College Democrats] Sophie [Mettler-Grove] and [the] Smith Democrats asked me to moderate, and I thought this was an interesting opportunity for me and for the campus. The fact that I happen to be a Northampton resident, so I'm interested in the mayoral candidates, and that I teach courses on American elections, contributed to them asking me."
Mettler-Grove's interest in hosting the debate was sparked by Northampton's former Mayor Clare Higgins' decision not to seek re-election.
"I found out this summer she was retiring, and in a small town like Northampton and a small college like Smith, the mayor has a large part in the Smith experience," said Mettler-Grove. "I wanted to have a Smith debate because most voters won't know what the candidates are for."
Mettler-Grove hopes the debate will provide an intimate setting for students to discuss Smith's needs within Northampton and learn the mayoral candidates' positions.
"Smith students are greatly involved in the community, and we take advantage of the stuff the Pioneer Valley has to offer," Mettler-Grove said. "Any decisions that the mayor makes are ones we will see and feel."
The debate is open to all Northampton residents, and will begin with each candidate's three-minute opening statement. Gold will ask a series of prewritten questions to which each candidate has two minutes to respond. After both candidates have responded, the debaters will have an optional one-minute rebuttal time to address their opponent's points.
The debate will then be opened to questions from the floor. Questions from the floor must be submitted in writing to eliminate redundancy. Each candidate will have two minutes to answer these questions.
"I encourage [students] to come because as far as I know, this is the first time we've had a genuine candidate debate on campus and any debate can be interesting, theatrical and exciting," said Gold. "Debates are the high points of any political campaign - the one event of the campaign where candidates can outperform each other."
According to Gold, this local election is the first in a long time where two strong incumbents will compete for mayor. Narkewicz is Northampton's current acting mayor and city council president. Bardsley has also served as city council president.
"If you follow Northampton politics, it's two political heavy-weights," Gold said. "Students are living in Northampton for at least four years, and they might as well get to know the political scene. There's no better way than this."
Complicating the debate is the fact that both would-be incumbents are Democrats.
"There probably are not many ideological differences [between the candidates]," said Gold. "But there are differences in the emphases and priorities of the candidates. Narkewicz, the acting mayor, represents a continuation of [the] status quo in that he was closely allied with former mayor Clare Higgins, while Bardsley represents largely what he calls a lack of transparency in local government."
"My hopes for the debate are that it gives Smith students an opportunity to get to know local politicians in a way that's not intimidating, and that [students] leave feeling heard and knowing who to vote for and that that candidate will make a positive contribution to the Smith College community," said Mettler-Grove.
Smith Democrats are registering students to vote from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the CC basement Tuesdays and Thursdays through Oct. 18.