Wednesday, October 28, 2009

So Many Letters, So Few Varsity Players

Every election, be it for the U.S. or fourth-grade class President, I spend a lot of time reading as much as I can about those who are running for office. Admittedly, it's a lot easier gathering insights about those seeking to become President or running for Governor or Senator and the like, and with every smaller election, information gets harder to come by.

This is a little goofy, I think, since in many respects the Mayor or First Selectman has more direct impact on both my quality and quantity of life than a Congressman or the temporary lodger at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. In theory, for local elections, we should have easy access to the beliefs, accomplishments and plans of those who are, literally, our neighbors, and yet politics can be a strange intoxicant causing some to become someone they themselves don't recognize in order to capture an office.

I listen to my neighbors, attend debates and candidate forums, take copious notes, read all the news articles I can find, and I always seem to get lost while wading through letters to the editor. I think those letters of support to the editor are a marvelous idea and a wonderful institution within our tradition of local governance, but as the years have gone on, I've stopped hoping to learn something informative about those seeking to be a member of the City Council or on the Board of Education.

Take this letter about a candidate seeking to return to the Norwich City Council. I know the person running (Norwich is NOT very big so I can truthfully say I know most of those seeking office) and she is, indeed, an 'energetic and caring person'. I don't necessarily think this characterization is unique to only her (I'm thinking quite frankly it applies to everyone running) but I what I really don't understand is why a resident of another town is writing in the newspaper to tell me how to vote.

Then we have this type of letter. I learned a long time that experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted, so what should I draw as a conclusion about this letter's rhapsodic embrace of a one-term incumbent whom I've watched in Council Chambers try to do his level best, sometimes succeeding and sometimes not so much? My point is he shows up every meeting, ready to go again and open to wherever things lead-and that's all anyone can ask of any elected official.

You've read letters like those, and like this one as well: from a member of the candidate's family. I'm happy the people seeking office have a healthy home life as reflected in this kind of letter and I do hope the office seeker can forgive me if I have a slightly jaundiced view on the writer's impartiality. I should, for the same reasons he should be a Proud Parent, right?

Here's a letter of endorsement for a first-time candidate from a current elected representative, that doesn't simply use 'gee, they're so swell' kind of language. There's this gem, 'to better understand what it will take to move issues forward.' I have NO idea what that specifically means (and neither does its author I suspect. I was advised by the letter's author on the evening of the 2nd of November, that he knows exactly what he meant and for 'those inside the process the view is different than for those outside the process.' His major point, he did know what he meant. Me, still not so much), but that's what makes it so great. It could mean anything. Around here, we've been saying 'Norwich is moving forward' for years, and yet here we stay, so go figure.

And keeping it in the family, here's a letter to the editor on behalf of the same candidate, by someone seeking reelection to the Board of Education. How would I know that? Because a few days later, there's a letter supporting her candidacy from, as I live and breathe, the same person whom she had endorsed for City Council. What are the odds of that happening?!?

Your local newspaper is filled with this same kind of stuff, too. Letters assuring us the people seeking office are good to their Mommas, love Elvis, rescue stranded kittens from trees and, generally are kind and generous people. But, and it's not just me saying this, we already know that. We are all universally fortunate in that we live in cities and towns with carloads of people who want to help and who will work hard to make things better.

Except not all of us who want to help can actually do so. All things being equal, how do I pick the goodest of the good intentioned? Here's a little something for candidates everywhere-too late for this election but there's always a Next Election: It's wonderful your neighbors, co-workers, and your family want to write a letter for a newspaper to tell me how wonderful you are, but take the pen yourself. Tell me your goal, your plan for achieving it and your measurement device to make sure we don't get lost on the way to the Emerald City. You've got one minute to tell me and sell me. Do NOT mention puppies. Gimme the Truth.
-bill kenny

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