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Carleton to host Northfield mayoral debate

<ir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-085ad54f-0cf3-bb80-385c-b236e1866af4">This Wednesday, November 2, Carleton College will host a debate between the Northfield mayoral candidates in the Great Hall at 7 p.m. The event is open to the public. Mayoral candidates Council Member Rhonda Pownell and incumbent Mayor Dana Graham will debate on student-submitted questions collected before and during the debate.

This debate is an opportunity for both candidates to address the student vote and explain their platforms in a public forum. For students, this debate will be a chance to learn about a local political race.

“Too often, students either don’t vote down the ballot because they don’t know the candidates or, they don’t know the issues” said incumbent Mayor Graham. “By getting to know the candidates, it may convince some students who wouldn’t normally vote locally to do so.”

Council Member Pownell reiterated this wish for the debate in a statement.

“I am mostly hoping that this event gives voters an accurate picture of their choices. People know where they stand on big national issues, but the national coverage of politics doesn’t often guide us on local issues” said Pownell.  

Nick Cohen ’18, a key organizer of the event and one of the leaders of Northfield Initiative,  is excited that the candidates are not backed by political parties.

“This is the best opportunity to hear directly from the candidates. And I think the cool thing about them being non-partisan is that we can get at the issues” Cohen said. “How do they feel about the safety center, or what are they going to do to maintain economic vitality in downtown or whatever it may be. We can actually kind of get at those instead of sticking to partisan soundbites.”

The event was organized by Cohen and Peter Bruno ’17, political engagement and activism fellow for the Center for Community and Civic Engagement (CCCE). The debate will be moderated by Damali Britton ’18, Luke Curtis ’17 and Briannon Carlsen ’17 with help from Cohen, Bruno and Ibad Jafri ’17.

At the debate, candidates will have opportunities for opening and closing statements. They will respond  to moderator questions and rebut responses from the other candidate.

“We’ll come in with questions prepared ahead of time, hopefully entirely based on questions that people submit,” Cohen said. “During the debate we will have note cards and people from my organization will be around to pick up these notecards. And then myself and Ibad will be sorting through all of the questions that are coming in, and seeing which ones keep popping up and then we’ll write a question . So it’s not directly a town hall, but it does integrate community questions in a very major way,” Cohen said.

According to Bruno, they chose moderators that they hoped would be seen as collectively informed and objective.

“We tried to get a group of people that are politically informed, but not necessarily too inherently partisan,” Bruno said. “So these students, I think, participate in political organizations on campus, but aren’t the leaders of those organizations. We tried to get a diverse panel both in identity and class at Carleton.”

This will not be the first time larger political events have been hosted at Carleton. In spring term 2016 the Democratic Caucus location was moved to the Weitz building. In 2014, the  CCCE sponsored a City Council debate that included candidates from two different city council races in which students were eligible to vote.

At the beginning of the term, Bruno held a meeting  with student leaders from Carleton and found that everyone was excited about a mayoral debate at Carleton. Northfield Initiative, a Carleton organization aimed at increasing voter turnout in the Northfield area, led the effort on organizing the debate.

“We contacted both of the candidates and they both seemed very eager to participate, so we are very happy to have them,” said Bruno.

To get a taste for the debate, both candidates were asked about their decision to run for the office of Mayor of Northfield.

“The last four years have seen a lot of conflict in the City Council, with a culture that inhibits working together,” said Councilwoman Pownell. “Although it’s not an exciting position, I have been running to return city leadership to one of collaboration and respect. It’s very hard for the City to get anything done in the current environment, and that needs to change. Northfield is a great town, with lots of great people and great ideas. Our city leadership needs to reflect that.”

Mayor Dana Graham responded, “I am running for re-election to build on what we have done to make Northfield a stronger community. I started a youth initiative that now has one hundred youth involved in city issues. I successfully pushed to get youth on all city boards and commissions. I am also an original member of the Northfield Promise Council of Champions. This is a cradle to career initiative that is a model in the state due to the collaborative effort to help all youth thrive. I began the initiative to get Northfield designated as a Beyond the Yellow Ribbon community. Being the mayor is not only what we do from 7:00 to 10:00 on a Tuesday evening, it is about what we do to better our community every day.”

While not all students are registered to vote in Northfield, both the organizers and the candidates emphasized the importance to students of getting involved in local races.

“Northfield faces important issues that affect students.” Pownell said. “These include how we treat our immigrants, how we regulate commercial development, how the city encourages environmental sustainability, and overall what role government should (or shouldn’t) play in setting the direction of our community.”

Graham felt similarly about the importance of student voting.

“Sometime soon, students become alumni. The vision of the candidates is extremely important in how the college and the city can move forward together,” Graham said

Bruno pointed out the ways students were affected by local decision making.

“Transportation to the cities is something that gets brought up at normal town hall debates with these candidates and I expect it to happen here as well.”

Candidates will also likely discuss green initiatives, educational initiatives, and the schools in Northfield where many Carleton students volunteer.

Targeted outreach to the Northfield community and St. Olaf students is being made with the organizers, who are appearing on KYMN on October 31 at 8:45 a.m. to promote the event.

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