In the Monday, September 14th edition of the Portsmouth Herald, City Councilor Chris Dwyer revealed her intention to seek a sixth term on the Council. That is great news for the community – Chris is already the longest-serving member of the Council, and is as active a councilor as the city has seen in many years. Just in 2015, the completion of the Portsmouth Middle School expansion and renovation (she served as the Join Building Committee Co-chair) and the completion of the African Burying Ground (she served on the committee for its 10+ year duration) serve as tangible examples of the kind of impact Chris continues to make for our community.
Her announcement is news on its own, but what makes it particularly noteworthy is the accompanying essay published in today’s Herald. It is personal, intense, direct and motivating. She describes her mother, from an immigrant family, getting intimidated at the age of 21 at the polling location when she went to vote for the first time. Her mother was very engaged in politics at all level, Chris said, but never voted, and expressed anger about that incident 60 years after it occurred!
I witnessed voters waylaid on their way to vote —grabbed in some cases to be told who to vote for and who to avoid. I saw cards placed in voting booths with lists of names to vote for. I witnessed the tactics of dividing the field of candidates by urging simplistic yes-no answers to complex issues. I heard myself (and other civic-minded citizens) described as people who don’t love Portsmouth —despite decades-long track records of action in community building. Most discouraging, I saw other candidates willing to associate themselves with these tactics…
I feel her anger tonight as I reflect on the climate of divisiveness that started with that election two years ago and which has continued to cast a pall on civic service — unleashing bullying tactics of all types regularly seen on display in public at council and committee meetings. I feel her anger when I witness a small number of people name call, berate, label, assume, accuse, nitpick and attack. The cancer spreads to pit neighbor against neighbor, neighborhood against neighborhood. Many potential capable candidates for council have said they don’t want to subject themselves to those bullying tactics — leading to a crisis in our civic vitality…
She has seen it more directly than most, having served on the Council since January of 2006. I served with her as mayor during her first term, and much of the negativity she describes above simply did not exist less than a decade ago. I have spoken with residents who expressed some interest in running this fall, but the negativity Chris describes acts to depress turnout, and depress candidacies.
Unless. Unless it is confronted with an attitude that educates, celebrates, and motivates the best and brightest of our community to aim higher. Chris has been that sort of example for 10 years in elected office, and for much longer in other parts of civic life. There are some fantastic candidates on the ballot this fall, who have demonstrated in their lives the power of positive, collaborative civic engagement. This site will be highlighting them in the days to come, and doing everything possible to match the passion Chris Dwyer is bringing to this election season.