When it comes to the building of community, passionate belief in a cause and organizational ability make a good combination. Add to them the right opportunity and you’ve got a winning formula.
Frank Cardinale, who was Kelleigh McKenzie’s immediate predecessor as head of the Ulster County Democratic Committee for eight years, learned his politics from a master of the trade, The young Cardinale was the city’s code enforcement officer under Kingston mayor Frank Koenig, who was legendary for his people skills. Koenig, who served an unprecedented five terms in the 1970s as Kingston’s mayor, was in close touch with neighborhood life. He seemed to know everything about every constituent’s relatives, friends, health, jobs, housing and a myriad of other matters. He also accomplished a lot toward Kingston’s revival.
At the same time, Koenig assembled an impressive patronage machine. A whole generation of young local political activists worked for him in Kingston and then in Albany when he moved on to a state executive job.
Twenty years after Koenig’s passing, Kelleigh McKenzie said she was seeking to restore the county Democratic committee as the link to the neighborhoods. The new grass-roots party structure she hopes to strengthen will be a return to politics at the granular level, with each of the county’s wards and election districts as its building blocks. Her model bylaws and other changes will facilitate that process.
With its “relational canvassing” and “deep listrening,” the Democratic neighbor-to-neighbor initiative emphasizes a renewed focus on outreach. Like with the old politics, recruitment starts not with who individuals voted for but what issues concern them most. The goal is to build bridges, not to burn them down.
Will the collaborative nature of the social media result in more just, more egalitarian democratic social institutions? The jury’s still out on that one. It should be noted that the past decade has seen not a decrease but a significant increase in economic inequality in all developed societies, whether they be ruled by conservatives or liberals.