I have to take issue with the mischaracterization by Mayor Kelly Yaede of the reason there will not be a League of Women Voters-sponsored Hamilton mayoral candidate forum this year. To hear Yaede tell it to TAP into Hamilton/Robbinsville this week, it was the LWV which decided not to hold a forum because of the current local political climate and due to “bullying” by those “who attend council meetings”. I can tell you unequivocally that the reason there will not be a LWV-sponsored forum, or any mayoral forum this year, is solely because Yaede would not agree to participate.
There has been much debate about whether there would be a candidate forum in this important race, with the mayor and challenger Jeff Martin apparently unable to agree on an event hosted by a sufficiently neutral party. So a call was made to the LWV of East Windsor/Hightstown to step in and provide the invaluable service for which it is known. This is what the LWV does. It is part of their core mission as a nonpartisan organization that works to empower voters with information.
The LWV is unimpeachable when it comes to hosting and moderating local forums, where audience questions can be curated and presented in a civil manner by trained, impartial moderators. It was the ideal solution. An invitation to both candidates was offered on Oct. 6 from LWV representatives, most of whom live outside Hamilton. According to LWV reps, Martin accepted the next day. Yaede took her time and while initially expressing a willingness to participate in an Oct. 30 event, she failed to definitively decline or accept despite much back and forth for the better part of a week.
Finally the LWV set a deadline of Oct. 14 because it needed an answer one way or another to know whether to hold open the date and proceed with securing a venue, moderator, publicity, security etc. These efforts were spearheaded by volunteers from out of town, with no skin in the game, who were willing to jump in with both feet and make this event happen on short notice, and they could not get an answer from Yaede. Finally, just before the Monday morning deadline, she responded that “it appears this will not work”, for reasons that are still not entirely clear.
This should have been a slam dunk. Both candidates had previously publicly expressed a desire and willingness to debate, if only the right sponsor could be found. But Yaede apparently did not mean it. As she declined the LWV invitation, she stated “I’ve agreed to a debate at WBCB”. This, of course, would be the AM radio show hosted by a recently-hired township employee who is good friends with one of Yaede’s running mates and who offered a soft-ball interview of the mayor last month which was nearly universally panned for being anything but impartial. A forum hosted on this radio show could hardly be considered neutral territory and would deprive voters a chance to personally see both candidates interact in the same room at the same time.
The mayor has already and will no doubt continue to take issue with the fact that I, a registered Democrat who has previously expressed support for Martin, was included on some of the LWV emails related to this proposed forum. That is simply because I made the initial outreach to the LWV because more than anything I wanted to see a civil candidate forum run by a neutral party so the discussion could move beyond debates and on to issues impacting Hamilton residents.
I am not a member of the LWV and would have had nothing to do with running the forum itself beyond trying to help secure a local venue where the League could do its thing. Yaede has and will imply that my reaching out to the LWV has tainted its invitation somehow, while at the same time offering a forum at WBCB as a viable, neutral alternative. I believe most reading this can see how laughably hypocritical that appears.
The onus for this proposed forum not happening falls squarely on Yaede, who appears reluctant, to say the least, to appear in front of a group of voters that may include some who have been critical of her administration. I, as a resident of Hamilton, am reluctant to vote for any candidate who refuses to face voters in an open forum. The LWV offers an online voter guide at Vote411.org and began seeking candidate info long before this forum was proposed. According to League reps, Martin responded several weeks ago to Vote411.org while Yaede as of this writing has yet to respond. As usual, it is the voters who lose out in the end.
Hamilton Township, NJ