Elect councilors without preconceived agendas| Our Opinion | Oct. 21

There’s no doubt that people, especially those living in a small town whose populace has a high political IQ and loves a spirited power struggle, have a tendency to want to put neighbors in office who share their own political or consensus-building views. That makes sense, at least if it’s done on an individual basis and important personality traits such as morality, ethics, and honesty are also taken into account.

The political process can become a little more contentious when three or four positions for a city council come up for election every two years – as occurs on Bainbridge Island. This year, there are four candidates and the “vote as a block”  factions are out in full force.

This is elemental Politics 101, of course, especially on an island where everyone has an opinion on everything. Fortunately for the politically inclined, biennially those who consider themselves in the driver’s seat and those who want to take over the wheel initially search for candidates with whom they are aligned. They may then attempt to sway those wishy-washy islanders who generally have better things to do but will still cast a ballot each November.

It’s the tried-and-true American way of elections, except that on this island there’s no omnipresent television or radio stations transmitting smiley faces and ostentatious messages. This is the preferred campaign mode at a time when superficiality and personal concealment often pay off at the polls. What happens here? Ask your neighbor or flip a coin?

Not all islanders are so indifferent; some keep an open mind until they have learned enough about a candidate’s qualities to make a knowledgeable decision. It’s the old seek-and-thou-shall-find method, which appears to be rare these days since negativity is less of a hassle than thinking openly and impartially.

So why not just vote like the neighbor who thinks like you and pays more attention to politics?

The other day, a person said she would rather vote for a lawyer than an engineer because, “what does an engineer know about running a city?” Hopefully her reasoning is more complicated than that, but it makes you wonder about our political process.

At first glance, this year’s eight council candidates are excellent overall. They’re smart, committed and convinced that their individual skills are exactly what the city needs to provide the community the best leadership available.

Hopefully, it’s that individuality that they won’t leave behind once they become councilors. One of the complications of democracy is that membership is odd-numbered in order to get things done. This tends to push people to one side or another, which often causes alignments to become rigid. Nothing new there, and Bainbridge is certainly no different in that regard.

The worst-case scenario is when a candidate is obstinately aligned even before an election. Such candidates have pre-election agendas and are often easy to identify. This council, already divided, doesn’t need such members – whatever their political persuasion. They tend to protect the system rather than the community they serve.

So when choosing candidates during the next few weeks, look for those with strong resolve and open minds. And most of all, candidates who want to discover what’s best for the island, not those who think they already know what’s best.

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