As a City Council candidate, I have spent the last two weeks knocking on Belfast doors, delivering over 600 pieces of campaign material and chatting with well over 200 residents. It is an incredible privilege and certainly the most fun time I have spent in Belfast (and there have been many!).

In introducing myself, I am clear about the three issues driving my campaign:

1. The need to restore good will and respect as the cornerstone of our interactions; encouraging and welcoming a variety of ideas and opinions from every voice in every corner of Belfast because it builds a strong community and helps us arrive at the best possible decisions.

2. The need to face the climate crisis together for the sake of our children and their planet. Only by working together can we achieve food security for all, a viable transportation system and meet the goal of energy independence by 2030.

3. The need to prioritize a healthy local economy both because local self-reliance is key when facing climate uncertainty and because there is overwhelming evidence that the amount of local ownership is positively correlated to the stability and prosperity of a community.

There are smiles and sighs of relief when I talk about the need for civility, a willingness to listen and, above all, have respect for divergent opinions. No one has denied the priority of addressing the climate crisis, and I get nods of understanding when I explain my commitment to local business.

Starting my door-knocking outside the (Route 1) bypass where I live, I have met young families just arriving in Belfast (needing affordable high-speed internet for all of Belfast), an amazing variety of hard-working small business owners from boat builders to construction companies to home care providers, and many Belfasters who are very discouraged, even living in despair.

These neighbors believe they are forgotten and left out, even pushed out by the emerging snazzy in-town Belfast which they infrequently visit as it “has nothing for me.” I repeatedly hear about the need for “balance” when it comes to City Hall attention; that there should be “balance” in services and economic development between those who live here year-round and those who visit for a weekend or are here during the summer. Although no one suggests returning to bygone days of the poultry farms, the need for respecting the old Belfast and the folks who experienced the city as a hardscrabble factory town is a repeated theme.

And, yes, I hear about the fish farm, but instead of posing the question as one demanding a yes or no answer, we talk about the problems many believe the fish farm will solve or exacerbate: jobs and taxes. We talk about what kind of jobs are important and agree they should be good jobs that keep workers here raising their families.

We talk about the tax burden felt by everyone living here and wonder if heavy dependence on one industry/corporation will lead to stability when we have seen the poultry farms leave, MBNA bought out, Bank of America take jobs to Georgia and athenahealth threatened by a corporate buyout. And we talk about the environmental impact of an extraction-based company that will use much of our water and possibly poses a threat to the bay on which much of our prosperity depends. I make it clear that given my concern about the climate and carbon footprint and because I value prioritizing local business that keeps profits and jobs in the community, I question whether this size fish farm is a good fit for Belfast.

No matter what our positions when we started these conversations, they have always ended with respect and a better understanding of each other. This is community building. In the unlikely event the fish farm even reappears before the council during the next few years, I believe I continually demonstrate the willingness to listen respectfully to all sides, to ask well-thought-out questions

And conversations quickly drift to the issues that are often right underneath the fish farm: the sense that development is not addressing basic needs, especially housing and, with more passion than the fish farm, the need for affordable food. To many, Walmart would have been a good alternative, so feelings still linger over its absence. Tractor Supply is welcomed as a positive sign, but there is uncertainty whether it will arrive, since it seems “if it isn’t beautiful, it isn’t Belfast.”

The complexity of these issues facing all of Belfast requires much more than one quick yes or no question. I believe we deserve better — to get to the heart(s) of our community, do more than build bridges and actually begin knitting our community back together. We will be stronger, more resilient and, if I am an example, much happier for going through the work of getting to know and appreciate one another. A major motivator for my running was my exhaustion with the negativity and determination to offer something positive in its stead. I am thrilled with this experience and hope to meet those of you "inside the bypass" very soon.

Please look at my website for more ideas and information (share yours!) and to my Facebook page for glimpses into my walking journey through Belfast.

Sophia Ridgely Fuller is a candidate for the Ward 3 City Council seat.