Friday, 18 November 2011 00:00
The party’s over.
If a whole lot of absentee ballots pour in by the end of this week, we may luck out and hit or come close to 23 percent turnout. In a time of legitimate crisis, when county residents want to understand, when they need options, choices and ideas, when there should be critical public discussions and debates, our political parties have turned off three out of four who have bothered to register.
If people thought there was a value in participating, they would participate. This is what happens when there is no Democratic plan or Republican plan, just bickering clubs, arguing over public contracts. Gotcha. Somehow, over the course of a single generation, we have transformed what was for decades probably America’s highest-turnout suburban county into one of the lowest.
All incumbent county legislators received fewer votes than in 2009, by an average of 2,044 votes (one may exceed his 2009 total when all the votes are counted). Most residents don’t have a rooting interest in which party “controls” the county legislature.
I will leave turnout and political analysis to another time. I can’t go into it anyway, since as of this writing Nassau is the only county in New York that has failed to release precinct-level results of any kind, on paper or online.
Right now, a handful of votes separates the Democratic and Republican candidates in two of the nineteen districts. For weeks, possibly well into December, there will be recounts, legal disputes, accusations and recriminations until it is determined if Democrats will have eight, nine or ten seats and if Republicans will have nine, ten or eleven seats.
The truth is this: Neither party received any kind of a mandate, and neither will be able to impose its will without some level of cooperation (some important decisions require super-majorities to pass).
A shift of a few dozen votes can give “control” of the legislature to the Democrats, although they only received 46.9 percent of the votes cast across the county. Three of the winning Republicans and the two in the disputed districts received less than 54 percent. In hyper-partisan Nassau County government, the politicians see the tenth vote as the key to everything. If they follow the manual, four dozen votes cast out of 200,000 will be taken as permission to pig-out on every resource and advantage.
We’ve been here before, in Mineola and Albany. Everyone not employed by the parties dreads this. They started up immediately. Nasty remarks and bragging and put-downs and, most of all, lip-smacking over retribution in next year’s mandatory redistricting. Enjoy yourselves. Deal me out.
Or, we can do it differently.
Thousands of residents and businesses rely on county government for emergency support and protection, transportation, health enforcement and other critical services. If the county does not function, every other level of government is affected. We have to make this work, in new and fluid circumstances, without a rule book.
We can decide to be adults in a difficult situation. We can recognize the illusion of “control” and just put it down.
This is the time for a coalition, not just of elected officials but of organizations and individuals. Nassau County has one of the most successful, talented block of 1.3 million people in the world. Some of them are willing to roll up their sleeves to make this work.
It should start with County Executive Mangano, who seems to be spinning around with the current. He can find the rails again. He can grow, right before our eyes. Tell them all to put it down.
There are members of civic and good government organizations who realize that we’re still at the start of a long road. If you are one of these people, tell them to put it down.
Both parties are losing strength in their old strongholds. What they are doing isn’t working for them.
They can share committee and leadership posts. Even within the context of our flawed county charter, redistricting can be done with a sense of fairness and dignity. This needs to be a Grownup Moment. It can be a fine and important moment. We can handle it.
Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org