To the surprise of many, it was a quiet candidates debate
we had Sunday. Questions were varied and broad, answers were
offered respectfully, and with a format permitting only brief
responses and no direct exchanges, it wasn‚t really
a debate but a question-and-answer session. To the relief
of many, no accusations were leveled and no dark conspiracies
framed. Regret was expressed about divisions in the community,
some spoke of healing those divisions - a lovely idea -
and people left satisfied that everyone had been well and
clearly heard. In the candidates answers there was a
fair amount of unanimity on the issues, more than perhaps
some would have anticipated. Where there wasn't, the differences
between the positions of the two slates were clear.
There hasn't been much real news to report on the town race;
the campaign thus far has been framed by opinion and plenty
of it. It's easy to forget that everything we read as
paid ads, as letters-to-the-editor, and as editorials like
this are all just somebody's point of view. Some may
be more or less informed than others, but they‚re all
legitimate, and we all have a right to share those views with
our neighbors. Newspapers of course provide space for opinion,
but our real job is to report, to tell you what's happening.
We try to do that by faithfully and fairly keeping news and
opinion separate, as most newspapers do. But whatever the
venue, news or opinion, we all have an obligation to be truthful
in what we say, especially those running for office.
In our editorials, we try to apply a measure of reason to
the public dialogue, which in Shandaken often isn‚t
very reasonable. If our town has the reputation as the
political Afghanistan of Ulster County ˆ factionalized
and barely governable ˆ it's probably deserved.
Maybe some part of that is the rugged and occasionally cranky
individualism of our mountain heritage. But in recent years
most of us understand the dialogue‚s been dominated
by a single issue; how we as a community feel about the prospect
of potentially massive changes to our town.
Of course, we're all getting tired of hearing about Crossroads,
but no one in Shandaken is so naïve they don‚t
understand it‚s the real, the underlying issue in our
town election. "Ultimately" said CWC chair
Alan Rosa recently, "the decisions will lay with the
Town of Shandaken, which will be handled through the electoral
process". It doesn't get any more succinct than
that, or come from a more knowledgeable source. Whatever you've
read or heard, it's not the State or the City or some regulatory
agency who'll decide whether or on what scale that project
gets built. It‚s us, the residents of Shandaken.
That of course is why this election and control of our town
board is so crucial to the developer, and so emotionally packed
for people on both sides of the issue. The good thing
about that is at least everybody gets what's actually going
on. The bad thing is that things are tense, which isn't
conducive to keeping perspective; big things can appear little
and little things can appear big. The trick, if there is one,
is to keep thinking critically about the "information"
we're presented with.
At Sunday's event the lines were drawn both nicely and clearly.
Normally among the first to express distrust of regulatory
agencies like DEC and DEP, Shandaken‚s Republican candidates
seem content to let those agencies and their process "work"
without any meaningful participation by those of us who live
here, though one of the three GOP candidates did favor an
"economic" study. Behind that "process"
of course, is the widespread presumption that DEC, a state
agency, will ultimately follow instructions from Governor
Pataki's office with its close ties to Crossroads. By
contrast, the three Democratic candidates believe a town review
of the project's local impact: fiscal analysis, tax implications,
and traffic, secondary growth, and community character are
all essential to the town‚s decision-making process.
Make of it what you will, but the issue does clearly split
on party lines.
It has of course been a highly charged election campaign,
its tone set by the Citizens for Progress ads, which we think
have set a new low-water mark for our town in truthfulness.
But what troubles us so much isn't that, it's the issue of
accountability, because those ads are the town's GOP campaign,
and based on comments made Sunday, none of those candidates
are willing to take the least responsibility for it.
That is an enormous failure of leadership, far more significant
than whether "citizens" is or isn't an illegal PAC,
or whether the purpose of the group was to create "plausibility
deniability" for what it's doing by its candidates. We
see nothing remotely plausible about that deniability. People
seeking public office are responsible for what‚s said
to get them elected, and failing to accept that responsibility
isn't just disingenuous, it's transparently dishonest. That
was a judgment call made by town‚s Republican leadership
and it is what it is: terrible judgment. Compounding it, their
candidates haven‚t disavowed a single piece of
'information' presented above their names, and actually appear
to welcome it.
We're not endorsing or not endorsing anyone here. We think
people have enough common sense to know that just because
something's said doesn't mean it's true, especially around
election time. A lot's been said already, and a lot more probably
will be between now and November 4. If we're thoughtful enough
to ask ourselves who's saying what and why, it's unlikely
the perspective we take into the voting booth will be off
by very much, and our collective judgment will serve our community
well. Please, plan on voting, whatever it takes. Not showing
up to help chose your town's future isn't a good option.