Friday, October 31, 2008

One Party Rule Always Stinks

I've never met Corinne Nyquist, but I really am grateful for all that she's done for New Paltz. By not getting Jeff Logan's paperwork submitted timely, she has opened the door to a bona fide democratic election for Town Council, by not allowing a candidate to run on the Democratic line.

Understand, I have no problem with Democrats, Republicans, or members of any other party in principle. As my father used to say, "There isn't a Democrat or Republican way to collect the garbage." However, New Paltz is one of many communities that is stuck with a de facto single party system, and that doesn't encourage accountability. This year, voters will have to actually think about whom to select. It's really exciting.

But I would like to see that happen in every election, and it ain't gonna happen without some changes. Right now, most people in New Paltz vote for a Democrat, period. How can we get the voters in this community to vote for a person instead of a party? Actually, it's pretty easy.

Council districts.

Whenever a municipal government is broken down so that each member of the legislative body is elected from a specific district, it makes them far more accountable. People remember that a call to Kitty Brown got the streets plowed, or that Jane Ann Williams helped them out with a property tax question. It becomes personal, so the voters start choosing by personality.

Here's an example: Nassau County was one of the most efficient Republican machines in the country. Just as Ulster hasn't had an executive, Nassau didn't have a legislature - in that county's case, decisions were made by a Board of Supervisors, comprised of all the town supervisors that governed with a strange, weighted voting system. A court case required a legislature be created, so of course the districts were carefully constructed to guarantee the Republicans would stay in power forevermore.

It worked that way for the first term, but after that, the Democrats took the majority! Why? Because people started voting for or against the neighbor in office, not for or against the party. It just so happened that more Democrats were popular in that Republican county.

I worked on a referendum campaign for council districts in another town, back when I needed money more than I disliked being involved in politics. The standard argument against districting is that it reduces representation, because at-large members represent the interests of all, but district representatives do not. I would expect that sort of weak argument to come up in New Paltz, because the folks who prefer mindless "democracy" are generally smart enough to see how districts don't support their agenda. However, such resistance may not be unilateral, since Toni Hokanson personally told me she would support such an initiative when we were chatting a month or two ago at Bacchus.

It would be easy enough to draw four districts and see what the makeup of the town council becomes. With intelligently drawn lines, the village would always have a clear voice in the town. The village could similarly benefit from this type of enhanced democracy. Imagine having a voice for students on the village board, all but guaranteed by the layout of the districts! I didn't care for either of the student candidates last time around, but I do think that students, like other population segments, need to be fairly spoken for.

I'll be sure to give a call to the winner of the town race soon to pitch the idea.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

New Paltz Journal

New Paltz Journal can mean one of two things:
  1. The New York Times section that highlights interesting news in our area. It's not often used, but was jam-packed back when Jason West was making headlines coast to coast with his gay marriage initiative.
  2. The blog that is maintained by someone using the name "Malone Vandam."
I'm always interested in the former, but I don't get the latter. Several things about that site annoy me.
  1. Identity. The individual hides behind a pen name. Anonymity is probably the best and worst feature of the infobahn, and this is a case where it's a bad idea. If you're going to comment about your neighbors, can't you do it to their faces? Let me be clear, lest a reader find that blog and be confused: Malone is not, as he states in the "About New Paltz Journal" page, Joel Cairo of the consulting firm Gutman, Cairo, O’Shaughnessy. Those are names of characters from The Maltese Falcon.
  2. Comments. They're always disabled on the blog's posts. Why don't you want to hear what people have to say? What's the harm? My thought is that he or she hopes that comments will appear in other blogs, with a link back to the original post - it's a standard way to improve the traffic to a site.
  3. Scope. If it's called the New Paltz Journal, why are so many of the posts not about New Paltz? As I sit here today, I have to hit "previous entry" four times to find a single entry about New Paltz - that's around sixty posts ago, by my rough count.
Why not call it "Political Journal of Some Secretive Guy That Happens to Live in New Paltz and Doesn't Particularly Care What You Think?"
Now I'm sure I'm not one to judge. Nobody reads this blog. Only one other person knows it even exists, to my knowledge. But if they ever do, I promise that all my posts will be about New Paltz, the comments will be on, and you will know my name. I've even asked another "local gadfly" if he would like to post here, and I told Ira Margolis that if he does, I would like him to follow the same rules. (I would ask Dorothy Jessup, but I do not believe I know the lady.)
So maybe Malone Vandam has very good reasons for hiding behind his computer screen, sharing views to which no one can directly reply about any number of topics not directly related to our community. But, since I don't know who he is and he doesn't allow comments, I can't ask him about that, can I?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Local Gadfly is Born

So when Brittany Turner, in musing on New Paltz's write in campaign for Town Council, referred to me in passing as a "local gadfly," I was amused and honored. And annoyed, but not at Brittany.

  • Amused. I didn't realize I was such a pain in the ass that anyone actually ever noticed me.
  • Honored. It's a title my father would have worn proudly, so I can only imagine that he is proud of me now.
  • Annoyed. My fifteen minutes of fame is fleeting, because the online archive of Ms. Turner's editorial is not forever. I have discovered, in my secret life as a Wikipedia editor, that one cannot easily cite any Ulster Publishing article as a source there, because they eventually (read: in a year or so) take down the information! Not so with real newspapers, and a pretty crappy policy overall. Mind you, I don't care if me being listed as a gadfly is immortalized, really; the whole situation just reminded me of how cheap Ulster Publishing is that they purge their old articles from the web.
So I'm a gadfly, local to New Paltz, and the mantle of gadflydom has been thrust upon me. I figured I might best live up to these vast responsibilities by creating a blog that no one will ever notice. Yes, I could just write in a journal at home and know that nobody was reading it, but there's something satisfying about knowing that someday, perhaps long after I'm gone, my words will have meaning to somebody.
After all, Google owns Blogger, and they don't purge their database of old material.