Thursday, November 08, 2007

Local Government

Last year a new member of the Tompkins County Democratic Committee innocently asked, "What does the Committee do?" Amidst a little nervous tittering from the audience, Chair Irene Stein answered coolly, "The committee works to find and support candidates for elected office." And it's harder than it sounds.

At the state and national level we expect candidates to have some prior political experience, enough connections to raise a huge amount of money, the ability to speak in complete sentences in public and a certain charisma. But what about the local level?

I've lived in Dryden for 34 years. I admit that for the first twenty of those years, while I was a grad student, while I was building my house and raising my children, I probably couldn't have named a single member of town or county government (tho' I did run, unsuccessfully, for Board of Education in the 80s.) The past 10 years, as I got more involved in local politics, have been a real eye-opener. All those 20 years that I wasn't paying much attention, the Town Board and the Board of Education were having a profound effect on my life.

There are more than 13,000 people in the Town of Dryden. 10,000 are 18 or older. More than 7,000 are registered to vote. 6,000 have voted recently. Only 4,000 have voted recently in local elections and only 3,000 voted this year. This is an age of specialization. We don't all have time to be involved in local government. But there are some things voters should expect of their representatives, not the least of which are time and experience.

Granted each Board member is just one vote out of five. One inexperienced member probably can't do much harm. But voting is the last and simplest step of making town policy. That inexperienced member may also not be able to do much good. A lot of work goes into bringing proposals to the table. Much of the work is done by paid staff members. But, qualified though they are, they're not elected. Elected officials, and candidates for elected office, shouldn't try to avoid the research, discussion, thinking, listening, meeting, writing and rewriting that goes into policy making.

So, the Tompkins County Democratic Committee and the Dryden Democratic Committee will go on encouraging people to participate and making it easier for residents, voters and potential candidates to learn more about local government and to contribute their ideas and skills. Simon St Laurent, Chair of the Dryden Democrats, attends every Town Board meeting and his blog Living in Dryden, does more to keep residents informed than any newspaper, radio or TV broadcast. Simon's dedication and ethics have been a quiet, steady inspiration to us all. Thank you, Simon, and everyone who worked on the campaign this year. The new Town Board members will not disappoint you.


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