Long Beach City Council members running for reelection this March have been declining or ignoring invitations to forums where they’d be appearing alongside their challengers — something experts say denies voters the opportunity to evaluate the candidates head-to-head and can dampen interest in an already neglected local election.

Three City Council incumbents — District 2’s Cindy Allen, District 4’s Daryl Supernaw and District 6’s Suely Saro — are up for reelection on March 5, and all three opted not to participate in the Long Beach Post’s candidate forums. Their attendance at other such events has also been hit or miss.

The incumbent in the sole Long Beach Unified school board race on the ballot, Erik Miller, also backed out of the Post’s forum minutes before it was supposed to begin on Friday. The decision came after the Post published a story about how Miller had used taxpayer resources to bolster his campaign.

“Voters don’t normally get a lot of information about local government,” said Jack Pitney, who teaches politics at Claremont McKenna College. So when candidates don’t show up at forums, he said, “the message it gives to voters is, ‘Don’t pay attention.’”

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Supernaw skipped a forum last week at Cal State Long Beach that all three of his challengers attended; he said later that organizers gave him conflicting information and by the time it got straightened out, he’d committed to something else.

As for the Post’s forum, Supernaw said he thought there’d been a scheduling conflict. (All candidates were offered their pick of times during the week of Feb. 5; in an email, Supernaw simply said he would not be participating.)

Michael Soneff, a campaign spokesperson for Saro, said the council member has a full plate — a full-time job, two kids and caregiving for her mother — but talking to voters is a priority for her.

“She told me she missed the email from the Post asking to schedule this,” Soneff said. “When she has a free hour, she’s knocking on voters’ doors.”

(The Post left a voice message and sent two emails to Saro’s campaign regarding the forum but got no response.)

When a reporter called to ask why Allen didn’t take part in the Post’s forum, she responded with a text saying she’s been “busy reaching out to voters” and that she’ll be at a District 2 forum this Thursday put on by several neighborhood associations.

So far none of the incumbents has committed to appear at a Feb. 22 forum being held by Leadership Long Beach, said Sean Devereax, the group’s executive director. Saro and Supernaw said they had schedule conflicts, and as of Monday, Allen had not responded.

Why does it matter? For Danielle Potter, a Rose Park Neighborhood Association board member, “It’s important to kind of know firsthand what their priorities are for improving our neighborhoods.”

Organizers of this week’s District 2 forum tailored questions to specific neighborhood concerns, and they’ll allow residents at the forum to ask the candidates questions also, Potter said, adding, “You’re not getting that in the mailers that they send out.”

Matt Lesenyie, assistant professor of political science at Cal State Long Beach, said he tunes in to debates to hear the contrast of ideas between the candidates, what challengers say they’d do differently, and how incumbents respond to that.

While schedule conflicts do happen, Lesenyie said for some candidates the calculus for whether to attend a forum is based on whether they already have a coalition of supporters to get them across the finish line on election day.

Some candidates may hope to downplay negative press or avoid giving their opponents oxygen, but whatever their reason for skipping a public forum, Lesenyie said, “As an expert, I read that as they don’t need my vote.”

Although they skipped the forum, the incumbents and their challengers participated in the Long Beach Post’s Compare Your Candidates questionnaire. You can see how their views stack up side-by-side here. Follow all our election coverage at lbpost.com/elections.