Glad-handing

Every once in a while, I read a Gary Rosen column and — to my pleasant surprise — I find that the column is decent and mentions a few good ideas mashed up into an intelligent whole.  Kind of like when you mash up Lady Gaga and Judas Priest:

(Aside: I cannot be the only person in the world who thinks Rob Halford missed his calling as a countertenor!)

Now, there are plenty of times when you read a Rosen column and it’s like Metal Machine Music:

That is, you read or listen to the work because it’s by an iconic figure, but the only enjoyment you derive from it is by repeating to yourself, over and over, at least it’s not Yoko Ono, and the knowledge that you’ll likely be able to withstand minor forms of torture.

The latest Rosen column is about why there are no legitimate political challengers for city council this year; Rosen writes:

And [incumbent city councilors] also have several notable accomplishments.

The council has passed a fiscal year 2012 budget that maintains most services and keeps Worcester a safe city. That was made possible by negotiating new contracts with union and nonrepresented city employees. All personnel finally will contribute 25 percent to the cost of their health insurance, which now must be purchased through the city’s unique health plans pioneered by the city manager.

The long-anticipated CitySquare redevelopment project is under construction with two quality tenants, the UNUM Group and St. Vincent Hospital’s cancer center. The CSX project promises more jobs and greatly expanded commuter-rail service in and out of Worcester. Major road and infrastructure improvements are occurring throughout the city.

Now, let’s take a look at those accomplishments:

  • Was it really the city council that negotiated new contracts with various employee groups, or the administration?  I know MG was instrumental in keeping some group or other at the table, but you cannot tell me that the negotiation of contracts is part of what the council does.
  • Ditto health insurance.
  • Does anyone think that CitySquare and CSX is due to the council’s ability to come together as a collaborative body and get a big project done?  In the case of CSX, we had more councilors worried about the loss of Putnam Lane than about the lack of environmental impact studies.  Way to prioritize, folks!
  • I’ll grant the infrastructure improvements.

Rosen takes the challengers to task for their silence, and says that “If a candidate isn’t willing to put most of his life on hold for several months of campaigning, then he shouldn’t run.”

Hey, that’s a good point, but why should the challengers be any different from most of the city council incumbents?  And why should the viability of a candidate comprise how many hands s/he can shake at the Albanian Festival?

Now, obviously, the stand-on-a-streetcorner-for-months-at-a-time strategy worked for Gary Rosen, but it also gave us someone who has now repudiated nearly all the major votes he made during his last term.

Perhaps the problem is in our superficial expectations about how candidates for office should gain notoriety.

You see, Rosen has given up hope (as have the rest of us) that the list of challengers will be filled with legitimate community figures.

The question should not be “why haven’t I seen you on my doorstep five months before an election” or “why aren’t your lawn signs on my next-door neighbor’s lawn yet”, but “why aren’t more people like Gabe — people who have been willing to put themselves and their ideas out there for years — running for office.”

I’m not naive enough to think that lawn signs don’t matter, that name recognition isn’t king in a city that doesn’t vote, but perhaps people don’t want politicians they only see when they’re trying to scarf down their shish kebab.

Maybe people actually want to see you out at the park, attending events because you’re a member of the community (and not so that you can be seen).

Say what you will about the mayor, but I see him everywhere, and I’m essentially a recluse.

I don’t want a candidate to put his life on hold for three months in order to run for office.

I want that person to have Worcester as such an integral part of his life that I can’t help but see him in the course of my daily activities.

So that I’ll actually have a reason to wave when I see him in Newton Square.