Tis The Season

Jon Stewart regularly skewers pandering pols.

Jon Stewart regularly skewers pandering pols.

We are entering the silly season aka the local election cycle.

Within days our medians will be populated with signs and very soon our mailboxes filled with campaign literature.

This is the time of year when every politician is fighting “greedy” developers, taking a stand against crime and “fighting” for lower taxes.

Every single person running will be a “champion” of better schools and every candidate has a plan to fix traffic.


Can you spell, pander? P is for pathetic. A is for awful. N is for nauseating. D is for disrespectful. E is for eeek. And R is for get real.

On the national level, it’s all about raising money. And the best way to raise money is to pander. After all, pandering is a lot easier than coming up with a solution to the myriad challenges facing our nation at any given time.

I recently read that once elected to Congress, representatives are instructed (ordered?) by their leadership to spend six hours a day calling and reaching out to donors. That leaves barely two hours to do the actual job. If that doesn’t disgust you, I don’t know what will.

On the local level, campaigns have gotten more expensive as well.  That’s not good news. But what’s even worse is how inane and devoid of ideas so many local races are.

It must feel good to bash development, pander to people’s fears about crime and pretend that you are running for School Board, but the truth is I have a strong hunch that voters want more; more depth, more analysis, more ideas, more solutions and more information about how you will conduct yourself if you happen to get elected.

Do you work well with others? Will you show up for meetings?

Will you dodge the tough issues with strategic absences or by kicking the can down the road?

Do have a vision for your community? Do you know how to collaborate or are you a lone wolf?

What happens if you lose a tough vote? Will you move on or will you launch a war against all those who disagree with you on one issue?

Will you do your homework? Can you interact with key staff or are you a bully who pretends you are somehow above the fray? Will you reach out beyond the usual suspects before casting a vote or will you cede your vote to a Svengali who will use you like a puppet?

I believe that the best and most impactful level of government is local government. If you have an idea on a Tuesday night and two other teammates agree, things can begin happening on Wednesday morning. That’s the beauty of local government. So is voting around the block from where you live, it keeps you grounded and it keeps you in touch with your constituents; if you’re a listener that is. If you wall yourself off from humanity or opposing points of view, all bets are off.

I have come to believe that elected office is a job to do, not a job to have.

When I served from 2000-07, we were focused on what we called the “big rocks.”

At that time, the big rocks meant creating a downtown master plan, creating and implementing a new vision and zoning rules for the Congress Avenue corridor, drafting a cultural plan, passing a parks bond, partnering with non-profits on efforts to break the cycle of poverty, stepping up with a plan to stop attrition and rebuild staffing levels at our police and fire departments, creating a Community Land Trust, partnering with our high school to create and support career academies, improving communication with residents, launching a race relations initiative, supporting our police department when two members had an idea to create a charter school, adding summer reading programs and working with the neighborhoods on historic preservation and the southwest plan.

Some of the stuff we did was popular and some of it was hugely controversial—relocating Atlantic High School, purchasing land to create Bexley Park, approving downtown townhouse projects and trying to craft a plan to add bike lanes on A1A felt like near death experiences at the time.

But if you want to make an impact you have to take risks, you have to stand for something.

You also  have to have a vision for what you want to accomplish if you are privileged to be entrusted to help set policy for your city.

So yes, it’s easy to bash developers and development, but what about property rights? How will you pay the bills if you don’t grow your tax base? What’s your strategy for economic development? What’s your definition of smart, responsible growth? Are you willing to articulate it?

I was confronted by an angry resident over development a few weeks back. When she told me where she lived, I told her that there was a line out the door of people protesting her townhouse project.

“Why?” she asked. “It’s beautiful.”

“Because people feared the dreaded D word, density and traffic that would be generated if the project was approved,” I answered.

“But I didn’t move downtown to drive,” she said. “We walk everywhere.”

Thanks for making my point.

I guess I’m not a big fan of the “I’m in the boat, pull up the ladder” school of thinking.

Delray and Boca Raton are prime examples of cities that have impacted local education. But voters want to hear what your ideas are and how you expect to get it done.

We all worry about crime and want safe, attractive neighborhoods. What ideas do you have relating to these important topics? Are you a fan of community policing? Or do you prefer a more traditional law and order approach?

Some lucky folks are going to find themselves in office after Election Day? What happens when a controversial development gets filed with  your planning department? Will you roll up your sleeves and meet with the dreaded developer and try and shape the project so it looks good, fits in and works? Or will you wall yourself off and then pander at the public hearing? Will you judge projects based on their merits and the code or will you only support projects from people who supported your campaign financially? Do you have the ability to vote your conscience even if it angers a room full of people, many of whom are your friends and neighbors?

It’s easy to pander, harder to lead. It’s easy to speak in platitudes, harder to articulate a vision. It’s easy to play to your political base and a whole lot harder to engage the whole community, bridge divides and build consensus.

Vote on March 10, but also challenge candidates to go a level deeper on the issues of importance to you. It’s better to see what they are made of now, before you give them the keys to your city’s budget and policies.




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