We hope this year’s village election yields more candidates and higher turnout than years past. If so, it would buck the trend.
In the past two years, candidates have run unopposed and voter turnout has been about 3 percent.
These numbers are worrying. A democracy cannot function as such when its citizens don’t stand for public office in numbers sufficient to create contested elections and only 3 in 100 go to the polls.
This isn’t to say that the government can’t function. Far from it. The village government has been administered well. If it weren’t, we’d be much more likely to see contested elections. Opponents are usually forthcoming when a government is incompetent.
But self-government is about more than reaction. Witness last year’s town election. It was rowdy, no doubt about it, but that’s democracy. In the months leading up to the election, many candidates throwing their hats into the ring. These candidates took positions on issues, offered ideas, explained their qualifications and tried to persuade their neighbors to support them. They spoke about the obligation they felt to participate in local government.
Further, it was a chance for the community to hold a sustained dialogue about the major issues of concern for the town. Without an election, issues roll out piecemeal. A law here, a law there. A controversy, a missed opportunity, necessarily forgotten in the hustle bustle of life over the course of months and years, holidays, family crises. Holding a spirited election every few years gives the community a chance to decide, collectively, “This is what we’ve done, and this is where we’re going.”
If people aren’t concerned with that on a village-level – if they aren’t interested in banding together, as a village, to assess village governance, discuss village issues, and chart a future course for the village as its own distinct political entity – that’s OK. But the reason for having a village government will become increasingly murkey. The taxes are higher, and the main advantage of that is sovereignty; if village citizens don’t use their sovereignty, they will eventually revolt against paying higher taxes.
Then, the consolidation of town and village governments will be inevitable. The village will still be the village; it will still be the commercial and historic center, the only walkable area, with its bluestone sidewalks leading to and from the grocery store, drugstores and restaurants. But it will no longer be a community with its own political identity, capable of exercising its will and pursuing its goals independent of the town. That will be a big change.
The need for new candidates doesn’t imply the current trustees are not doing a good job. We need new candidates because, as Donald Rumsfeld might say, we don’t know what we don’t know. There may be new ideas out there that could improve the welfare of the community or increase government efficiency residing in the mind of a lone citizen, or being bandied about over a few beers at The Dutch.
We’ve heard people say many times that a small clique runs Saugerties, that it’s not open to new ideas. This frustrates local officials, with justification. Who has offered new ideas? they ask. Who comes to the public meetings? Who writes us letters?
Usually no one step forward, because these sentiments aren’t expressed in coherent terms based on specific local issues out of frustration with local officials, but out of a broader alienation people feel with government. Looking at Congress and the state, it’s easy to see why. But not locally, where anyone can step in any time, with no money and no connections, and win elected office. The founders of this country wrote that citizens of a republic, in contrast to those of a monarchy, had the responsibility of staying informed about their government, voting in elections, making representatives aware of opinions between elections, and devoting some part of their lives to public service. If not, they knew, the interests of the few would trump the interests of the many. This is what has happened to our national and federal governments. Perhaps the best solution is not to reform the top, but to reinvigorate the democratic spirit from the bottom up. For this reason, the Saugerties village election is important.
Petitions to run for Saugerties Village Board are now available at Village Hall, 43 Partition St. There are three two-year terms up for election, which will be held on March 18.
Seeking reelection are Donald Hackett and Vincent Buono, both running for a third term, and Terry Parisian, seeking a second term. The three will be running as a team under the New Vision Party banner. Petitions can be picked up at Village Hall and must be returned with 75 signatures by Tuesday, Feb. 11 at 5 p.m.