Saturday, August 11, 2007

Why the mayor matters

Those of you who've read me for awhile may know that I don't really read Save Fitchburg too often. Frankly it's just too dry for me. I can get the facts anywhere, what's interesting is analysis of those facts.

Well, I was feeling masochistic today and checked it out anyway. It was nice to find Jason's Where are we at? post, which attempted to evaluate where the current mayoral candidates stood after Mylott dropped out of the race. A reasonable enough read which I find myself pretty much in agreement with.

That post, however, was followed up with a post by "Rupert Knickerbocker" entitled Where are we at? Nowwhere! [sic] which tried to argue that it really doesn't matter who's mayor because:
For all practical purposes, the office of Mayor of Fitchburg is bordering on the point of irrelevancy. No one who has experienced and observed the changes in politics and government over the past 30 years in Massachusetts can mount an argument to the contrary. Local political power is dead-and has been for at least 20 years.

Okay, let's leave aside for a moment the fact that Mr. Knickerbocker has perhaps the most arrogant and annoying writing style I've ever seen (and I've read Daily Kos!), and focus on his arguments. After all, there may be a good point behind the condescension.

Political and governmental power and influence flows from the purse-and Fitchburg has no real purse to speak of since Fitchburg, as every municipality in the Commonwealth, relies on the generosity of aid and assistance from Beacon Hill-and in the event you have failed to notice-Fitchburg has zero clout or influence on Beacon Hill.
This is the most glaring flaw with his argument. When you view the mayor's relevancy as nothing more than a measure of his/her budget you miss the point entirely.

While fiscal stability is obviously important (and both Donnelly and Wong have addressed it extensively), it's hardly the only thing that the mayor is responsible for. Yes, most of his/her duties will require financing, but not all of them. As an example, the perception of the town by those considering a move here (or even a visit) is something the mayor can influence with little more than his/her public statements.

In other words, you can have someone like Ted "We need to focus on what’s bad" DeSalvatore sabotaging perception of the town with statements like that, or you can have an elected official that knows how to make the town attractive to others.

Of course, public perception is also related to things like crime rates and the economy, both of which are in turn influenced by finances (among many other things). Crime rates have been decreasing, but you'd never know it to listen to some of the candidates. That gets back to public statements. Some people might actually check the numbers, but if they hear the mayor going on about how awful crime is in Fitchburg they could easily think twice about coming here.

As for the economy, getting aid from the state is of course nice. But the mayor's job is to properly manage what s/he has to work with. Some mayors can arguably do that better than others. Wong personally has a Master's degree in economics. Donnelly wants to establish a "Financial Advisory Team" and appoint a CFO for the town. DeSalvatore umm... "will bring an end to irresponsible spending". Nice idea, but the question is who's got the best plan for doing that? Obviously all candidates are not made alike.

Knickerbocker goes on to state how none of the candidates could ever possibly make a connection with Governor Patrick's office, meaning no state aid for us.

He's probably right about DeSalvatore. After all, when your campaign manager gave $500 to Romney's campaign you may not find a lot in common with Patrick.

Donnelly and Wong are much less certain. Knickerbocker wrote them off based on... well... nothing really. Based on the same evidence I say they at least have a chance.

It's a matter of them making the proper moves. It may not be easy, but to write it off as impossible is just defeatist. Wong may even have a slight advantage just by virtue of being a young Asian woman. Like it or not, image matters in politics and an administration that focused so much on "hope" could well find an interest in supporting an idealistic young (female, minority) mayor.

Basically, by Knickerbocker's criteria it wouldn't matter if we elected the finest political mind of the century or someone straight out of a mental institution. Does anybody in their right mind really believe that wouldn't make a difference?

It matters what the mayor chooses to do with the town's budget. It matters what tone the mayor sets for the town. It matters that the mayor represents the interests of all citizens. It matters that good decisions are made and bad ones avoided. A whole lot of things matter besides how much money we can get from the state.

Not all candidates are created equal. It doesn't matter how often you assert that people need to "realize the obvious" or pretend that people aren't "consider[ing] political reality" (man I fucking hate this guy's writing style!), the fact is that the candidates are vastly different. We're going to be choosing whether we elect a mayor who can understand the problems and work to fix them in a way that benefits the town or whether we elect one who makes things worse.

Yes, it matters. A lot.

ps You may have noticed I didn't mention Dionne at all in this post. Unfortunately, the guy's not done much to make himself relevant so I just don't see much reason to factor him in.


The Unicow said...

Crap, I accidentally rejected a comment in moderation. Reproduced here:

From the bartender

You know, my horny friend, it almost seems like you're luring the crazies from Save Fitchburg over here on purpose by commenting on Rupert's post when Jason's gone for a week... Are you lonely? Or just someone who likes to have something to complain about?

The Unicow said...

And to respond to that...

I'm neither lonely nor particularly crazy about having something to complain about (I'd much rather have nothing at all to complain about).

The reason for this post was that I had just read RK's post and had about an hour to kill. Most stuff on SF isn't worth responding to, but they do have a readership that might be tempted to believe it really doesn't matter who the mayor is.

I'm perfectly happy to be the dissenting voice in that argument.

Honestly, I don't expect to get too much SF comment traffic anymore. No more anonymous commenters + moderation + the fact that I'm not as tolerant of idiots as Jason = no fun for them.

strattonactor said...

I don't think Ron Dionne will mind you leaving him out. He doesn't have a computer, so he probably won't see this.

Don't know about Tom Donnelly, but the impression is that Lisa Wong has some fairly good connections on Beacon Hill that she is keeping low key snce the perception could go either way. She's pretty good at finding and obtaining grant money. I don't know if this is true of the others, but it could make a big difference.

Bruce W. Marien said...

Hi Unicow,

I completely agree with all that you said, and believe that the mayor's position is still extremely important for our city. If Fitchburg is to see a change in the reputation that has developed over the past years, we need someone that will "recognize the issues" but not "highlight the negative" in our city. It seems that we have some people that feel it is necessary to have the negative stuff "right in your face" in order to do something about it...I wonder how many of them would present themselves to everyone based upon what is negative about them, and then wonder why people don't like them.

ReallyRachel said...

Who is responsible for patrolling political signs? DeSalvatore's signs are all over city property on Essex and Marshall Streets.

brian michael said...

was my comment from last week moderated out?
what did I say?


The Unicow said...


Not that I'm aware of. Every comment that I've had on this post went through (aside from my accidental deletion of the first one). I'm pretty sure nothing from you ever came through at all, since it should have also gotten to me via email.

Perhaps something went buggy when I disabled anonymous commenting. If you've still got it somehow (unlikely I know) or can remember what you said feel free to repost it.