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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Politics and politics

Apparently State Speaker Joe Roberts (Camden) has decided not to run for re-election in November. And presto...Don Norcross, brother of reputed S. Jersey political kingpin George Norcross, will be the party nominee and promptly added to the ballot. Politics here is so efficient. No deliberations are needed, no asking the party members, just leave it to the back room guys and they will handle it. No primary, no muss, no fuss. We will decide who you can vote for. I know this was terribly popular pre-1972. Heck, I come from Chicago where Mayor Daily would out Norcross, Norcross sleeping in his hammock on Sunday afternoon! But the D party changed and demanded primaries. Apparently NJ did not get the memo.

We also have a number of municipal positions open. I know who is running for mayor on the D ticket and the independents. But who is running for the open city council seat that Fuentes is leaving? I thought Redd's seat was open too, but not sure. I just read that she is not giving up her Senate seat until she wins the Mayor's office. Is her seat on council open? Is anyone running? Apparently the local paper of record is not much more than a re-post of press releases. I can't find any information of substance.

I make these remarks not just as an armchair quarterback in Camden observing the sorry state of political affairs. But I sit here knowing that this weekend I will be back in Kansas City helping to deliver a one day campaign school for SCHOOL BOARD!!! Yes, that's right. In our little burg of KCMO, we have done the impossible - raised the awareness and interest in the School District elections to new heights, wherein, over 100 people have signed up to attend the day's event. The event is being sponsored by Kansas Citians United for Educational Achievement (, a grassroots group that supported the most recently elected school board member; the first school board member to be elected in a contested race on the ballot in many years; in a district that is no better than Camden and to whom the voting public had completely turned its back. The interest in using the political participation process to address the needs of the students in the district has come about because people believe it makes a difference who you elect. The candidate, now school board member, has taken it upon himself to be accountable, to seek unity on the school board to accomplish what he promised, and to honor the unity coalition that elected him.

Kansas City is a racially and ethnically divided city with a long history of segregation. The city is large in size and has 14 school districts. The central district - KCMO - is predominantly black, poor, and shrinking due to white flight to private and charter schools. Yet it was possible to reach across the racial and ethnic divides and create a unity coalition - not to win, but to unify. Winning came naturally out of that. It is the difference between a hack political town like Camden and a success story such as this one.

What does it take to overcome the political malaise of Camden and hold politicians accountable, force transparency, and provide for a unified public where benefits go where needed, not just wanted?
1. it takes committed candidates who seek unity first, accountability first, transparency first, and winning second. Compromising now to "get into office" is a path of ruin. If you compromise to get into office, what makes you think you can possibly be effective? Doesn't mean you have to be righteous and inflexible, but you must have something on which you can be held to account.

2. it takes a point around which the voters will rally - Obama did it with Change, Yes We Can. I don't mean jingoism. I mean a real central point that defines the candidacy. In KC it was Unity for Educational Achievement and the campaign lived that every day and in every strategy. Unity was more important than winning. Obama said many times - if I win, it is because people agree with my principles and ideas. If they don't agree, I won't win and I can live with that.

3. it requires that there be outlets for people to have discourse and dialogue about politics. The paper of record in Camden is short on journalism and long on a bunch of racists who populate the comment pages. In KC the blogosphere is huge, credible, and powerful because it gives people a voice. Where in Camden do people have a voice that is heard and is preserved? Go to a meeting and it is just so much wind blown and gone. Post on a blog or comment on a blog and you have a record that people can go back to and be inspired, incensed, or bored. I post Camden blogs on my blog list here, but the bloggers have to keep posting!! And people have to read and comment to sustain a dialogue!!

That's my Labor Day rant. I'm off to KC to do 2 sessions at our training day on running a local campaign. Should be fun. I hope someday there is a need to do the same thing here in Camden!


Sandy Price said...

"not to win, but to unify. winning came naturally out of that."

Robyne, that is a statement of pure, unadulterated beauty. If only we could get it across, not just in Camden and Kansas City, but in this polarized nation of ours, that winning comes naturally from unification - that unifying to better our common causes IS what it means to win.

Sara said...

Holy Mary, I've never seen you post anything so sharply critical - all of a sudden you seem so real to me! :) I'm guardedly hopeful that the school district is on a good path, now - Airick seems to have a much better idea than most of them have previously. And you're right - the KC bloggers are pretty prolific! You couldn't shut us up if you tried. ;)