Learning to Root for Elected Officials We Dislike

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Jan 20, 2011

The Weekender column will attempt to provide insight into the way second homeowners perceive and navigate the waters of the Upper Hudson. However, one thing seems to unite many of the citizens in both of my communities, in New York City and Chatham. It is not a particularly good or constructive one. We root against elected government officials we dislike. We seem to forget that if they fail, as we seem to hope and relish when it occurs, we suffer. The objects of our scorn and impure thoughts are usually but not exclusively members of the opposite political party. True independents seem less prone, but not completely immune, from this syndrome, which has become endemic in federal, state and local politics.

The moment President Obama was elected, those who had backed his opponent and the opposing party began to not merely bet against him but try to make him fail. Within a nanosecond I spotted bumper stickers in Chatham which mimicked and mocked the new president’s overarching promise of reform with the retort “No Thanks, Keep The Change.”

In our congressional district, the moment Scott Murphy succeeded Kirsten Gillibrand, the knives came out and unfortunately they are already out for Chris Gibson, less than a month into his first term. This is particularly corrosive in the House of Representatives. The terms in the lower house are so short that an immediate all out assault condemns us to being represented by men and women constantly at war with half of their constituents and reduces their effectiveness in fighting for the betterment of all of them. It also deprives our and many congressional districts of representatives who gain the seniority necessary to become leaders in the substantive committees where most of the real work of Congress gets done.

I actually served, albeit for only 15 months, in one of the few recent New York state administrations where a non-partisan and bi-partisan resounding majority seemed to be rooting for the new elected governor’s success. After the 2006 election of Eliot Spitzer, all of the stars were aligned for change, progress and for working together. Unfortunately, Eliot immediately squandered the opportunity by attacking his predecessor and “partners in government” in an inaugural address which compared George Pataki, Joe Bruno, Sheldon Silver and the entire legislature to slumbering Rip Van Winkles. It was a self-defeating strategy doubled and redoubled in the months after that speech, but at least it was bi-partisan, sparing and respecting no one. The Weekender has not been immune from this self-defeating tendency, but even an old dog can learn.

I really dislike Andrew Cuomo. The reasons are not especially important to discuss more than I have already in a number of newspaper and TV interviews and in a book published last year. The important thing for now is that I am rooting for Andrew and actually praying for his success. Neither my upstate nor downstate community nor any part of the state can afford to wish the new governor anything but great success in most of what he seeks to achieve. Indeed, most of Andrew’s objectives are things we desperately need, beginning with a budget that makes a serious frontal assault on certain state programs and expenditures which we cannot afford, have not really been capable of affording for decades and that are not basic to the social contract among the governed and the government. At the top of the list for major alteration is our atrocious Medicaid system which costs double or more per capita of what other states spend, while delivering health care inferior to that delivered in most of those places. There are many other bloated and ineffective programs and agencies that need to be reformed, reduced and in some cases eliminated.

Many of Andrew Cuomo’s opening proposals are good, sound and sorely needed. However, one which is not, is probably the most popular, that being the feel good but self-destructive proposal for a property tax cap. Rooting for the success of elected officials that we dislike sometimes, but does not usually, require backing policies we think are truly bad for the people.

In this case, we can root for the new governor but hope and work against enactment of this misguided proposal. In the next Weekender column, I will discuss why a property tax cap is a very bad idea for Chatham and the entire state.



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