It’s October, which means it’s time to think about elections. Sorry. I know you’d rather think about the World Series, or pumpkin spice latte, or hayrack rides.
It’s an odd-numbered year, so you might be less-than-laser-focused. In even-numbered years, I wouldn’t have to goose you to think about it. The political parties do a good job of that, scaring the pants off you to get you to go vote against the creepy candidate from the rival gang.
This year, it’s a local election, by law non-partisan, but my request is different than it normally would be. Normally, at this time, I’d simply try to wake you up, ask you to pay attention, encourage you to vote, cattle-prod you to generate enough energy to engage your brain.
This year I suspect the task is a little different.
It’s clear that the political parties are again interfering in this election, after already mucking up the primaries. And so your job is going to be different this time. Your job is going to be to try to get past the nonsense to figure out who would actually serve best in local office for the next four years. Not based on the party that’s endorsing them, but based on relevant experience, positions on relevant issues, ability to do important work, and ability to work well with others.
Keep in mind that the primary job of, say, the school board is to oversee the administrators and the professional educators who actually operate our public school system every day. The job of the city commission is to set policy and establish priorities for the managers who run the operation. Day-to-day, we’re talking about, say, zoning guidelines, planning for sewer-system upgrades, approving new textbook purchases, and reviewing construction contracts. What’s needed are clear-thinking, dedicated people who are willing to spend time and effort on a bunch of boring stuff, and then are willing to listen and compromise on big, controversial issues that pop up, maybe once or twice a year.
The political parties are going to try to convince you to take the opposite approach. They are going to try to rile you up on the basis of exaggerated versions of candidates’ positions on those controversial issues.
I’m not saying those issues are entirely irrelevant. They are important, and understanding candidates’ positions on them can help you differentiate between them. Ultimately you have to make choices, so distinctions help.
But I would encourage you to start seriously considering your options, not as the caricatures that are likely to emerge in the next few weeks, but as job applicants, to provide the community an important service.
Manhattan has been quite lucky over the years to have excellent school board members and city commissioners, and as a result our city and school district have functioned very well. Whether that continues, in the end, comes down to the choices you make at moments like this.