Contributor Mark Brazaitis, who is running for City Council in Morgantown, WV, updates us on his recent experiences on the campaign trail.

I wouldn’t be a storyteller if I didn’t love stories.

As I go door-to-door in my first run for public office, I’m hearing a lot of stories, and I’m grateful for them.

I sat down with a 76-year-old man who told me how he came to have seven cats. He didn’t seek them. One by one, like feline wayfarers in a fairy tale, they arrived at his door. “I’m too polite not to answer,” he said.

On mild days, such as the day I spoke with him, he sits outside his front door on a foldup chair, cats at his feet or in his nearby garden. People who drive by, he said, occasionally hand him gifts of food.

“What kind?” I asked him. “Spaghetti dinners? Caviar? Wine and cheese?”

He laughed. “I wish,” he said. “The food is always for the cats.”

On back-to-back days, in two distinct neighborhoods in Morgantown, West Virginia, where I’m seeking a seat on the city council, I met a pair of 93-year-old women. One invited me and my younger daughter in to drink a glass of wine with her. My daughter, 14 years old, declined the wine for legal reasons. I declined because we intended to knock on two dozen more doors and I wanted to be coherent on the campaign trail. Our hostess regaled us with tales of her days teaching in the last—or perhaps it was the second-to-last—one-room schoolhouse in the state.

The next day, with my older daughter at my side, we met a 93-year-old woman who had downbeat stories to tell: the premature deaths, from cancer, of her two daughters. Her son was living in Greece, she said, and she missed him but understood his desire to be far from sad memories.

Some people have told me stories directly related to what local government can do to help them.

A couple in their late sixties spoke to me about their neighbors’ yard. It was either a haphazard junkyard, with well-used bicycles, strollers, and toys strewn across the lawn, or a postmodern sculpture garden. Either way, it was a neighborhood eyesore. Might the city encourage them to move their belongings indoors—or throw them away?

A speedbump! said another couple. A simple speedbump, they said, might slow down the high-schoolers who barrel through the neighborhood on their way to and from school.

A young father who lives on a beautiful, brick street near downtown Morgantown told me he was concerned about crime. He’d been shaken when an intruder entered his house with a knife. He and I discussed how our local opioid epidemic has turned people desperate to feed their addictions toward desperate acts.

In speeches I’ve given around town, I’ve talked about the choice between two cities—two distinct versions of Morgantown—that voters face in this city-council election:

A city that lets developers knock down forests in a haphazard push for profits versus a city that supports and enhances its green spaces as vital component to its residents’ physical, spiritual, and economic health.

A city that says nothing can be done to solve community problems because there’s no money to do anything versus a city that pursues fair ways of drawing in revenue and thereby meets its citizens’ needs and enhances their quality of life.

A city that, often too late, reacts to what privileged insiders are doing in the name of growing their bank accounts versus a city that, with foresight and concern for the wellbeing of its residents, has a large, generous plan to ensure everyone’s success—and is proactive about fulfilling it.

It might well be, too, this tale of two cities: a city that doesn’t care to hear its people’s stories, and therefore the stories they have yet to live and tell, versus a city that does.

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Photo credits: Amy Pratt