GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

August 17, 2013

Why Did My Newspaper Do That? 'Mayor's Desk' sidelined during campaign

Why Did My Newspaper Do That?
Ray Lamont

---- — You might notice that there’s a regular feature missing from this Saturday morning’s Opinion page.

That’s right. “The Mayor’s Desk,” the regular column in which Mayor Carolyn Kirk shares her views and often gives Times readers an inside look at the happenings within city government, is not appearing this week. And, in fact, it won’t be appearing for several weeks to come, barring unforeseen circumstances.

It’s not because the mayor doesn’t like writing it; I know, in fact, that she does, and while she agreed to place it on hold when we discussed the issue briefly this week, I’m sure she’d like to continue writing it – just as I’m sure many folks would want to read it as well.

But the simple fact is this: Once developer Mac Bell received certification for his more than 300 signatures Wednesday and officially earned a spot on the ballot, challenging Kirk for the mayor’s seat, “The Mayor’s Desk” was placed on hiatus until after the November elections.

Why, you may ask, is your community’s newspaper doing that?

Because we recognize — and the mayor understands — that, as long as there is a contested race underway, we cannot give one candidate or the other an advantage in terms of getting out their positions on issues.

Yes, both the mayor and challenger Bell will have the chance to raise and debate issues as the race moves forward. Both will certainly have the chance to speak directly to voters through campaign advertising, and each can do so through a single My View column whenever they choose. We will also certainly look to host an open and public campaign debate as the election draws near.

But it would be unfair — even if challenger Bell were to respond with weekly columns or letters of his own — if we continued to allow the mayor to have her own, regularly scheduled, anchored column at the top of the Opinion page each Saturday morning. And we won’t.

Some mayoral critics had actually suggested that we drop the column sooner. Yet, until at least last Monday, there was every indication that Kirk would be allowed to coast into her fourth term unopposed. Given that scenario, there seemed no reason to discontinue the column, which — for all the questions and occasional criticism it sometimes draws — a lot of readers clearly enjoy.

To her credit, Kirk rarely, if ever, uses her column as a pure, campaign-style bully pulpit. Yes, she uses it to share her views on some key issues confronting the city — but primarily, she spotlights issues and departments that aren’t always in the news, yet are issues and steps that residents and Times readers should know about.

Lest anyone think this is charting new ground, remember that we also suspended “The Mayor’s Desk” when challenger Ken Sarofeen entered the race in 2011, and again in 2009 — shortly after Kirk began writing the column and faced primary challenges from then-City Councilor Sharon George and perennial ballot and/or write-in candidate Dan Ruberti. But after George joined Kirk in making it through the September primary, George dropped out of the race that October.

I will always remember that, the day after George withdrew, the mayor was speaking with one of our reporters for a follow-up story, and after the interview, she and I spoke as well. One of the first things she asked about was restarting her column — and, with a race no longer in place, “The Mayor’s Desk” returned that Saturday.

For voters’ sake, I hope nothing like that happens this time. A contested race with lively debates gives residents and candidates alike the chance to raise and discuss issues facing our city —and there are, as we noted earlier this week, a lot of them.

But a contested race also means the suspension, once again, of “The Mayor’s Desk” until after the election.

As always, let me know what you think.

Questions? Comments? Is there a topic you’d like to see addressed in a future column? Contact Times Editor Ray Lamont at 978-283-7000, x3432, or via email at rlamont@gloucestertimes.com.