What I most love about the Tour de Newton as an event is that it’s a great fun, unifying event for the whole city with widespread participation by both riders and volunteers. Today the ride itself went off with barely a hitch. But in Newton nothing is ever too far from local politics, especially in an election year.
This afternoon, after the event was all over, I heard an earful from all sorts of people on both sides of the Austin Street project. Supporters of the Austin Street project put up different signs up at a number of Tour de Newton stops that said things like “The Friends of Austin Street support projects that provide open space for community activities”. Apparently some of the signs were put up before the village greeters arrived. At the Waban stop, an Austin St supporter showed up with a sign after the village greeters were already on the job. Within minutes a shouting match broke out between Austin St supporters and opponents about whether or not the sign could legally be put on the library lawn (city property). Tempers flared with lots of yelling all around and eventually the supporter withdrew the sign and went off to make phone calls to confirm that it was legal (it turns out it is).
Meanwhile, a number of candidates and office holders helped out today as village greeters. I told all of them that they were welcome to introduce themselves as candidates but otherwise don’t speak about politics or the election, just give the introduction to the village. After the event I also heard a complaint about candidates introducing themselves by name and wearing campaign badges.
Personally, I think there’s nothing wrong with the candidates introducing themselves to the riders so long as they otherwise completely steer clear of any political talk. As the guy who recruits the greeters, I admit to having a vested interest in all the candidates wanting to be Village Greeters. What do you think?
As for the Austin St sign flare-up, my preference would be for the Tour de Newton to not have political signs involved. The event is all about being a unifying citywide fun event that brings neighbors together and learning about and visiting corners of Newton they may never have been to. That being said, whether I like it or not, apparently everyone has a right to hang a political sign on city property – or at least that’s what I’ve been told today. That seems surprising. If true, why doesn’t every piece of city property end up plastered with signs every election?