Little Windy City

Vote for me!


About a year ago, I jokingly said I was going to run for Congress wherever we ended up living after our big move. The idea, of course, was ludicrous on so many levels: trying to challenge the power of incumbency, the need to have deep local connections to run for a House seat, the ability to raise gobs of money. Perhaps local politics would be more appropriate, even though in my days as a budding journalist, the thought of attending some zoning or town committee meeting seemed just too beneath me. I wanted the grand issues with philosophical nuances, not how are we going to pay for that sewage drain. And of course considering a run for Congress as my first foray into politics reflected that same hubris.

With age, perhaps, comes humility. Or at least the realization of one’s flaws. I could never run for the House. But the Democratic town committee of West Haven? Hmm…

This thought came after a long talk with a local political observer in our fair burg. He, like me and assuredly others, sees some problems with the local government, most centered around infighting among the dominant Democrats (West Haven, a blue-collar, ethnic kind of place, does not have your traditional CT country-club Republicans. I would bet there are a few of the nutjob-Tea Party kind, but they probably find most CT Republicans too genteel, too soft, to take seriously). The squabbles and too many years with the same mayor led to fiscal mismanagement and a sense of “how does this help me/our clique keep power,” not “how does this help the city.”

My feelings about West Haven – alluded to at times here at the Crisis, spelled out clearly among friends – are not all that rosy yet. Maybe they will change. But even before we settled here, I thought I should get involved in the local scene in some way. The town has problems, I saw that coming in. I could kvetch from the sidelines or try to make things better. I’m starting to inch toward the latter.

The hallowed halls of government

The hallowed halls of our local government

WestHaven bobNot that West Haven politics are for the faint-hearted. I told my newfound contact I had lived in Chicago. He laughed, saying that I should have a good feel then for what goes on here, albeit on a smaller level (no one would confuse current mayor John Picard or his precedessor Richard Borer with Richie D). Politics is a bloodsport here, I’ve been told. I had a sense of that from the research I did while still in Chicago, and from reading West Haven Bob. The author, like my correspondent, has been observing the scene for a long time and has strong opinions. Bob, though, comes down kinda harsh on Picard. My opinion is mixed: He seems to do some things that truly help the town, especially after the morass Borer left him. But he has a little bit of small-town Daley in him too, an arrogance that dismisses legitimate critics as morons to ignore or threats to eliminate.

The primary season just passed left Picard’s faction of the Dems reeling a bit, and his opponents in a good place. My district’s city councilor is nominally in the anti-Picard camp but may have an independent streak. This is his first race, as he runs to replace the incumbent who died about a year ago. He was selected, as far as I can tell,  by the Democratic Town Committee, which I now see really calls the shots in the party, and hence in the town. Run for the committee, someone told me, if you really want to try to make some changes.

But does West Haven want change? I’ve heard it called tight-knit, which I guess is a softer adjective than one I’ve used (and which I won’t repeat in case I do seriously consider a run). But that closeness seems to breed a sense that the guys who are doing things now are mostly OK; don’t rock the boat. Besides, I went to grade school with this one, and that one’s wife teaches my kids, and somebody else’s brother is married to my cousin. Tight-knit – perhaps more than a small city of 60,000 or so should be.

So given the deep roots and close ties most people seem to share, how does an opinionated outsider (moi – yes, an opinionated outsider with affectations) have a chance of breaking into the game? One small thing in my favor: My district is not a big player in the backroom deals. It’s not where the heavy-hitters live. Too many of the residents here are students or otherwise transient, not part of the stable, middle-class demographic the leaders turn to for support and who are most likely to vote.  Since we’re barely on the radar here in our corner of town, and the new councilor might be a little independent, maybe he’d support a newcomer for one of the six committee seats in his district.

Or not.

But say I go to the meeting next March and throw my hat into the ring. What then? What would I campaign on? At the risk of sounding really old and stodgy, I think we should be nominating candidates who want to lower taxes. And who doesn’t, right? But at times that might mean challenging the vested interests  that won’t accept the sacrifices you have to make to do that. I want candidates who look at an issue and use this as their only yardstick for its value: Is it good for the town? Not, does it help my faction of the party or keep people happy through cronyism and nepotism (yeah, another hallmark of the Little Windy City on the Sound). Not, does it score me points with the powers-that-be so I can keep my seat or maybe even move up the ranks.

If we can’t find people of character to serve in local politics, who care more about building a healthy community by providing the basic services than about the power plays or backroom deals and handouts to friends, we are fucked. Because we have already seen what that selfishness and greed have done at the national level. The naïve soul in me would like to think that here in New England, birthplace of American democracy, we can still get good people involved in the process.

And we probably can. Though some might say I am not one of them. We’ll see.


~ by mburgan on October 2, 2009.

3 Responses to “Little Windy City”

  1. Dear M–
    Didn’t neglect you… am just making a work-in-progress… have been a fan of yours for awhile. Check it now. You r there. Hope we can see each other sometime soon, my friend.

  2. You are too sweet–you reacted so quickly to my pathetic clutching for attention! Yes, it would be good to connect. Not sure when we will get up that way, but if you ever have cause to be in CT or NY let me know. Congrats again on all the writing goodness.

  3. […] that headline is not right. Even though I recently referred to my new hometown of West Haven as the “Little Windy City,” no one will ever confuse any mayor here with Richie Daley. Just as the two burgs will never be […]

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