The Best We Can Do?
You're tired of hearing about the county legislature, we know.
And that awful word that's almost but not quite gone away, redistricting.
For most of us the whole subject's become like picking up a
coffee cup, but with a suspicion there's something unpleasant
at the bottom. Unfortunately at the County legislative level,
the way in which the major party slates for November's election
have been chosen is indicative of many of the problems we still
face. It's the same old power politics, with the interests of
us voters falling into the afterthought category.
Our new Legislative District #2 groups us with Woodstock, a
little slice of Saugerties, and the smaller mountain towns of
Denning and Hardenburgh. On the Republican side two Woodstockers
will be running for the two seats, incumbent Legislator Michael
Stock and town police officer Tim Keefe. On the Democratic side,
two Woodstockers will also be running, town party chair Brian
Shapiro and former councilwoman Toby Heilbrunn. As for representation
from the 3 watershed towns with 70% as many people as Woodstock,
and 80% of most everything else in the district, to heck with
that. That's apparently both parties' attitude and it's a lousy
one. And it's both parties' fault.
How'd it happen that in a county where each legislator should
be representing 5,300 people, that 4,500 of us in 3 smaller
towns should end up with zero out of four candidates to represent
us? On the Republican side, it's the usual cynical politics
of legislative control we've come to expect from our county
leadership. And on the Democratic side it's almost as depressing.
Actually we'd have had a legislative candidate from Shandaken,
except that Board members Paul Van Blarcum and Edna Hoyt had
to be at a public hearing at our town hall on county caucus
night and so couldn't cast their deciding votes for their party's
legislative candidates. A party that can't make provisions for
its committee members fulfilling their elected duties? C'mon.
When something could have been fixed far in advance and isn't,
it's not the process that's the problem, it's the politics.
In this case, a bigger town smushes the interests of smaller
Things didn't have to happen like that. The county's Democrats
fought hard this past winter for normal, decent representation
through single member districts like most every other county
in the state has. Their successful petition drive even got the
issue on the ballot for November, along with the long overdue
issue of cutting the number of legislators down to a reasonable
size. Chances are they'll both pass and we'll get our normal
legislative configuration, but it won't happen until 2009. That'll
be good if overdue, but 2009?
So why did the Democrats give up their fight for single member
districts, even though the State Supreme Court repeatedly backed
their position and the voters seemed to agree? Simple, they
couldn't afford to keep fighting. The county's Democrats don't
have any money to speak of, whereas the Republicans have plenty,
and could afford to file lawsuit after lawsuit to fight the
single member districts the people of the county apparently
want. County Republican leader Pete Sevago filed two suits alone,
just in the week before the current 12-district configuration
was agreed upon. Were they about the merits of the case?
Maybe, though we tend to the reason was simpler: He guessed
or he knew the Democrats couldn't afford to keep litigating
every suit he could file. And so he bought his party six more
years of probable control of the county. Think paying for lawyers,
or just the threat of making the poorer party pay for its lawyers
is a waste of money? We doubt the county's Republican party
The net result is that the way November's county election is
shaping up is serving only to thwart the ideals of our democracy,
which are supposed to be about government by the people through
direct vote. Instead what we're seeing is the same old party
politics based on agendas, old allegiances, and gaining or holding
onto political power. Whole towns like ours and whole sections
of the county end up without representation, exactly what those
who fought for single-member districts warned us would happen
if we settled for something less than that.
Shandaken of course is its own animal, though at least here
it looks like our political process this summer will work the
way it's supposed to. At next week's Republican caucus, the
candidates will actually be allowed to speak, a sure step in
the right direction from the way things worked under Ward Todd's
leadership. And the Democrats have certainly helped move participatory
democracy in the right direction by putting the town's public
meetings on television so that most people can actually see
for themselves what's going on, instead of relying on what someone
tells them is going on.
Few doubt that this summer and fall will be an interesting political
season here. For the Town Board seats opening, only 2 likely
candidates of the 6 to be appear on the ballot have records
to run on, Pete Di Modica and Jane Todd. We'll probably hear
a fair amount about those records, both factual and fictional.
And we'll probably hear a lot about Shandaken's elephant in
the corner and its record of late. No surprise to anyone there.
What would be a nice surprise is if the campaign this time turns
out to be about issues and facts and how we're dealing with
things our town's facing, and not about painting our neighbors
as the boogeyman. It could just be there's enough civility,
critical thinking, and perspective in Shandaken to pull it off
this time. If that happens, whatever the electoral outcome,
we'd call it a big win for the Town.