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Debating in Eclipse

Kudos to members of the Sleepy Lakes and Cedar Point homeowners’ associations for staging an informative and enjoyable “Meet the Candidates” debate Wednesday evening at the Eclipse-Crittenden-Hobson Ruritan Clubhouse in Eclipse.

Chuckatuck borough candidates Joe Barlow, David Gray and Mary Hill fielded questions from a moderator. I missed the first 10 minutes, including the candidates’ opening remarks, but I think the questions were written down by the 65 or so attendees I counted.

I don’t think you could say anyone really won the debate, but I’d guess that challenger Gray likely gained the most from it.

As an unknown quantity, it was a good opportunity for Gray to expose himself, or his views, rather, to voters. All I really knew about him prior to the event was that he makes a pretty cool billboard.

I went in assuming that he was some kind of drooling, rabid, pro-development, anti-UDO cretin intent on turning Suffolk’s farmlands into a giant, sprawling strip mall and lining our highways with identical vinyl siding homes while making our kids attend classes in trailers (at least going by what is being put out about everyone running who is not an incumbent), but I was pleasantly surprised.

If anything, I’d say he out UDO’d the incumbent during the debate. Barlow tried to tout council’s comprehensive plan and UDO at every opportunity but Gray was able to effectively turn the issue to his advantage. Not only was he generally complimentary of the growth management tools council had created, but went so far as to claim the only problem with the smart growth plan was the current council’s deviation from it. He was referring, of course, to the vote earlier this month to potentially open up more areas to development with the revised comprehensive plan.

Mr. Barlow, who is among the kindest, friendliest people I’ve ever met, did not do poorly by any means. He just seemed a little stiff, more focused on trying to explain the technical workings of things than he did on communicating an inspiring vision. He’s obviously capable and I think is running because he has a genuine desire to serve. He just didn’t really have anything to gain.

Ms. Hill appeared to struggle some with the questions that were put to her, or at least provided answers that didn’t address questions. She seemed to insist on talking about preserving farmland and old structures (an appeal to Hobson residents), even on questions about education. I did like the fact that she was the only one of the three with fortitude to state a specific position on the tax rate issue. She supports a 20-cent reduction in the mill rate. The others just danced around it and would not commit to a specific number. That should be troubling to voters.

A big issue to this crowd appeared to be the pace of development along Bridge Road (Route 17). I recognized several of those in attendance as being among those who were circulating a petition a couple years back against the commercial development that is now up and running at Governor’s Point, or is it one of those pompous spellings with the “e” on the end of point, “Pointe?” I don’t know.

Anyway, these folks were PO’d at then borough representative Dana Dickens and I think are upset now that they’ve been denied the opportunity to vote against him over it. Whether they take that out on Mr. Barlow is anyone’s guess.

The final question of the evening was about commercial growth along Bridge Road. Candidates were asked to state whether they would support rezoning any land still zoned agricultural to commercial. Mr. Gray said he would likely oppose any such proposal and Mr. Barlow said he would judge any such requests on their merits.

I appreciate Mr. Barlow, Mr. Gray and Ms. Hill giving us the opportunity to size them up side by side. It’s difficult to run for office and put yourself out there like that. We’re lucky there are civic-minded individuals willing to do it.

There will be a similar forum tonight at Tabernacle Church. I’m not sure what candidates are participating but I assume most of the others will be there. I urge you to attend. It’s enlightening, and I’m confident you’ll come away with a different impression of the candidates than what you’ve likely been told.