The best-laid plans...
When I was presented with the opportunity to work at The Camden Herald I was elated. Then my father decided to run for the Camden Select Board.
I learned he had taken out nomination papers from the town clerk. It was April 19. There had been little action in Camden on the nomination paper front so when several new residents took out papers I was excited to have something new to report. The list of candidates finished with an all-too-familiar name — Leonard Lookner. I tried to hold my composure, but I was reeling.
Was he serious? Probably not, I told myself. He probably won't turn the papers in. After an inter-office discussion we decided it was best that I “play it as it lays” — not only would it be a violation to interfere with his right to run for office, it just seemed like a downright sticky situation.
The date for turning in nomination papers was April 30. We as a staff assessed the situation and figured we'd go from there. It went without saying that I couldn't continue to cover Camden Select Board if my father was elected.
Although I'd only been covering Camden for a few weeks I felt proprietary about it already. I had met with town officials — who were warm, receptive and enthusiastic about the return of the paper — to catch up on local affairs and begin the legwork of cultivating my beat.
I worked to hide my annoyance with Dad's sudden decision to return to local politics. Wasn't the Zoning Board of Appeals enough? We could work around that one. The select board was a different beast entirely. On one hand, I could continue to cover Camden with the exception of the select board. On the other hand, the rest of the staff and I juggled the transcendent nature of the select board as it relates to municipal affairs in town. Again we concluded that the circumstances — strange as they were— would require a case-by-case approach.
By then the deadline had passed and my old man had turned his papers in. I called him at The Waterfront one day in early May. Ellie, the long-time manager, answered the phone.
“Is Leonard there?” I asked.
“Oh he's at the bar campaigning,” she replied in a knowing tone — I could practically see the expression on her face. I knew she could relate to my mix of amusement and thinly-veiled frustration at this new twist of events.
I credit my co-workers with their combined understanding, particularly during the last several weeks of Lenny's campaign when he made a point of visiting our office to hand deliver his letter to the editor and when another reporter was dispatched to The Waterfront to meet with him and write his candidate profile. She got the task of writing six Camden Select Board candidate profiles while I was handed Rockport's mere three.
It was 8:15 p.m. on Tuesday, June 12, when my cell phone began to frantically vibrate on the laminate desktop beside me. The polls had closed just minutes earlier and everyone in the office was in the seventh-inning-stretch of election day, waiting for those results to start rolling off the fax machine.
It was my dad calling. I flipped my phone open.
“Well, John French and I are Camden's newest selectmen,” he said. The tone in his voice was cautious.
“Are you excited?” I said. He explained his mix of excitement and ambivalence, which I knew was really just a way of acting nonchalant about the whole thing. He was excited, who wouldn't be?
“Congratulations, I'm happy for you.” I said as our call ended. It was only as he thanked me for my sentiment that his tone grew decidedly merrier. I realized he had been genuinely worried about how his election might effect me at work. Even though he had said it many times, it finally resonated in that brief moment.
The following night, another reporter attended Camden Town Meeting and I went to Rockport — and I realized it will all work out.
Rockport Town Manager Bob Peabody — who I met for the first time at town meeting — joked with me that with my dad on the Camden Select Board, Rockport wouldn't have to worry about making the front page of the paper for the next three years.
It occurred to me that the Camden Select Board meetings will be interesting with this new dynamic and I'm a little melancholy that I won't be able to cover them. I'm certain this little town will continue to thrive and I look forward to observing and reporting what I can. The issues that could pose a conflict of interest for me will be handled by the ever-flexible team of journalists I am lucky to call my coworkers. I am quite thankful for the understanding and sense of humor that has accompanied this whole process in my workplace.
The sense of community—the thing I appreciate about Camden—is a double-edged sword. It gets a little small sometimes but things always seem to find their place.