Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Who Cares About Local Politics?

Election day 2007 is coming to a close here in PA. It seems like no one much cares around this event. I guess I never realized just how little attention is paid to the renewal of our public offices during the off years. In Pittsburgh people are paying attention only because there is a special election to fill the remaining years of the deceased mayor Bob O'Connor's term. As you might have heard, we have the youngest mayor of any significant city in America. For some reason Luke Ravenstahl's age is enough reason for the media to devote national coverage to him. I'm personally not a big fan (you can read my post about him here). There have been several controversial episodes during the time he's led the city, including several that seem to suggest he's a typical media whore. He's become a regular target on the local AM radio station. As a result of his perceived incompetence there is actually a meaningful challenge to his incumbency. Of course Mark DeSantis is a Republican, so he doesn't have a chance in hell of winning. But at least it means that more people are watching the race.

It's a bit odd that we pay so little mind to the local politicians who actually have formidable influence over our daily lives. I have every reason to know my representatives in state government, but when I'm asked who they are- I typically draw a blank. I know I'm not unusual in that regard. These are the folks that can ensure we have adequate utilities and public services, and we don't even know their names. In the little borough that I live in, on the edge of the city proper, we get a newsletter in our mailbox. I couldn't tell you how often it is sent out, and I rarely read it. Yet in this little mailer lies information about the activities of the local chieftains. I once remember seeing a listing of the local councilmen- they were all white male Italians. This doesn't come as a big surprise, as our neighborhood has been ethnically homogeneous for the last several years. But it made me resolve to vote in this election cycle.

I have no real problems with the way this town is run. There are no glaring issues that need to be confronted immediately. The water quality isn't so good, but I've heard that they are in the process of addressing it. Still I feel a measure of diversity would be good for the council. That (along with a note from M. left on the computer keyboard this morning) made me get dressed and head out to cast my ballot. I voted for a woman to join the boy's club this year. I don't know anything about her, but a friend in our neighborhood says she is progressive. Ironically she was kept off of the Democratic primary ballot, and so she had to run as a Republican. Yes... I still voted for her. The demographics of this little enclave are changing, and I am a part of that transition. I even volunteered to watch my friend's new baby so he could go out and vote for her as well. It was strange clicking through all the unfamiliar names on the touchscreen voting machine. I had tried to find information on other candidates, but there was very little on the internet about any of them.

I also broke new ground up north as well. Instead of walking the line today, I handed out fliers for a write-in candidate for the school board in the district where I teach. I've never actively participated in any political campaign effort. Truthfully, I only volunteered to do so today because it was so cold and windy on the lines. I figured there would be less of a breeze on the side street with the polling station. This one was inside an old folk's residential building, and most of the people that showed up could have easily been residents there. We brought some coffee to pour for folks, but the cardboard box it came in ended up planted on the sidewalk at our feet. An old man in a pink hat was handing out brochures for the county commissioner race. He quickly figured out we were teachers and began warning everyone about us. Later he got sweet on the females in our group, and started flirting with them using inappropriate humor. Ahhh, life in a democracy.

Despite my mild apprehension, no one yelled at us as we passed out our message. Generally people simply accepted our handouts and went inside with little comment. There are so few voters that come out that there is a strange sense of conviviality among the participants. I suppose that everyone is willing to extend credit just for showing up. During the two hours we spent there, we probably only greeted about 25 folks. When all is said and done, it seems that people would rather reserve the right to complain than actually commit to voting. I guess that's what makes us special as Americans- we love our freedoms enough to talk about them.

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