Friday, 13 November 2009 00:00
It will take focus groups and other research tools to really figure out the reasons voters cast their ballots one way or another. Already, the morning after the county election, with the outcomes of two countywide races and a legislative race on hold possibly for weeks, we are subjected to some very tortured and self-serving explanations, particularly from some disappointed Democrats.
Face the ugly facts. In many parts of Nassau County, four out of five Democrats did not feel that the act of voting was worth their time. Younger, independent voters have turned away from our local politics. The voters most likely to support countywide Democrats were uninspired and unengaged and went on with their lives. Overall, more than seven out of 10 Nassau County voters didn’t want to play this game.
It isn’t clear at this writing if either party will have a true working majority in the county legislature, and there may be machinations by both sides to assume “control.” This could be the state Senate all over again, unless we all insist that it not be allowed to happen. This is a chance for a mature coalition of adults to embrace the kind of reforms and change which legislators have winked, nodded and nudged away for years.
There have been exceptional moments, but for the most part over the last eight years, our county legislature has provided little real oversight or innovation. The biggest single difference between Democrats and Republicans has been the degree to which the two groups vote the way the county executive wants. Portions of the local media have been complicit in this. It has not helped County Executive Suozzi in honing either programs or political messages. And now this immense opportunity for the Nassau County Democracy, the opportunity of a generation, has been largely squandered.
I keep thinking about New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. In 1941, he was expected to be elected to a third term by a landslide. The hyperkinetic and sometimes-intemperate LaGuardia was a national celebrity and spent much of his time touring the country for civil defense and, it seemed, for potential national office. When the votes were counted, LaGuardia won by a slim margin. LaGuardia recognized that even some supporters had rebuked him for spending so much of his time and attention elsewhere at a critical juncture, and for his relentless self-promotion. LaGuardia wisely refocused himself on where his city would be in the future, not where he would be in the future.
“I want to make one thing clear. . . It was the school taxes,” insisted Mr. Suozzi. It was the “Obama voters” staying home, insisted the party boss. Maybe years of blaming schools, Medicaid recipients, labor laws and public parks for high taxes, while supporting the interests of billionaires, Senator Joe Lieberman and a regressive home heating tax whittled away the motivation of some Democrats to go along. Maybe some perceived that Mr. Suozzi doesn’t want to be county executive anymore, and resented it. His campaign’s political targeting took the support of many thousands of prime Democratic voters for granted.
After eight years, all kinds of slights and resentments accumulate, like little localized wild fires. That’s why third elections are so tough for many high-profile politicians.
Point is, there were a lot of wheels turning here, and we shouldn’t jump to conclusions. You lost some Democratic neighborhoods that would go to war for their public schools, so don’t tell me it was all about school taxes, buddy. Get a clue.
Both Democrats and Republicans missed enough big opportunities to have things to chew over. The narratives of most of our current local campaigns are zeroes with a clear majority of voters. The decaying political parties seemingly no longer speak to hundreds of thousands of residents, and need to do better.
The problems facing Nassau County are big enough to deserve full attention and earnest effort from everyone in government. It will be hard enough without pointless, endless partisan bickering about things that are meaningless outside of small circles. This is a time to be big, not small. New ideas and better ways of doing things cannot be shot down or dismissed.
Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. He lives in New Hyde Park.
Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org