October, 2004

LAWRENCE – In the towns of Andover and North Andover, candidates running for office are not allowed into the senior centers to campaign. These are public facilities, paid for and operated with public funds. Seniors (usually the most active voters) go there to congregate, have fun, and get important information about the community.

 Yet, elected officials are allowed into both senior centers. Amazingly, they are allowed to hold “office hours” at both centers, even when they are running for re-election (which officially makes them “candidates”). State Representatives David Torissi, Barbara L’Italien and State Senator Sue Tucker for example, all enjoy the advantage of using their incumbency to stroll into the senior centers any time they wish and, in effect, campaign by having access to seniors and getting their re-election message across. 

In fact, not only are incumbents allowed to hold office hours, State Representative Barbara L’Italien has been asked to be a guest speaker at the North Andover senior center less than four weeks before her election, while her opponent Maria Marasco has had the door shut in her face.

 Getting into senior centers increases name recognition and visibility for any candidate. You could hardly blame an incumbent Senator or Representative who takes advantage of it. In fact, they would be foolish not to.

 But the people who run the senior centers ignore complaints by candidates who can’t get in the door while turning a blind eye to the fact that incumbents are sitting inside talking to voters. Surely they can see that this practice violates any reasonable test of fairness. It is unacceptable that the rules are different for campaign challengers than they are for current office holders.

 To their credit, the Lawrence, Haverhill, and Methuen Senior Centers allow all candidates, incumbents and challengers, access to their facilities. They are welcome to speak with seniors about important issues, pass out election material, and hear the concerns of the elderly who are all too often ignored when the elections are over.

 What’s more, the seniors we’ve talked to all said they enjoy the attention they receive from challengers and incumbents at election time. They said that allowing candidates into the centers gives them more of a voice in government and gives them more of an education about the people running for office, ballot questions and general voting information.

 To his credit, Andover Selectman Brian Major is drafting a measure to force open the doors of the senior center in Andover, giving access to all candidates and making the rules fair for everyone. The Andover Board of Selectman should support Major’s initiative and send a message to all who seek public office that the senior center is a place where everyone is welcome. This benefits both the candidates and the seniors.

 In North Andover, however, officials continue to complain about the favoritism at the senior center while the practice of shutting out some candidates continues unchallenged. We hope that the North Andover Board of Selectmen will follow the lead of Andover Selectman Major and pass a similar ordinance. Until then, seniors will only have access to incumbent candidates and those who challenge them will be outside with their faces pressed against the glass.