At their next family reunion, if not sooner, Jeff Gahan, New Albany’s mayor, and Dan Coffey, the city’s longest-tenured city council member, will surely share a satisfied chuckle over their cooling baked beans and warming potato salad. For yet another talented and innovative New Albanian has thrown in the towel and conceded the electoral field to the reigning cabal.
My friend, Roger Baylor, seems to have literally done that. In the midst of a renewed effort on his part to simply help improve our city, Roger has been compelled to issue a caveat in conjunction with that effort – “I’m not running for office.” More on this, below.
Most of us have a limited acquaintance with people of stellar qualities, those men and women we would count on to represent our interests in the halls of government. There’s this man we work with, or that woman at church, or even the couple who’ve shown outstanding leadership qualities by serving their community conspicuously.
As a merchant of widely needed and desired products, I have a unique opportunity to meet those in our community who qualify for the title of our “best and brightest.”
If we even pay attention to policy and elections, we might be inspired to say to them, “You should run for office.”
In response, we might see a display of false or honest modesty. But more often, when I’ve had such discussions, I’m met with a wistful look, a shake of the head, and perhaps some well-meant advice.
Because the best and the brightest, far from being ambitious for public office, would be overjoyed just to help make our city better. They are seekers of knowledge and truth and, accordingly, have the ability to extrapolate solutions from even limited inputs. They do have ideas. They are strategic thinkers.
They are not Randians withholding the fruits of their hearts and minds, murmuring shibboleths and presuming to be “above” the muck of politics.
They have, instead, made what for them is a rational decision to avoid engagement with a broken system of representation and administration.
I’ve railed against this distant cousin to apathy and sloth. German pastor Martin Niemöller is credited with the following poem:
First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.
I don’t (quite) equate New Albany’s best and brightest with collaborators and quislings; I don’t attribute their disconnect with politics to selfishness and squeamishness.
The best comparison I can come up with is unilateral disarmament. And we, the city as a whole, suffer greatly from their decisions.
Without these people engaging (and contesting in elections), the health of our body politic is diminished.
What’s worse, we and they acquiesce to actions performed, and more importantly actions undone, that work against our own interests and desires. And that harm is enhanced by the fact that we pay for it.
Each year, in the spring and the fall, most of us, by direct check or through our mortgage payments, remit taxes to fund our local government and our schools. If those taxes are being misspent, misappropriated, used to line the pockets of political cronies, or merely being used to fund programs with which we strongly disagree, we are complicit unless we fight to gain representation and leadership to fix the problem.
Now Roger is renewing an ongoing effort to persuade city officials that the term “safe streets” is not simply a slogan, but that it is something that can be easily accomplished and that will bring enormous benefits to all of us. He says he’s doing this alone and while I sympathize with what he’s saying, I demur.
Roger and I disagree intensely about whether the current administration has the wherewithal (Oh, how I pondered over what noun to use there) to embrace progress. He did and does believe in Jeff Gahan and is considered to be a Gahan partisan. I am and have been in the opposite camp.
We each have our reasons. On many, many occasions, Roger and I have been among those fighting the good fight for progress together.
On safe streets and all that entails, we are united. But Roger’s on the inside and I’m on the outside when it comes to dealing with the current powers that be.
This, simply, is my lament about Roger and all those others who are our best and who are our brightest who have publicly or privately given up on the idea of actually taking the reins of public policy by running and winning election to public office.
I, for one, still hope to be the ant at Mr. Gahan’s and Mr. Coffey’s family reunion. And while I’m not declaring another run for public office, rest assured I’ll be looking for someone else to represent my personal and commercial interests in the public policy realm.
Because I can guarantee you this about me and Roger and countless others who are dissatisfied with our local government: We would much rather help, we would much rather assist, we would much rather serve to make our city better without running for office.