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.
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."