“Holland has a rich heritage of bold ideas and hard work to achieve them,” the site banner reads, catching the reader’s attention with a hook, a straightforward appeal to those who value heritage and tradition. Herein lies the allure of mayoral candidate Nathan Bocks to those who believe adamantly that Disneyland is not, in fact, the happiest place on earth, saving that designation for the frosty shores of Lake Michigan.
“There are exciting new opportunities just ahead to make this community greater for all,” the second phrase proclaims, echoing the hopeful sentiment pervasive on the white and orange site. Bocks is forward-minded, the reader is told. Although he is rooted firmly in the beauty and tradition of this land and its people, his head is in neither the clouds nor the past.
Finally, there is a direct appeal, the definitive conclusion to which the prior, aspirational phrases have been leading: “VOTE BOCKS FOR MAYOR.”
Nathan Bocks is a real estate lawyer, father of three, and a 33-year resident of Holland, Michigan. He is also the challenger in the mayoral race against Nancy DeBoer, long-time city council member and incumbent mayor. Bocks predicates his campaign on three pillars, the first of which is entitled “Our Challenge.” He identifies the ongoing housing crisis as the central challenge facing Holland and its residents, current and prospective. Hope College student, Holland native, and Bocks campaign volunteer Martha Beattie (’21), summarized the crux of the issue: “People who rent, people who want to live here can’t really afford to live here, so he wants to work on affordable and attainable housing for people.” Bocks, an attorney specializing in real estate and small business development, makes the claim that he is “uniquely suited to lead this effort” as the township works to make it possible for working-class individuals to afford the opportunity to call Holland home.
Beattie touched on the second pillar, also, referred to on Bocks’ campaign website as “Our Opportunity,” alluding to the anticipated development of Holland’s lakeshore. “One of his biggest goals is to work on the waterfront,” said Beattie, continuing, “As you know, we’ve switched to a natural gas power plant in Holland, we have the old coal power plant that’s slowly been stopping operations, so we have to decide what to do with the waterfront space.” Bocks cites his role in the restoration of the Holland Civic Center, completed in 2018, as the primary reason why he is the best choice to lead the continuing effort to make Holland more than just a college town or seasonal tourist attraction. Beattie, too, made reference to Bocks’ experience in this capacity, saying, “…he [Bocks] was actually one of the lead heads on the civic center board, so when they were starting to build the civic center, [Mayor] Nancy DeBoer actually called him to help with the project.”
Continuing with her comparison of the two candidates, Beattie commented, “He’s really involved in the community: he helped form Jubilee Ministries, he was on the Habitat for Humanity board. I think that he’s a little more adamant about changing the status quo than our incumbent mayor is, and I think that he’s a little more adamant about making sure that Holland is a welcoming place for every single person who lives here.” Her evaluation alluded to the third pillar of the Bocks campaign, “Our Aspiration,” which is to ensure that every individual seeking to contribute to the community and workforce feel as though their talents and efforts are valued. “When I am elected,” reads Bocks’ bolded and underlined promise, “that attitude will start with the mayor.”
Beattie, a student of political science and the president of Hope Democrats, made a point of mentioning the Bocks initiative to run a “clean” campaign, highlighting the fact that he had never run a negative ad or spoken poorly of his opponent. This reflects, perhaps, the swell of individuals that cite their disgust with the state of the modern political arena, specifically the verbal attacks and smear campaigns so frequently employed by national contenders for public office. The New York Times maintains a digital database of the “People, Places, and Things Donald Trump Has Insulted on Twitter,” as well as the specific allegations or alliterative names leveled against each since he declared his candidacy in June 2015. The list was most recently updated on May 24, 2019, and now boasts a staggering 598 entries. Opponents of the current president and proponents of traditional values cite these public attacks as a sign of moral decline and the erosion of the respect once presupposed of holders of executive office.
On his campaign website, Bocks came out against the “labels and name-calling” that many Americans have cited as the primary root of polarity, saying, “I am not interested in labels, or in creating fear or division. I am interested in finding common values and common goals and working together to find solutions to the challenges before us.” This is undoubtedly an appeal to those individuals disenchanted with malicious TV ads and flyers that are seemingly ubiquitous to the politics of today. Bocks’ refusal to run his campaign based on derogatory claims about his opponent not only leans into the frustrations of voters and their reticence to support unnecessary negativity, but reflects the will of a growing coalition of individuals who advocate for stronger leadership on a local level. Beattie emphasized how highly she values Bocks’ character and his history of leadership within the community. Critiquing the media’s all-too-common tendency to elevate national issues above local concerns, she went on to say that “our local politics are just as important as, if not more important, than some of those things [national issues].”
In expressing her concern with the political establishment at large, and the growing polarity between major partisan players, Beattie said, “it’s really easy to be scared and fearful when you feel like our national politics are the only thing that’s guiding us.” Although out of state students might not feel the same pressure to become educated and involved in the Holland mayoral race, Beattie’s comments and concerns reflect those of many voters, especially those aged 18-22. Recent results from a survey put out by Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics indicate that 90% of respondents self-reported that they are “frustrated by the uncivil and rude behavior of many politicians.” There are many factors that contribute to the lack of political engagement among young people, but disillusionment with the status quo is undoubtedly one of the foremost issues.
When asked why she would support and ultimately cast her vote for Nathan Bocks, Beattie’s message took on a much more hopeful tone. She smiled at the question, before answering: “I would say that I know he cares a lot about my future, and I think especially right for now a lot of people our age, with our current political climate, it’s really easy to be scared and fearful… I just see him as a really big role model to me because he exemplifies what a leader in a community should be, based on how he treats people and his track record in Holland. I feel confident voting for him.”
From Beattie’s words to her show of faith in volunteering precious and limited time to advance the cause of this mayoral candidate, it is evident that Bocks’ message has struck a chord with at least one member of the electorate. It will become clear after the polls have closed on November 5 whether his aspirational rhetoric and positive approach to campaigning resonated with the rest of the Holland community.