Tom Paine in his The American Crisis (1776) said words that could be directed at Croton’s Democratic Party today: “Lead, follow or get out of the way.” Students of local politics have never satisfactorily explained why the Democrats took such a shellacking in the 2007 local election. Not only did Ann Gallelli, the Democratic candidate for mayor, receive fewer votes than any other candidate in that election, but earnest and hard-working Trustee Leo Wiegman also was evicted from his seat on the dais by gum-chewing author Susan Konig.
Crotonites are fond of wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan, “Croton is a dam town.” They could just as easily be wearing T-shirts proclaiming, “Croton is a Democratic Party town.” Or so one might have thought. Nothing is foreordained in this life, but going into that election the registration numbers were a Democratic campaign manager’s dream. See for yourself: 46.9 percent of Croton’s voting population was registered as Democrats, compared with 26.7 percent who registered as Republicans. A third group constituting 24.0 percent of voters registered with no party affiliation. Bringing up the rear were the 2.5 percent of voters who chose to register with the Independence, Conservative, Right to Life, Libertarian or Working Families parties.
There are almost twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans in Croton. There are also almost twice as many Democrats as nonaffiliated registrants. One doesn’t need to be a statistician to recognize that for Republican candidates to prevail they must create their majority from Republicans, those registered with no party affiliation and disaffected Democrats.
In addition to the Republican disadvantage in numbers, as a result of failure to pay attention to critical dates on the calendar last year, they lost the traditional Republican line on the ballot. Only questionable legerdemain by Maria Cudequest and William B. Rooney, who held a two-person caucus at the Croton Colonial Diner (You can’t make this stuff up), guaranteed the kooky Alliance Party line on the ballot to the desperate and hard-pressed Republican candidates. Despite having lost the crucial Republican line on the ballot and the disadvantage of fewer numbers of registered voters, the Republican ticket prevailed. In spite of her overwhelming loss in the mayoral race, Trustee Gallelli retained her seat on the dais for another year.
Why did the Democrats lose so resoundingly? The answer is simple. They forgot one basic tenet of politics: In an election you run against an opponent. More important, the Democrats proclaimed that they would not engage in mudslinging or innuendo and would remain above the fray. The Democrats ran on their record, at the same time virtually ignoring the existence of their opponents.
Moreover, Democratic ads were pathetic and violated basic rules to keep advertising simple and legible. They were amateurish, dry and dull recitations of past accomplishments printed on a distracting background of old maps of Croton—as if to reinforce the impression that their eyes were on the past, not on the future. And Democrats allowed opponents to charge them with grievous sins in letters and newspaper ads without immediately nailing untruths as lies. In sum, they deserved to lose for not recognizing that politics is a game in which you’d better play to win if you are going to play at all.
The Democrats, it seems, have learned nothing from last year’s debacle. Psychologists characterize persons who continue to smoke cigarettes in the face of the evidence of their role in causing lung cancer as having “a restless urge to self-destruction.” Suicidal could have been said last year and can again be said this year about the Democratic campaign. Simply stated, it has been poorly managed. Strategy, tactics and even individual ads must be approved (or vetoed) by a committee—and we all know where that can take you.
This week’s issue of The Gazette constitutes a laboratory example of how not to run a campaign. At the outset, the Democrats’ campaign manager should have instructed the candidates to have proper studio-quality photos made. The photos in the Democratic ad this week are dismal, made even worse by The Gazette’s notoriously poor quality of printing. Knowing this, no campaign manager of any competence would have run them.
As in every week of the 2007 campaign, the letters to the editor in The Gazette this week are an avalanche of personal criticism of the Democratic candidates—vituperation that will probably go unanswered. Not to worry. The Democrats hold the high ground, haughtily proud that they have not gone on the offensive nor have they engaged in what they call “mudslinging,” yet seemingly unaware that they are already covered with layer upon layer of Republican dung. The surreal, otherworld quality of the Democratic campaign has to be seen up close to be believed.
Crotonblog would like to see the management of the Democratic campaign awaken to reality. There are several good reasons why Democratic candidates should be elected to fill the two existing Democratic minority seats on the village board. Running an efficient campaign isn’t one of them. The chief reason, aside from having two eminently qualified candidates, is to prevent the governance of this village from becoming an absolute dictatorship by one party. The current two minority members of the village board have been unable to advance any part of the Democratic Party agenda in the year just past, so what purpose is served by touting a Democratic platform in ads?
As weak and ineffectual as two minority trustee seats in the hands of the Democrats may prove to be, they do constitute a healthy brake on the Mayor’s headlong rush to impetuous action. Two Democrats may not be able to prevent Mayor Schmidt’s schemes from being enacted into law, but they can at least force an open discussion of the Republicans’ proposed half-baked legislation.
In the end, the mediocre, bottom-drawer qualities of the two Republican candidates for these seats pale in insignificance. What’s important is that voters must ensure that Croton’s Democratic Party continues to be represented in local government if our system of checks and balances is to be preserved. It’s as simple as that.