I am not working for, affiliated with or (since I’m registered at home) voting for any of the three candidates, and this column is not meant to rebuke the News for its endorsement of Mike Jones ’11 earlier this year. But after reading the endorsement, I was not sure what it was the paper endorsed.
By the standard of the News, Ward 1 voters should judge candidates primarily on their ability to achieve their goals, regardless of the actual purpose of their goals. This endorsement prizes low expectations over ambition, quotidian concerns over vision and hackery over leadership. The News’ choice of Jones over Katie Harrison ’11 seemed divorced from the candidates’ policy positions and focused primarily on whether a candidate could guarantee immediate results, no matter how small.
The News expressed concern that Harrison’s plans would be frustrated, since she is likely to be a part of the minority opposition to Mayor DeStefano. Harrison would “likely fight a lot of losing battles over the next two years,” the endorsement stated. Without a doubt, this is true. But the real question for a voter should not be: Will my candidate achieve his/her goals? Rather, it should be: Does my candidate have goals worth fighting for?
The final paragraph of the endorsement left me still wondering about the answer to the second, more important, question with regard to Jones. The News wrote, “We hope [Jones] looks beyond crosswalks and internships, and we trust he will. But most of all, we trust he will do what he can.” By the end of the article, I was still left unsure of why the News is so confident that Jones has a secret, more ambitious agenda to put into action, regardless of whether he will be more effective at achieving it than Harrison.
The News’ concerns that Harrison may be less able to engage and make deals politically due to her previous activism and opposition to DeStefano’s policies seems particularly misguided, since the News ignores entirely an equally crippling political obstacle. None of these candidates, to my knowledge, has pledged to run for reelection as Ward 1 alderman, should they win this first term.
One-term aldermen enter as semi-lame ducks, unable to forge political connections and build up the kind of relationships that would allow them to wield real political clout on the board. None of these candidates will have the power of long-term aldermen to set the priorities of the board or even to prioritize their constituent services (like crosswalks).
If our alderman simply doesn’t have the political power to set the agenda or the time in office to shepherd that agenda through the city machine, it makes sense to pick the candidate who will be vocal about an agenda that matters. Unlike other aldermen, who must prepare for reelection with constituent services and who must tailor their ideas to build coalitions with other aldermen, the Ward 1 alderman is most free to do research, make proposals and lay the foundations for major reforms that other aldermen can put into practice. The Ward 1 alderman is uniquely able to sacrifice short-term politics in favor of focusing on long-term ends.
There are valid reasons the News might have chosen to endorse Jones over Harrison. But an endorsement that skips lightly over his goals while praising those of his opponent, that ignores the political realities of the Ward 1 seat, and that chooses the candidate most likely to set and clear low expectations reads like a backhanded endorsement of Harrison.