For a while it seemed as if the mayoral debate might have ended before it began. After prayers by Raymond Cooper and Dick Bland incited a near-riot in the Methodist church fellowship hall, voices quickly dulled to whispers as Juliet Stoughton took her place behind the podium.
As the cacophony quieted, Stoughton took a moment to regain composure before introducing herself.
"Hello. My name is Juliet Stoughton," she began. "I know most of you don’t know me, and you are probably wondering what I am doing on this stage with the other candidates for mayor."
"We sure are!" shouted Marvin Walsh to the delight of his fellow Cooper supporters.
Cackles were heard in the VFW section as TV-6 meteorologist Matt Pinkin attempted to take control by reminding the audience the timer would restart at 60 seconds due to the interruption. That silenced the crowd. No one likes being chastised by a famous celebrity.
Juliet continued. "I’m here," pausing to catch her breath, "because I remember all the wonderful stories I was told about this place."
You could have heard a pin drop as the audience absorbed those simple words.
"I heard of this Valley, filled with wonderful people. I was told they were hard-working, friendly, gentle people.
I couldn’t wait to see this place and meet these people for myself. I was excited because this Valley would be my home."
Murmuring could be heard among the crowd. "That’s right," someone uttered, just loud enough to be made out among the audience.
"Imagine my surprise when the first voice I heard was a voice on the radio." Juliet thought it best to exclude her previous soulmate from her early impressions of the Valley.
The spectators were on the edges of their seats as everyone, even the children, knew that Stoughton was referring to Raymond Cooper, host of "Renderings with Raymond" and candidate for mayor of Lennox Valley.
"This voice was neither gentle nor kind," she continued. "It was mean and hateful."
Elbert Lee Jones had heard enough. He was about to shout something, probably neither gentle nor kind, but was subdued by his fellow VFW members who realized Juliet would get a fresh 60 seconds if she was interrupted again.
"I am here," she said quietly, "because I want the Lennox Valley I dreamed of, the Valley made up of hard-working, friendly neighbors. I want to work toward making our Valley a better place for everyone."
Matt Pinkin reminded Juliet she had 10 seconds remaining on the timer.
"I want a town concerned about real problems, not make-believe issues like rising egg prices and the Federal Reserve."
For a brief moment, the room was silent. That’s when Rhonda Goodman rose from her seat and began applauding. Her husband, Earl, the mailman and the first to suggest on "Renderings with Raymond" that Cooper should run for office, turned to his wife with a stunned look on his face.
Other women in the audience began to stand and applaud. After a few seconds, there were 20 or more women, plus a couple of men, on their feet and clapping with Rhonda.
The main headline on the front of Lennox Valley Hometown News the next morning read "Newcomer Turns Heads" with the subhead, "Sharp criticism of fake issues incites crowd."
Two photos graced page one. The dominant photo, underneath the headline, showed all three candidates on stage during the coin-flip to determine who would speak first. A little further down was a picture of Elbert Lee Jones rushing the stage, being held back by Marvin Walsh and two other Cooper supporters.
The only other story on page one included the results of a poll conducted by the Spring County League of Women Voters, which coincidentally included no members of the Lennox Valley Auburn Hat Society:
- Mayor Dick Bland: 30 percent
- Raymond Cooper: 39 percent
- Juliet Stoughton: 3 percent
- Undecided: 28 percent
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