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Man of the people
Vote for me, and I'll shovel your driveway
BY MAX ALEXANDER
I canít say what made Madison, Lincoln, or even Hoover turn to politics, but it was probably something larger than a 56-acre strip mine. (Maybe not in the case of Hoover, who was a mining engineer.) At any rate, the strip mine in the woods is where it all began for me.
Almost two years have passed since our town first learned that a $350-million Connecticut roadbuilding company wanted to blast a crater out of our granite ledge, then spend 50 years crushing it into gravel and turning what used to be our bedrock into concrete and asphalt for Wal-Mart parking lots. I know itís silly of us rubes to protest such progress (and the lawyer for the roadbuilding company takes every opportunity to scold us naughty children, like Donald Rumsfeld talking to the press), but there you have it. We even made Maine Public Radio.
Still, after months of contentious hearings, our local planning board approved a version of the mine last summer (to no oneís surprise), and now we are appealing. In the meantime, this naïve back-to-the-lander, who wanted nothing more than a heap of dung to call his own, has been transformed into an unlikely activist, defender of community rights, and, most recently, candidate for third selectman.
As I write these words, it happens to be snowing while the sun is shining, which is pretty much how I feel about the whole thing. Iím not sure what will make me happier on March 28 ó winning or losing. Either way, Iíll come out of it a better, if exhausted, man.
Which is not to say Iím kicking back and waiting to see what happens. My town has roughly 1100 registered voters, about half of whom actually vote. You need about 250 of those votes to become a selectman. It would be hard to imagine people in my town voting for a local candidate theyíve never met, so if you donít know 250 people, you need to get out and knock on doors.
After living here four years, I figured I personally knew about 100 people. So every Saturday I drive around town, visiting voters and handing out fliers that spell out my platform: " A progressive candidate who favors thoughtful planning that allows for traditional land use while protecting the community and the environment from unrestrained development. " It sounds straightforward enough, but people have plenty of questions, only some of which can be predicted.
" If youíre elected, who will you put on the Planning Board? " (I had an answer for that one.)
" If I vote for you, can I get a sidewalk? " (I hadnít thought about that.)
Some folks invite me in and want to talk for an hour. Others open their door a crack and clearly donít want to be bothered. Some seem lonely, others angry, but most are grateful that a candidate cares enough to call on them. Everybody has dogs, and they all bark at you, especially by the end of the day when you smell like every other dog in town. Your car gets stuck in lots of icy driveways, which is where you learn spin control.
I think I have a good chance of winning, but it wonít be easy. Unlike many small New England towns that have a hard time mustering any volunteers for local government, my town has seven candidates in the running for three selectman seats, including all the incumbents. The current third selectman is a native son and a career National Guard officer. His family is one of the oldest and most respected in town; he is an honest, intelligent, and conservative man who governs only when necessary, typically in reaction to a petition or other event. His re-election seems inevitable to many, and I doubt if he campaigns any more actively than he governs.
Even more conservative is my third opponent, a sincere and pleasant young woman who is running, as far as I can tell, on a get-government-off-our-backs platform. She has been endorsed by the rubble rousers, the local dump-truck contingent that seeks a return to the days before all that ecology crap got in the way of their hard work. Without a doubt, she will draw votes away from the incumbent, and I have encouraged her candidacy.
With all these competing factions and interests, I decided it wouldnít make sense to knock on every door; some people are simply never going to vote for me. I needed a plan. I needed a database. So I spent two days in the town office with Dave Martucci, whoís running for second selectman. Dave lost by 11 votes last year, and heís determined to win this time. So the two of us put the whole voter registration roll into a Listmaker data program. We identified who votes and who doesnít, whoís likely to support us and who wonít, whoís gone, whoís Green, whoís dead, and whoís Republican.
At home later, I took the list and cross-checked it with the townís 911 road list. I drew a yellow highlight through every household I wanted to visit. Then I grabbed my fliers and hit the road.
A lot of voters wanted to know where I came from, and they didnít mean which side of Davis Stream. I havenít tried to hide the fact that Iím from away, or anything else about who I am. When I was designing my flier on the computer, I noticed I could manipulate the photo of myself to make me look thinner. I played around with it, briefly admiring the thinner me, then put it back to normal. If Iím going to win, itíll be the real me, not the computer-enhanced version. Democracy may be on thin ice these days, but Iím betting it can still support my weight.
Max Alexander can be reached at email@example.com