Opinion

Bury the hatchet after mayor's race or we all lose

The close mayoral election in Port Orchard can’t really be explained, since we vote by secret ballot, not by submitting essays explaining our choices.

Unfortunately, close elections tend to make people react emotionally when they find themselves on the losing side.

Perhaps the toughest assignment for the person who is elected is to move forward when so many are dissatisfied.

When a large margin of victory makes clear the will of the majority, the result is more readily accepted.

But when the margin is tiny, it’s hard to ignore what people on the losing side think was an unfair or mistaken campaign statement that may have swayed only a few.  When only a few votes matter, the effect of everything seems magnified.

The campaign fliers mailed out to voters by a group working independently in support of Tim Matthes and against Mayor Lary Coppola wouldn’t be likely to sway many voters unless they resonated with what some voters already thought.

But they didn’t have to sway many in order to decide the outcome, so they aren’t likely to be forgotten.

People who voted for Coppola aren’t likely to wonder why those fliers resonated with any voters; but if they do, they aren’t likely to give an inch.

If Matthes is the eventual winner of the election — something that the tiny margin makes hard to predict now — he will have won office but not more than reluctant support and cooperation from people who voted for Coppola.

If Coppola is re-elected, he also must deal with the effect of the tiny margin of victory.

Disappoint-ment and resentment on the losing side can affect the ability of either candidate to succeed in the coming term of office.

Unless both sides make a determined effort to put the campaign and election behind them, the city and its residents could all lose.

And if they all lose, those of us in the unincorporated areas of South Kitsap who want a thriving city nearby could lose, too.

If it becomes second nature to believe the other guy is acting in bad faith — and to make the accusation whenever it comes to mind — the merits of whatever issue is being decided can get lost in the noise.

Unexpected results of government decisions that are attributed to bad faith cause hard feelings when they were nothing more than unexpected.  It’s the accusation of bad faith that results in hard feelings.

It is worthwhile to criticize when unanticipated results make us regret the previous action, since we naturally want our elected officials to achieve the intended result without unpleasant surprises.

But the criticism needs to be directed toward finding a way to avoid having it happen again — and accusing anyone of acting in bad faith doesn’t usually help.

Even when the need for change ought to be obvious, a tendency to suspect the worst in people who propose it can divert attention from the effort to analyze the situation and make the right decision.

The city has been and will be growing in population and area, which means the council and mayor have to make decisions that accommodate the growth.

Some of their previous decisions provided fodder for the mayoral election campaign.

Between now and the next campaign, other decisions have to be made — and no doubt they also will provide fodder for the next campaign season.

Maybe it seems like too much to ask that people lay down their hatchets now that the election is done, but that’s what they need to do if they want the next few years to be characterized by good debates over the issues and good decisions.

There will be time enough to go back on the warpath before the next election.

In the meantime, the city officials’ focus ought to be on seeking the facts, forming sound opinions, making good decisions, and telling the public what is happening and why.

 

Bob Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.

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