Hingham Candidates Campaign Amidst COVID-19 Pandemic
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Since the Governor has issued a stay-in-place order; essential businesses are the only ones being allowed to operate; and social distancing guidelines are in place, how have candidates who are running for local office been impacted?
Prior to the pandemic, candidates were engaged in typical campaign activities. Nomination papers were pulled; signatures were collected; and papers were returned to the Town Clerk’s Office in anticipation of voters casting their ballots on April 30th. However, the decision was recently made to move Hingham’s Town Election to Saturday, June 27th. Now that candidates have been provided with an additional two months to campaign, the pace has changed, and they are, as Selectman candidate Kirk Shilts said, “waiting till it’s safe to go outside.”
But what are they doing in the interim?
With only two contested races on the ballot, all eyes are on these five people. Kirk Shilts and Bill Ramsey are vying for the open Board of Selectmen seat, and Michelle Ayer is an incumbent seeking reelection to the School Committee. Stephanie Gertz and Jennifer Benham have also thrown their hats into the ring for the two available School Committee seats. The term for both Board of Selectmen and School Committee is 3 years.
Most of these candidates are using social media. Gertz has been sharing tips to help parents who are working from home and trying to educate their children at the same time. Benham has been providing updates from the Hingham Public Schools. A few weeks ago, Ramsey opted for a Facebook Live event when a house party was cancelled. Some candidates are using multiple platforms. Benham has an Elect Jenn Benham Instagram account. Ayer also recently launched her Ayer for School Committee Instagram account saying that her “goal is to reach out to the entire community and keep everyone abreast of current school committee work, as well as information about my campaign.”
But social media is only one component of an effective campaign strategy. Print materials are important too, and companies like East Coast Printing in South Hingham have made special accommodations for their customers. “Last week we decided to offer curbside drop off and pick-up, and it’s worked out better than we imagined, said Jen McMurrer of East Coast. “I think people are relieved we are working with them to stay safe and are happy that they can continue to run their campaigns without a hitch.”
In-person activities, like door-knocking and candidate forums, are on hold indefinitely during a time when, ironically enough, people are home and looking for information and responsible forms of social interaction. Voters are also much more tuned into what government can and can’t do and will and won’t do and are formulating their own opinions on these limitations.
So what measures are the candidates engaging in to connect with voters? Here is what they had to say:
Candidates for Board of Selectmen
While I am still engaging voters by hosting virtual Meet and Greets on Facebook Live and answering individual questions over e-mail and phone, I am turning my focus to helping the community right now. I’m using my campaign Facebook Page, website, and Instagram accounts to post information about local initiatives to help others in need, support healthcare workers, and encourage residents to support our restaurants and small businesses.
I hope to be able to do some more traditional types of campaigning after this time of shelter-in-place. I’m looking forward to the debate mechanisms in particular. I think it’s great when you have the opportunity to compare and contrast – listen to one candidate and then another – and get to know them based on comparisons versus platforms.
Candidates for School Committee
These are certainly challenging times for everyone. As a candidate, person-to-person campaigning has slowed down but there is something good to be said for technology in this day and age to remain connected. My website has seen a sharp increase in traffic and my volunteer base is building up with the hope we will be allowed to campaign outside our homes before the new election date of Saturday, June 27th. I encourage your readers to connect with me at a socially appropriate distance on Facebook (facebook.com/jenbenham4sc) and Instagram (instagram.com/electjenbenham).
It’s definitely a challenging time for all of us and has definitely changed campaign season. On a trivial level, I haven’t been able to hand out my swag (buttons & bookmarks) but on a much more meaningful level, I haven’t been able to meet new people and let them get to know me and hear their concerns. So far, I’ve had one virtual meet and greet and I hope to do at least two more in April. Since the election has been postponed until June 27, I hope to have traditional events, such as in-person forums and Meet & Greets.
The work of the School Committee has kept me very busy, so the challenges of running a campaign at a time of social distancing and stay-in-place orders hasn’t really hit me…yet. However, the best part of campaigning is meeting new people and hearing new perspectives at coffees, stand outs, lunches, and candidate forums, so I already miss not making those connections. But like all the candidates, I’m figuring out ways to engage on social media, video conferencing, and maybe even good old fashioned telephone calls, to understand the needs of our community and best serve the Town of Hingham.
Other candidates for local office
Planning Board (5 years) – Rita DaSilva
Board of Assessors (3 years) – Stuart Greg Hall
Board of Health (3 years) – Elizabeth (Lizzie) Eldredge
Municipal Light Board (3 years) – John (Jack) Ryan
Sewer Commission (3 years) – Stephen Harold
Housing Authority (5 years) – Megan M. Buhr
Recreation Commission (5 years) – Adrienne S. Ramsey
Moderator (1 year) – Michael J. Puzo