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A Call to Arms

March 2, 2008

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.

On March 5, 2008 10:06 AM, weewill said:

Its becoming more and more evident that candidates Streany and Minett are “just not paying attention.” Are they so wrapped up in their efforts to win the election on March 18th that they don’t feel they have to respond to village issues - including those raised by democrats - that threaten our quality of life? Their silence is deafening. I’ve not seen one single answer to the many concerns raised both in the press and on blogs. They claim not to read Crotonblog. We know they do and we’d be pretty stupid to believe them when they say they don’t. In addition, there’s not been a single response on their favorite North County chat room. Is this the way they’d govern if elected? We’ve seen nothing, nada, - not so much as a single word to let us know where they stand on important issues. Are we to take the obvious political mailings that are sure to come as proof that we should vote for them? I say no. I want to know what their plan is to address empty storefronts, Harmon business development, taxes up 3 times the rate of inflation, enormous and extravagant legal bills, closed door meetings, rudeness and incivility at public meetings, finger-pointing and refusal to listen to colleagues. Will the board insist upon appropriate behaviour and demeanor at the speaker’s podium. Will high ethics standards be enforced. What are the candidate’s reaction to the mass exodus of key village personnel. What about a dog park? How will they ensure open and participatory government?

These are legitimate concerns and we need answers from all the candidates.

On March 5, 2008 12:24 AM, Leo Wiegman said:

Croton is not island. We are buffeted by the region’s economy and national trends. But if we know valuations are going down, we have all the more reason to ramp up mindful redevelopment initiatives–especially in our critical commercial districts.

Trends existed before Mayor Schmidt was sworn in. But specific economic benchmarks over which the village did have some control got much worse–not better–as Schmidt’s time in office accumulated.

  • Village expense appropriations ramped up more during Schmidt’s 3 years than in the entire last 7 years of Elliott administrations combined.
  • Village legal budgets doubled in average size in Schmidt’s 3 years over the average size of the 5 years before Schmidt. Two months after Peekskill’s new mayor, Mary Foster, was sworn in, she is making a serious and promising effort at rejuvenating downtown Peekskill. See the story in this week’s Westchester County Business Journal, “Peekskill Preview,” March 3, 2008.
  • Croton is not Peekskill, but why haven’t we read about our mayor doing something similar any time in the past 3 years?

    On a related note, Mayor Schmidt thinks we don’t need any more businesses in Croton. Last fall, he said we should just get more residential, and forget about improving or expanding the commercial space for small office, retail, or services.

    Voicing such an opinion about capping businesses in Croton doesn’t help anyone. First, it sends a very poor message to existing business owners working hard to succeed. Second, it assumes where businesses are now located would be desirable residential lots. Third, it assumes that we have given up on a diversified local economy that is varied in its offerings. Fourth, it shrinks the tax base to residences only.

    I thought the problem was the too much of the tax burden was already sitting on the shoulders of the homeowners.

    On March 3, 2008 9:49 AM, Leo Wiegman said:

    Outing Schmidtville

    I agree with everything printed above, including the impression that the local Democrats ran an effete and losing campaign last year.

    “A lie oft repeated becomes a lie believed.”

    If someone tells a lie about me often enough, even rationale, civic minded neighbors—like you—eventually believe it.

    Since April 2005, Greg Schmidt and his allies have formed Schmidtville—right here in little Croton-on-Hudson.

    In Schmidtville, you tar the opposition with “cash for trash” label—an absolute falsehood—at every opportunity.

    In Schmidtville, you slander elected trustees as “being on the take”—another absolute falsehood—and then are rewarded with the chairmanship of the Croton Republican Committee.

    In Schmidtville, you use name-calling and lies because it works to benefit your political rise, even if it corrodes civic life.

    In Schmidtville, you substitute your own opinions for facts, because you don’t have to consider well-thought alternatives.

    In Schmidtville, you avoid using email, because it would leave a record. What is Schmidtville afraid reasonable citizens might find?

    In Schmidtville, you drive reasonable people out of the political process by cutting them off at the microphone, and by pandering their ideas and proposals.

    In Schmidtville, you win—not because you expand the dialogue and public role—but because you narrow it Cheney-Rove style.

    In Schmidtville, you frighten people with lies to control the public agenda and distract them from the real underlying situation.

    Here is proof: political and economic.

    When mayors or judges are on the village ballot, we normally have very high turnout. But in March 2007, the “rats and roaches” Schmidtville tactics reached their apex and our nadir.

    Twelve months ago, hundreds of voters stayed home who normally vote. Even Schmidt got far fewer votes in 2007 for mayor than he did in 2005. It is not surprising that Ann, Sally and I lost. We did not fight back effectively. But this time I will.

    In Schmidtville, we are supposed to be turned off, so we don’t go to the polls, don’t come to meetings, and don’t ask tough questions. If we did show up, Schmidtville would have respond to scrutiny, actually do some homework, some listening, some consensus-building, and possibly even some compromise between what Schmidtville opinion wants and what us reasonable taxpayers and stake-holders want or can afford.

