A forum short on candidates

Published 10:33 pm Friday, September 30, 2016

Just three candidates for local office took the time to attend a forum sponsored by the Sierra Club on Wednesday. Brian Bass and Kerry Holmes, who are among five people contending for the mayor’s seat on City Council, as well as incumbent Whaleyville Borough City Council member Curtis Milteer, answered questions about environmental matters from an audience of about 60 at King’s Fork Middle School. Incumbent Mayor Linda T. Johnson sent a letter, along with an explanation that city business in Richmond had caused her to miss the event.

Environmental issues might not be the most pressing matters facing the next City Council, but the candidates’ positions on those issues are important to anyone who is concerned about the proposed Atlantic Coast natural gas pipeline, water quality in the Nansemond River and its tributaries, green infrastructure and access to the city’s river and creeks.

The Sierra Club’s forum was a good opportunity, if nothing else, for the candidates to get a sense of the public’s engagement on those matters. Three of those candidates, at least, now have a more solid understanding of what’s important to the people of Suffolk when it comes to the environment.

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Perhaps the missing candidates already feel they know enough about the matter. Perhaps they feel the electorate already knows enough about them. It’s hard to know why candidates for political office choose not to take every opportunity to engage with potential voters.

In fact, there will be at least two more opportunities for candidates to make that public connection. The Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce is planning a mayoral candidates’ forum at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 11 at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts, and the local chapter of the NAACP is having a separate forum on Oct. 13.

We can only hope those forums will have better participation from the candidates. Voters will have to decide, in the long run, whether a candidate’s decision to pass on one or more of the opportunities they’re given to speak publicly about their platforms should be counted against the missing candidates.