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Blubaugh: A lively, enlightening night in Hampstead as municipal elections near

I had the privilege of moderating a candidates forum sponsored by the Community Media Center and the Times on Tuesday in Hampstead in which those running for mayor and town council discussed key issues. Other than a stammering moderator who had trouble keeping track of whose turn it was to answer questions, it was a good night for local discourse.

Both races have been pretty contentious, particularly on social media, so I was warned I might have to be more referee than moderator. But it went fine. Certainly there were tense moments, significant disagreement and body language that couldn’t be misinterpreted, but it remained civil and it was a lively and enlightening evening.

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So who won?

That’s easy. The Town of Hampstead.

All the citizens who packed the Town Hall or watched the forum live on the Community Media Center’s stream or have viewed it since on local cable or YouTube learned quite a bit about where the candidates stand on the issues. And while the fight over Hampstead Overlook or the lengthy Main Street project or the future of North Carroll High School seem on the surface to be only pertinent to Hampstead, there are lessons to be learned everywhere regarding growth/development and downtown revitalization and North Carroll’s fate has countywide ramifications.

The candidates received most of the questions ahead of time, so their answers to those were well-rehearsed and already known to anyone who had read our candidate questionnaires in print or online or had viewed the candidate videos on the Community Media Center’s site. Some of the answers were pretty much word for word.

Things got more interesting when it came time for questions from the audience at the end of both the mayoral forum — featuring incumbent Chris Nevin and challenger Zach Tomlin — and the council candidates forum — with incumbents Jim Roark and Dave Unglesbee and challengers Daniel Collier and Holly Oertel (fellow challenger Tim Babylon could not attend).

Some of the questions were ridiculous, but I asked a few of them anyway to lighten things up a bit. I don’t honestly believe anyone in Hampstead will base his or her vote on which mayoral candidate cooks the tastier cheeseburger, but, hey, different people have different agendas. I did draw the line at a question wondering whether they’d rather fight a horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses, however.

It was funny to watch the council candidates try to answer the question about the “coolest” part of Hampstead, simply because none thinks they are particularly cool. But an audible gasp arose from the crowd after a question essentially asking about any skeletons in each candidate’s closet.

It was an uncomfortable question and one they weren’t expecting. Yet their answers seemed genuine and they were honest — or at least as honest as they felt they could be. There were admissions that there had been a few legal run-ins, and explanations ranging from serious to hilarious, as well as admissions to overindulgence in college or gambling.

It was during these unscripted moments that the audience, onsite and online, got to see the human side of the candidates deftly handling an unexpected situation by being funny, contrite, earnest. At the end, there were handshakes and thank-yous and then it was back to social media to finish the campaigning. Hampstead’s election is May 14.

Other elections on May 14 take place in New Windsor, Union Bridge and Westminster (Manchester is May 21). More pressing, Mount Airy and Taneytown elections are Monday — there simply isn’t enough space here to write about Taneytown’s issues and its ultra-interesting races, but hopefully you checked out the candidate profiles inside today’s Times. Sykesville is Tuesday.

Wherever you are, whoever you are voting for, if you live in one of Carroll’s municipalities, go to the polls. Turnout for these is generally just north of pathetic and one vote is never more important than in town and city races.

Also, I hope to see nice turnouts Wednesday night for the Westminster candidates forum and Thursday night for the New Windsor candidates forum. Just no questions about cheeseburgers or ducks, please.

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