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Politics is hard

Politics, especially local politics, is hard work. Easier to share headlines from the national press. Following local political trends in Sullivan and Delaware counties is another matter; that needs sustained attention and real commitment. And it’s certainly less rakish.

Take the question of who’s running for office in our towns this November 7 election. It’s not only humdrum; it’s often unclear. And what happens at town council meetings between elections? Few can tell you. (It’s a drag getting to a meeting after work and catching up with the family at the end of the day.) Town councils assign our tax money. Then do citizens approve the budget? I don’t know. And when would we do that—November 7? What about our dwindling fire department—is that a town council issue? Can we take concerns about the school there? The opioid crisis?

I’ve been a full-time resident here for 20 years. As a registered Democrat, I simply check any Democratic candidate box on the ballot and give little thought to regular council business thereafter. I rarely knew the results of local elections anyway. 

Five years ago, I decided to better prepare myself before going to vote. Still, I could learn little about the candidates; there was little or no campaigning. Perusing a ballot, either I found no choice, or the names meant nothing to me.

One pre-election week, seeing an invitation to meet candidates for town offices at the local fire hall, I stopped by. There were more candidates than potential voters there. It was a Republican Party event; all the candidates present were Republicans. I was welcome, however; the pastries were tasty, and I could ask questions about the offices being sought—town judgeship, for example.

Later I phoned the local Democratic Party office. Maybe it would sponsor a candidates’ gathering. I called several times. No one replied, not even to steer me to a webpage. Speaking with a few neighbors, I learned many are on the same page as me politically. But when I asked about candidates and the local party committee, they shrugged. “No use voting, except in presidential elections.” As for local governance: no one was clear when town meetings took place, who were the supervisor, highway supervisor, council members. Phone the town clerk, I was advised.

Recently I met a local party committee member who helped explain party affairs. Our hamlet is “represented by so-and-so, a good fellow but can’t attend meetings. Do you want to be a committee member? You wouldn’t have to come to meetings either.” They just needed a name.

Anyone can sit in on a local party committee meeting, same for the town council. But few citizens attend.

Sometimes people get stirred up—if a child dies from substance abuse, or crime is on the rise. Disputes about sharing (or not) resources get attention: water management, who should pay police, properties that don’t meet zoning laws. Those issues bring out dozens of citizens and often involve legal action. Otherwise it’s all humdrum bureaucratic business.

The election of Donald Trump in January saw a flurry of activity—generated mainly by dismay. Attendance at party meetings spiked. Demonstrations were organized. People networked, shared their fears and outrage. Many vowed to become involved politically—some for the first time in their (middle-aged) lives. Few have yet to find a way to talk to neighbors who supported the opposition party, however.

This will be the first election since the flurry after January’s inauguration. According to announcements from my county board of elections, most candidates are incumbents running unopposed. The same is apparently true for Sullivan County.

Are we only waiting for the next presidential election?

[Barbara Nimri Aziz is a resident of Cooksfalls/Roscoe, NY.]


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