Thursday, November 08, 2007

Mayor of what?

My perspective on democracy has changed significantly since campaigning for mayor. Before I was fairly cynical of elected officials. Now I can let you in on a secret -- elected officials can be just as cynical of voters.

While campaigning door-to-door my usual salutation was something like, "Hello, my name is Thomas Gagné. I'm running for mayor." After visiting as many homes as I had I was prepared for most responses. But the one that always left me speechless was, "Mayor of what?"

It's important to know the only reason I stopped at most homes is because they'd voted in any of the last three elections. For the record, those would be;
  • 2006's which reelected Governor Granholm, swept many democrats into state and national offices, and approved both the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative and Ferndale's Human Rights Ordinance,
  • 2005's when our mayor's salary was increased to $8,142 and Councilpersons Galloway and Gumbleton ran unopposed, and
  • 2004's which reelected President Bush.
Think about that for a minute. With just days to go before the election and with nearly 1000 yard signs throughout Ferndale's neighborhoods from eight local candidates, articles and advertisements in local papers, letters-to-the-editor, literature drops, mailings, cable broadcasts of two candidate forums, web sites, electronic mail, and TV news coverage there were people who had voted in the past and were likely to vote again that hadn't made the connection between themselves and their city's mayor.

How many other residents do you think haven't connected their local officials to their property taxes, property values, sidewalk replacement assessments, public safety budgets, ordinance enforcement, or public schools?

True, city officials don't have direct control over school systems, but they can cooperate with them at least as aggressively as they do nearby cities to share services. The performance of our schools and their students is for many citizens more important than bike lanes on Hilton and because of its impact on home values, school performance should be one of our city council's highest priorities.

So in the "What did I learn" department I can attest to discovering politics is a two-way street. Given the responses at doors of "I'm not interested," "We don't want any," "I don't vote," "I'm voting for the incumbent," (there wasn't one) and my favorite, "Mayor of what?" it's understandable that most political discussion, regardless which medium, has been reduced to sound bites and attack ads just to get voters' attention.

If we don't want Detroit's economic and political morass to become our own, voters--all of them--need to get more involved, become better informed, pay closer attention, and talk with their friends and neighbors about the issues affecting them. Turning out the vote is everyone's responsibility--not just candidates and their pandering, political parties and their attack ads, lobbyists and their sound bites.

Perhaps if we do that then when I'm campaigning next, rather than "Mayor of what?" I'll get, "We're glad you showed up. We have questions for you."


  1. Tom the cynicism is easy for both sides. I'm not sure people understand they do have an effect. When Ferndale citizens stood up against the "Adult District" being proposed, they got immediate action. I don't know what will get that third of people to see how there vote will matter. Possibly juxtaposing all the frivolous expenditures and their cost to residents against what might have actually benefited the city and saved money. In this noisey world it's hard to be heard.
    The schools are another story. Parents have to be hounded to sit with their children while they study and help. I know some can't, but how many kids go home and are able to complete their studies without some guidence? Not a majority of them believe me! Secondly schools don't focus on civics or history unless you take advanced classes. As you know the advanced classes are taught in a separate school. They combine four different schools to teach courses we used to get at our own schools and they weren't advanced classes. I don't know if the intention is deliberate, but the result is two thirds of the student body graduating and not knowing the term length of a president let alone who Joseph Stalin was! How unpopular would you be nagging parents to get more involved with their childrens studies?! Parents as well as schools are letting their children down!

  2. Jim, what you're describing about the adult district is "issue" voters. This is why abortion, marriage, embryonic stem cell research, and other issues are much discussed in national elections--to get voters out.

    Regarding schools, parents and all tax payers need to expect more from primary and secondary education--and even more from colleges. American students generally test well through the eighth grade but fall behind students internationally throughout high school.