All Honeymoons Come to an End, Part 1. For those of us who thought Svante was a lock for coronation, this election season proved otherwise. Mostly due to clashes over the size and placement of development, people came out of the woodwork to smack the mayor over perceived machinations involving the special election for county. Although no one could tell me what Svante would get out of having friends on the County Legislature (breaking news: he already has friends on the County Legislature), some determined that his support of ex-roommate Nate Shinagawa and one-time City Hall intern Elie Kershner was a power grab that only the People could stop. It's worth remembering, perhaps, that four years ago, when Svante ran for the first time in a three-way primary, he seemed like an outside shot to most party members. Because the party doesn't support anyone in a primary, we mostly sat back and watched. That fall he won 54 percent of the vote against two independents and a Republican. I guess it doesn't take very long at all to become the Establishment candidate and head of the machine.
All Honeymoons Come to an End, Part 2. Some of the very people who fought hard to elect Nate to Congress turned against him when he tried to get reseated in District 2. Their reasons ranged from disdain for carpetbagging to perception of a mad power grab (see above), and surely some of it was colored by his vote on the Old Library, which he changed at the last moment in a possibly misguided effort to move things forward. Of course, he faced a strong and well-liked competitor in Anna Kelles. The two campaigns kept it clean, but the word about the Fall Creek listserve is that the commentary back and forth was vile.
Organization = Machine? People tossed around the terms "machine politics" and "cronyism" all month. One professor who surely knew better compared Ithaca to Chicago, and his remarks were picked up by the media. I've lived in Chicago, and let me tell you: This is no Chicago. I laughed out loud when the Dryden Independence Party referred to the Dryden Dems as a "machine" and a "steamroller." If being organized and effective makes us a machine, I'll take it. But machine politics involves a system of patronage and favors, and honestly, I have yet to get bupkes for the 23 years of work I've done as a committee member. Maybe I'm bad at this machine stuff. Or maybe you're using the wrong term. Want to see Crony Politics in action? Visit Groton, or maybe the Etna Fire Station.
Special Elections Suck as a Concept. Either they cost the taxpayers extra, or they result in next-to-no turnout, or they don't leave enough time for anyone to mount a real campaign. (Anna Kelles wouldn't have had to stay up till 2 every night if she'd started in August like the rest of us.) At lower levels of government, you can appoint someone to fill a vacancy until the next election cycle. That's not necessarily any better—it gives that appointee a leg up in the next election—but at least it's more visible to the public, should they be paying attention. The Dems are asking for a change to the county charter, but it's not quite clear what that change will look like. To some extent, the county's hands are tied by definitions and calendars in state election law.
People Ask the Wrong Questions. Here are a few questions I wish had been asked: Did anyone tell Nate not to run? Should home ownership be a prerequisite for a government position? Should fiscal incompetence that results in dismissal be a red flag in a run for town supervisor? Is "Independence" another word for "Republican"? Can a vacancy ever result in a primary? If either committee vote had tied, would both candidates have had to run as independents? If committee votes had been publicized better, would other citizens have turned up, even knowing that they would not be legally allowed to vote on a candidate? Who chooses candidates in the case of regular elections? How did Democrats win in Newfield? Why did Rich John leave the Democratic Party in the first place, and why was he willing to return? Why hasn't a strong third party ever emerged in Ithaca, of all places? (We've had independent mayors, but their parties have been only as strong as their candidacies and have had little or no influence beyond that.) How long does it take to build a machine? (Ithaca had an independent mayor as recently as 2003, and our most recent pre-Svante mayor, in an anti-machine sort of move, supported Anna.)
The Best Intentions May Have Bad Results. Others have mentioned that the departure of Kathy Luz Herrera and the failure of Nate and Elie to win seats on the County Legislature means a decrease in diversity there. As I've said before, even had Elie won, the average age of legislators would still have topped 50, in a county with a median age of 30. And the white, upper middle-classdom of that body has just increased. The only way to fix that is through the electoral process. There's always next year.