    Since Greg Schmidt became Mayor, Schmidtville has

    1. closed down the avenues for input in Croton’s village government,
    2. never seen a lawyer it did not want to hire,
    3. focused on piecemeal, quick-fix solutions without tackling the roots of an issue, and
    4. become much more secretive. In short, Croton has been turned into a Schmidtville fiefdom.

    You want specifics?

    In 2007 Schmidtville held 25 open door, policy-making meetings on the usual Monday nights. And, amazingly, Schmidtville also held 25 closed door, bar-the-public, policy-making meetings in the same year. Never before in Croton’s discernable history has a mayor convened as many secret policy-making meetings as open policy-making meetings.

    Again, I would not mind, if what Schmidtville—and their candidates, Streany and Minett—wanted was actually going to be good for the village. But what ideas they do have are actually “half-baked” to put it mildly. And massively more expensive than any revenue that might show up.

    In the past 3 years, the mighty Schmidtville team has struck out economically.

    Since April 2005 under Schmidtville, every single economic indicator in Croton is headed south.

    Do you wonder why taxes are getting so high?

    Since Greg Schmidt became Mayor in April 2005, the following has happened:

    1. Property Values have plunged to an 8 year low.
    2. Village Budgets have jumped at FOUR times our region’s inflation rate.
    3. Budgets for lawyers have skyrocketed at SIX times our region’s inflation rate.
    4. Closed door meetings were FIVE times more common in 2007 than in the year before Schmidt set up Schmidtville. Therefore,
    5. Village tax rates have shot up THREE times faster than our region’s inflation rate.

    I am not making these numbers up!

    Meanwhile, empty storefronts and business divestiture reached new highs while the Mayor has stalled volunteer efforts at spurring economic development. There is a parallel between corroding the civic engagement and the corroding the economic vitality.

    Even if you want to lay all the blame for the economic bad news on someone else’s doorstep, is a secretive, name-calling, opinion-for-fact government the one that you trust to work on solutions?

    Be prepared. The Schmidtville team will launch a new “rats and roaches” attack flyer in the closing days of this year’s village election. Schmidtville always does this to keep us home on election day.

    The Schmidtville team’s special furor is already targeted at Trustee Ann Galllelli. Schmidtville portrays Trustee Gallelli as evil-incarnate. I have seen the Mayor and Deputy Mayor scream at Ann and throw binders at Ann during those closed doors sessions—because she insisted in raising legitimate questions to which Trustee Kane, Gallelli and I were not getting legitimate answers. As you can guess, the closed door sessions were (and apparently remain) stomach churning affairs, out of view of the television camera.

    Maybe Schmidtville can’t stand Ann because she actually does her homework. Ann will take initiative to look into proactive solutions without asking the Mayor’s permission. Maybe, because she will not toe the Schmidtville party line. Gallelli shows them that their opinions alone do not substitute for fact.

    Ann Gallelli’s colleagues among planning boards all across the county feel differently than Schmidtville. Her urban planning peers just elected Ann Gallelli as President of the Westchester Municipal Planning Federation. Maybe Ann does know something about sound public policy-making based on broad input and deep research into all the options—on whatever the topic might be.

    Schmidtville allies have also called candidate Rick Olver a liar on a North County News blog. What?!

    Mr. Olver is a diplomat-soccer-dad-bible-school-teacher who—until six months ago—was teaching negotiation skills to the UN’s leaders in 134 countries. They trusted him to teach listening skills and consensus-building to hundreds of professional public managers. He has been in the midst of civil wars that were less acrimonious than Schmidtville.

    Clearly the UN did not think Mr. Olver was a liar. Maybe Rick’s background is a good fit for what we need to unbuild Schmidtville.

    It turns out, reasonable residents already know that governing even a small village is a complex task that requires flexibility, not rigidity, and listening skills, not name-calling.

    If we have a 4-1 or 5-0 village board controlled by Schmidtville, we can kiss our charming little, semi-affordable Croton goodbye. If either Streany or Minett wins on March 18th, that gives Schmidtville the 4 votes required to ratify millions of dollars in new capital borrowing for a litany of expensive projects that have very little revenue upside.

    The total village bonds under active consideration today make the $7 million school bonds on March 11th look like chicken feed.

    You have not even been asked what you think of most of these big ticket village items, because that might be messy and time-consuming—just like real life.

    Do you want a rubber-stamp village board of strong-arms and motor-mouths? Or do you want at least two independent trustees—Gallelli and Olver—to put Schmidtville under scrutiny at minimum on your behalf? And to propose better, more well-researched alternatives as well?

    I hope Ann and Rick get their ideas out there for reasonable neighbors to read. Ann and Rick have long careers of expanding—not shrinking—democratic processes.

    And I know we still have enough reasonable neighbors out there who will step forward to put the brakes on Schmidtville!

    Leo Wiegman
    trusteew@bestweb.net
    Former Village Trustee (2001-2007)

    PS For details on the down turning economic trends in Croton, visit Ann and Rick’s “Village Economics 101” fact sheets at http://www.crotondems.org/positions.html



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