The 2013 elections are over, mercifully enough.
But there are a lot of people still smarting over the charges, counter-charges, claims and outright lies hurled from all points of the social-political spectrum in recent months in what sometimes seemed more food fight than discussion of differing philosophies.
In Schuyler and Seneca counties, some candidates ran against the city of Ithaca, rather than living, breathing opponents. They were running against what unsuccessful Schuyler County legislative GOP candidate John White called “the Ithaca mindset.”
As puzzling as that vague description might seem, his comment pales compared to a campaign postcard circulated widely in the town of Covert. The postcard prominently featured a 1960s peace symbol and a floral decorated Volkswagen bug, all meant to alert voters that “Ithaca Liberals Are Coming To Covert.”
The postcard also gravely warned: “They’re trying to take over the town board and bring Ithaca-politics to our town.”
The three anti-hydrofracking candidates who were the targets of the flyer lost their bids for office.
This anti-Ithaca attitude has puzzled me for several years since the first time I encountered it at a meeting in Watkins Glen about the proposed Inergy LP propane storage project. A very civilized public question-and-answer discussion with the Watkins Glen Village Board was going along quite smoothly, I thought, until an audience member — and employee of Inergy — admonished the trustees to stop listening to any more audience comments.
“You would be wise not to be sucked into this Ithaca-based fanaticism,” he said.
Most of the audience was asking questions about how safe it was to store 88 million gallons of liquid propane gas in salt caverns. A few wondered if there was sufficient fire protection in case of major catastrophe. Others asked about the impacts of more tractor-trailer rig traffic on already very congested village streets.
Concerned about their community? Yes.
Fanaticism? It’s embarrassing to even ask that rhetorically.
Since that time I’ve been a spectator and/or journalist at many meetings in Watkins Glen and the towns of Hector and Reading. I have observed some of the characteristics attributed to the citizens of our municipal neighbor to the east — and like-minded thinkers — that would strike such a fear.
The first is these folks have a penchant for asking often-uncomfortable questions of public officials in public meetings. If the incumbent members of these boards were British, they might call their questioners “quite cheeky.”
From a journalist’s standpoint, I would call them quite good questioners.
A second characteristic is these cheeky people want to participate in the governing process by having their opinions heard and actually considered. They are not content to have town and village board members (or county legislators) simply order them to be mute bystanders while the governing body makes its decisions as if the citizen-audience members were behind a glass wall with duct tape over their mouths.
But I believe the characteristic that really stoked the blaze of anti-Ithaca sentiment this fall is that these cheeky people — faced with uncommunicative, uncooperative and sometimes even openly hostile elected representatives — decided to use the democratic process to grab the levers of power and take back control of their communities.
Now that’s cheeky.
While the Covert crew lost their bids for office, a staunch anti-hydrofracking candidate in the town of Hector did win a two-year term. And the Schuyler County Legislature will now have a Democrat at the table who vowed to open up the county government to the people if he was elected.
That seems so cheeky, so Ithaca.
And so refreshing.
Fitzgerald worked for six newspapers as a writer and editor as well as a correspondent for several news services. He lives in Valois and Watkins Glen with his wife. They are owner/operators of a publishing enterprise called *subject2change Media. His “Write On” column appears Fridays. He can be contacted at Michael.Fitzgeraldfltcolumnist@gmail.com.