After a heated exchange over issues surrounding presidential candidate Ben Carson’s visit to the Old Home Day Kidz Night over the summer, the Old Home Day Committee decided at its Oct. 22 meeting to pursue tasking a subcommittee with writing policies related to politicking during the Town’s annual event.
Ultimately, Carson’s visit revealed the Committee doesn’t have much control over a campaign’s activities during Old Home Day.
“According to the Chief of Police, who was an attorney, and Town Attorney Mike Ramsdell, if a politician comes up and is conducting themselves in a proper manner, both said, and their words were, ‘have you ever heard of the United States Constitution?’” Town Council Chairman John Farrell said.
However, Town Manager Kevin Smith said the Town and Committee can take a more proactive role in directing campaigns toward appropriate Old Home Day activities, such as the parade.
“That was my miscommunication,” he said, taking responsibility for not contacting Chairman Kathy Wagner or Kidz Night manager Tim Siekmann after Carson’s campaign called him about attending this year’s Kidz Night event on the Town Common.
“We were blindsided,” said Tammy Siekmann, who also serves on the Kidz Night Committee.
Smith said he recommended Carson attend the Town’s parade, where political campaigns may pay a fee to march and meet residents along the route. But Carson’s campaign manager said they were leaving New Hampshire before the parade and asked if they could, instead, visit Kidz Night attendees.
“The only thing from them was they just wanted to walk around,” he said.
Siekmann, who received complaints from several school employees and parents related to the presence of Super PAC members who showed up for a rally in support of Carson, said Carson’s presence at Kidz Night was inappropriate and distracted from the purpose of the event, which is to offer a fun, community gathering for the children of Londonderry and their families.
Wagner said if she had known Carson was going to visit Kidz Night, she would have had a conversation with his campaign to discourage their presence at the event.
Additionally, Wagner expressed concern for next summer’s Old Home Day if the Committee is not permitted to ban politicians from events like Kidz Night.
“You’re saying by law, we can’t prevent politicians from coming to Senior Night, or the fireworks at the school,” she said. “Old Home Day is turning into a free-for-all for politicians.”
Although the policies related to politics and Old Home Day have been understood among members of the Committee, State Senator Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry noted employees of the Town may not all be aware of them.
“There needs to be some definite policies on politicians, because this stuff can get out of hand really fast,” she said.
Although the Committee may not prevent a politician from visiting a public space and exercising free speech, Wagner said the Committee could recommend a politician not attend certain events the committee prefers not to be politicized.
The Committee agreed to table further discussion of the issue to its next meeting, at which time Wagner said the group should determine who will work to address “the political craziness.
“This is something we will need legal counsel on,” she said.