By LISA WHALEY
Lucas Schmidt, Jonesborough actor, musician and resident, has always relished the chance to work hand-in-hand with others.
“I like people. I like talking to people that I don’t know,” Schmidt said. “And I like it when I see people smile. That is why I went into theater.”
But when the pandemic struck earlier year, Schmidt said he starting thinking of another way to bring smiles to his struggling community.
“When COVID first hit, and all the economy kind of started freezing basically at certain times, I just had a lot of questions about that for myself,” he explained. “You know, I work for the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre and just from that angle, we are a commerce-driven business. What are we going to do? The town supports us and what is the town having to deal with?”
At that point, Schmidt said, he realized “if you want to understand it more and have more of a hand in helping the businesses in town survive this, maybe you should run for alderman.”
“What kind of clinched it for me,” Schmidt said, “was a few people who I very much respect, calmly said ‘Hey, have you considered doing that? Running for alderman?’
“I took that as a compliment, but also as kind of a sign.”
Schmidt said he enters the race with little criticism for the past, but an urgent need to help guide the future.
“I don’t want to slight the current aldermen,” he said. “I think they do a great job. And I honestly think the decisions they made with COVID were decisions that anyone would make considering what they thought they knew. COVID is a novel virus and it is called novel for a reason. No one knew about it. The decisions they made I believe they made with the town’s best interest.
“I’m interested in what we do now.”
Schmidt brings to the challenge his own experiences in the world of small business.
“I am self-employed at home,” said Schmidt, who is a graduate of Milligan College with a degree in piano performance. “I have a piano and voice studio, am a certified personal trainer and I do work at the theatre so I understand from the private sector side of things.”
He also, he said, has strong ties to many of the town’s small-business owners and has witnessed their struggles over the past several months.
“Primarily, my biggest aim right now would be to work with the other aldermen and the mayor to come up with new ways to draw people downtown,” Schmidt said. “As you know, Jonesborough Days was canceled, so was the Storytelling Festival, although it was online
“But it doesn’t help the merchants who rely on foot-traffic downtown. Frankly, that’s what keeps them afloat for the rest of the year.
“When you typically have tens of thousands of people come to your area and spend tons of money and they want to know everything about everything in your home, and you eliminate that, it’s a huge gap.”
That is not to say, he stressed, that he doesn’t recognize the challenges COVID now presents. In fact, Schmidt has first-hand experience with the virus’ potential impact after a number of recent cases occurred at the JRT.
“I think the primary thing was knowing that no matter how many precautions you take, there could still be a risk associated,” he said. “The guidelines we had in place were far more strict than most any other business that I’ve seen. Most businesses require or request that you wear masks. We required them. You couldn’t be in our building without one.
“Not only that, everyone had to pass a (temperature) examination to enter the premises.”
He realized, he said, while you should never ignore the risk, the best decisions have to come from facts.
“It taught me that you must make decisions based on reason and logic and not emotion. Fear is a strong emotion.
“We made very strong decisions about health and safety, and in spite of those, some people got ill. Now, mind you, they are OK. But someone still got sick.”
The experience brought Schmidt to another realization — that when it comes to community events and challenges, communication is crucial.
That is especially true, he believes, for local government.
“Communication with every person at every level is key,” he said. “Being forthright and direct about what’s going on is key.”
If elected alderman, Schmidt wants to be always available and always approachable.
“Any town person who wants to talk to me to ask questions or complain or yell, whatever they want to do, they can do it,” he stressed.
Overall, Schmidt remains convinced that his small town can survive and thrive, if only everyone works together.
“It’s like that Kevin Costner, quote: “If we build it, they will come.
“I think if we are creative and innovative, we can get people back downtown and have them feel comfortable and safe,” Schmidt said. “We can come up with collaborative ways to come together.”