After three years of being the Chair of the Dryden Democratic Committee, I should probably be cynical enough about Republicans to ignore the mud they throw about candidates, about patriotism, and about the way elections are conducted.
Today's guest column by Jim Crawford, Town of Dryden Republican Committee Chair, still strikes me as genuinely strange. Jim spends a lot of effort talking about how much nicer politics really should be, but the reality seems to be that he wants it made nicer for him and his candidates. It's a brilliantly written wolf-in-sheep's-clothing piece, carefully avoiding making any suggestions to change the election laws while claiming that Democrats should be nicer. If I didn't know anything more about the issues, I might even believe it.
Leaving aside Town of Ithaca politics, where I'm not a specialist, there are a number of problems with the article:
While the piece might seem on the surface to be about the freedom of amateurs to put candidates on the ballot, it's really a complaint about friction between well-organized professionals. Crawford doesn't attempt, for instance, to complain about the removal of the "Anti-Death Party"'s candidate for Mayor of Ithaca because of large problems with the petition. He just wants the pieces that bother him to be eased.
Democratic candidates didn't file petitions for an independent line in Dryden because, frankly speaking, it's a good year to be a Democrat. Last year was a tremendously good year to be a Democrat. The Republicans, on the other hand, seem to be running from their party identification any way they can. Calling their independent line "All the People" doesn't make it true.
His complaint about Martha Robertson's challenge, trying to carry his complaints from the Town of Ithaca and into Dryden, where he's running the Republican campaign, is self-serving at best. Yes, Robertson filed an initial notice that she might be filing a complaint. However, when she concluded that there were no grounds for a complaint, she (wisely) didn't pursue them. Any citizen can do this, so long as they rush down to the Board of Elections during the three-day window for filing a preliminary challenge. I don't find anything deeply wrong about it - at worst in this case, it's helping to ensure that an organized group of people who do know the rules pay close attention to the law.
Most fundamentally, though, Crawford complains loudly about election law, but doesn't propose changing it, simplifying the process of getting on the ballot. Republican Governor Pataki and the still-Republican State Senate weren't interested in such ideas in 2001, and Republicans likely see them as an even greater threat to their remaining control of the State Senate today. He just wants Democrats to be nicer, without changing any of the foundations that help keep his party in power.
In some ways, this is a great year for Dryden elections. Voters have lots of choices to make, and I think the parties are more evenly matched for organization and registration than ever before. Unfortunately, the Republicans seem to be taking a competitive race as reason to muddy the waters in Dryden - by adoptiing the kinds of tactics they've used successfully elsewhere.
I like to think - and I think everyone likes to think - that local politics are different from state and national politics. Unfortunately, Jim's high-flying rhetoric is designed to make local Republicans sound good while ignoring their deep connections to the political machines that keep these laws in place. (I haven't heard him complaining about election law or the his own party's involvement in keeping New York State races uncompetitive in public, as I do quite regularly on the Democratic side.)
That reminds me of the other separation the Republicans try to make when they think it might run in their favor, distancing themselves from national politics while not actually being that distant. It shows up painfully in Henry Kramer's two-pronged question at Tuesday night's candidate forum, asking candidates on the one hand whether they would keep the Board out of national and international politics, and then on the other hand whether they'd say the Pledge of Allegiance at Board meetings and fly the POW/MIA flag at Town Hall. He didn't seem to notice that using the Pledge and the POW/MIA flag as a club is bringing national politics quite directly into local politics. (I say the Pledge and support flying the POW/MIA flag, but don't think either issue has any bearing on local issues.)
One final point. The Republicans have a habit of complaining whenever they're challenged, even when they've filed their own challenges. Last March's village election was a case in point. They challenged a ballot from a Democratic voter because the postmark was the day of the election, instead of the day before the election. Never mind that it might well have been posted the right day and not collected in time for the postmark. They then whipped up a fury over two military ballots Democrats asked to be held because they weren't filled out correctly. (The irony of a former Board of Elections employee's ballot not being filled out correctly was lost on them.)
It was a similarly shameless mix of wrongfully challenging Democrats' patriotism while complaining about technicalities - except for the ones that benefited them.
Politics doesn't have to be this dirty - but as long as it is, we shouldn't pretend otherwise.Posted by simon at October 5, 2007 12:52 PM in Ithaca Journal , politics (local)