Dismissing the protocol that says the champion needs to enter the ring last, Hamilton Mayor Glen Gilmore sat on stage before GOP challenger, John Bencivengo, made his entrance today in the ballroom of the Nottingham Fire House.
General election politics in most towns gets ugly come October. In the politically charged Hamilton, where everything hits a little earlier, the candidates have been trading freely and often. Months ago, Bencivengo went after Gilmore on gangs and the mayor’s open space plan. Gilmore’s camp in turn hit Bencivengo on the latter’s attempts to sell anthrax-proof hand lotion to terror-spooked postal workers, and floated a rumor that an overwrought Bencivengo would soon be exiting the race.
"Just preposterous," said Bencivengo, who admitted during the debate that some of his business ventures were not as successful as others.
When the estranged pair met in person this afternoon at an event sponsored by the League of Women Voters, there were the usual comments in the audience of small business owners feasting on chicken, string beans and potatoes, about how the battling newspaper headlines might spill literally into an afternoon of Hamilton political fisticuffs.
But Gilmore, with a polite handshake and eye contact, and then Bencivengo, in his friendly opening remarks, diffused the fight talk right up front. Sitting next to the lanky Gilmore, the compact challenger said, "I am running for mayor because you’ve had two good-looking Irishmen and now it’s time to have a little, short Italian."
The former municipal director of the Hamilton Partnership who says Democrat Gilmore nudged him out of a job, Bencivengo criticized Gilmore for not presenting the township budget before the Nov. 6th election, for purchasing open space from a campaign contributor-developer, and for "not taking public safety serious." Gilmore defended his two terms in office. He said he’s increased the number of police officers from 172 to 182, partnered with the county’s gang task force, and preserved 650 acres of open space.
Gilmore’s "How dare you" retort to the charge of a public safety lapse was the only real blood pressure bump of an exchange in a continuously civil event punctuated by hand claps from boh sides.
A big issue for Bencivengo is Klockner Woods, a piece of property purchased by a developer for $375,000, that Hamilton Township then bought for $4.2 million.
"Fifty years and nobody wanted to buy it," said Bencivengo, who promised if elected to develop a reasonable open space plan in concert with a township master plan.
Gilmore highlighted his balanced approach to maintaining economic development while preserving open spaces, and cited the Hamilton Marketplace, which provides $1 million annually in tax revenue to the school system, and an additional $500,000 to hold the line on municipal spending costs.
After the debate, both candidates waded into the crowd to claim victory.
"John is running on insisting that Hamilton have a traffic plan, and on making developers pay their fair share," said Kevin Meara, who’s running for Town Council on a ticket with Bencivengo.
The there was Democratic County Executive Brian Hughes’ take.
"The mayor’s running on a record, and John Bencivengo’s running on formulating plans," said Hughes.