ANDERSON — For many of the candidates who appeared at Saturday’s forum and voter registration drive, the setting was as important as their message.

Throughout the afternoon, they mounted a small stage set up on a gravel lot next to a small plaza housing a few of the remaining businesses along Nichol Avenue on the city’s west side. Candidates in several races took turns answering questions from moderators and an audience of about 50 residents seated in socially distanced chairs.

Many of those who attended parked in an empty field near the former Edgewood Plaza. It’s an area that has seen the departure of several establishments – most notably the Marsh grocery store, which closed in 2017. Efforts at revitalizing the retail corridor in the area have seen only sporadic success since then.

“It’s important for these candidates to get out and see the living conditions that the west side is going through,” said Larry McClendon, CEO of the Redwood Foundation, which organized and sponsored the forum in collaboration with eight other community organizations. “We have a lot of problems going on that need to be addressed, and if they don’t hear from the residents or the community, how will they know what the issues are?”

The candidates on hand expressed appreciation for the opportunity to address west side voters with their platforms.

“They can read about us all they want, but it’s great for them to come talk with us in person,” said Treva Bostic, who’s running for an at-large seat on the Madison County Council. “They can get to know us and find out what we have to offer.”

Others said those candidates who were unable to attend missed an opportunity to connect directly with voters and allow members of the public to get to know them.

“When candidates aren’t coming out and attending events like this where they can meet with people and hear from people, that’s a problem,” said Scott Norrick, a Republican candidate for judge in Madison Circuit Court Division 5. “This is a segment of our community that’s vital to our community, and to otherwise skip that part of the community is a shame.”

Other community groups represented at the event included the Anderson-Madison County Branch of the NAACP, Anderson-Madison County Black Chamber of Commerce, the Leadership Academy of Madison County and the League of Women Voters. McClendon stressed that the event was intended to be nonpartisan.

“The same issues that we’re dealing with nationally, we have right here in Anderson, Indiana,” he said. “I’m not big on any political party. I like good people. If you’re a good person with a good heart and you want to do right for all people, I’ll support you 100%.”

Follow Andy Knight on Twitter @Andrew_J_Knight, or call 765-640-4809.

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