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The Dartmouth
June 17, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Dartmouth Civics and Rockefeller Center co-host ‘Hanover Demystified’ event

The event featured a forum with candidates for various Town positions.

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On May 9, the Dartmouth Civics Student Association collaborated with the Rockefeller Center for Public Policy to host an open candidate forum before the upcoming Hanover Town Meeting on May 14. The event, titled “Hanover Demystified,” was moderated by Student Government vice president Kiara Ortiz ’24 and included a Town Meeting information session, candidate forum and open house with current candidates.

Hanover Town Manager Alex Torpey opened the event by explaining the basics of municipal government in New Hampshire and Hanover.

“The executive branch is your Select Board and Town Manager, and your legislative branch is the Town Meeting,” Torpey said. “Although the Select Board has certain areas of purview, really, the ultimate authority in Hanover is the Town Meeting.”

Dartmouth Civics co-presidents and founders Bea Burack ’25 and Armita Mirkarimi ’25 helped organize the forum. Burack said their motivation for the event stemmed from a desire to educate students about local politics. 

“People come here and they study government, but government isn’t just presidential campaigns — it’s local politics,” Burack said. “It’s the people running for cemetery board because no one else stepped up and did it. People trying to make sure that a town keeps running. When you really look at local politics, that’s where things are getting done and people are coming together, and I think that that’s really helpful to see.”

In an interview after the event, Select Board candidate Jarett Berke also emphasized the importance of student involvement in town politics.

“Dartmouth students are such a huge part of the vibrancy of the town, and it’s really important to have them involved — not just being involved in the community but being involved in policy decisions,” Berke said. “The more we can poll this roughly 50% of the [Hanover] population, the better Hanover can be. We need your voice.”

Three candidates — Berke, Kari Asmus and Joanna Whitcomb — are running for two open seats on the Select Board, where they will serve three-year terms if elected. All three attended the forum, where they spoke about their choice to run for public office.

Select Board incumbent Whitcomb said she chose to run again because she believes “there is more work to be done.” 

Asmus said her previous experience in town governance would help her in the role. She has served nine years as chair of the school board and finance committee and has also worked as a member of the conservation commission. 

“We are losing a lot of institutional memory and perspective, and I believe I can offer that,” Asmus said.

Berke, the owner of Lou’s Restaurant and Bakery, said he chose to run because it was “an opportunity for him to step up and live out a mission-driven life.” 

The Trustee of the Cemetery is a new position this year, with candidates running for the responsibility of “the care and maintenance of public municipal cemeteries,” according to the New Hampshire Department of Justice website. 

Harold Jefferson Frost is running for the three-year Trustee of the Cemetery position, while Petra Sergent and Kevin Knutti are write-in candidates for the two-year and one-year Trustee of the Cemetery positions, respectively. All three spoke on the panel. 

The candidates expressed various reasons for wanting to run for public office. 

Frost, a professor at the Thayer School of Engineering, said he chose to run for the three-year Trustee of the Cemetery position because he has “never done any official service to the town of Hanover, and it is high time.” 

Sergent, who has been involved with the preservation of the Dartmouth Cemetery, said she is running for the two-year trustee position because she tries “to incorporate service into everyday life.” 

Knutti, a retired army colonel and technical director of the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, said he was inspired to run after seeing broken headstones of veterans in Etna, N.H. 

Select Board candidates also expressed a range of ideas for how they would engage students and members of the Dartmouth community if elected. 

Whitcomb, who works at Dartmouth as the head of campus planning, responded that she “sees lots of the [Dartmouth community] every day.” 

Berke said his business downtown and his children’s enrollment in the Hanover school system lead him to hear “a broad range of opinions.” 

Asmus, meanwhile, said she plans to have coffee chats with students and run an Instagram account to “highlight what is going on in town.” 

Ortiz also asked the candidates about what town issues they intend to focus on if elected to office. 

Berke said he would focus on investments in downtown Hanover, noting that increasing the number of people living downtown “will make Hanover a place where people will want to visit and live.” 

Asmus responded that she would focus on protecting “open spaces,” adding that if Hanover “[starts] to think about everything as one landscape, that will contribute to our climate resilience.” 

Finally, Whitcomb said her viewpoint falls “between” those of Berke and Asmus. 

“We need to balance our conservation with our investments downtown,” Whitcomb said. “I’m about moving forward in a balanced fashion.”

Kim Frost, an event participant and the spouse of Harold Jefferson Frost, said it is important for students to get involved in local politics because it benefits both students and the community at large.

“Four years in a 24-year-old’s life, that’s a large chunk of your life, and that’s almost all of your existing voting life,” Frost said. “I think Dartmouth students add a lot of value to the discussions we have about our community and how we move forward. I also think it’s a great way for people to start to get involved.” 

The Town Meeting will take place on May 14. Ballot voting on candidates will take place at Hanover High School from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., when it will open for the business meeting — the portion of the meeting where the Town addresses motions that are not on the ballot.