There is no other way to put it. The proposal to update the current charter was crushed at the polls on November 6th.
The city had to endure another campaign, briefer but just as poisonous as the 2017 “fight.”
Using letters to the editor, social media, and flyers the opponents to this year’s ballot question on the charter issued information that was often inaccurate or badly misleading and always fueled by bitterness. Most disturbing, in spite of being advised of the inaccuracies, they continued to publish these same statements.
As recently as the Monday before the election someone left this flyer on our doorstep.
Dear reader, at the age of seventy-two and a veteran of many public controversies, this latest conflict was all too familiar. I have never fully understood the pathology of groups like “Its Time Saratoga” (ITS). In this case the core of the group that formed during the previous charter campaign adopted a kind of magical thinking. The passion for their cause combined with the desire to be loyal to each other appeared to take on a cult like form. Rumors and conjecture among their members were confused with the truth and took on a strange, collective orthodoxy unburdened by the anchor of facts and reality. As often happens with these types of groups, the targets of their campaign were transformed in their minds into ruthless and cunning enemies. It all became operatic. In ITS’s eyes, every action by the members of the charter commission hid an allegedly sinister agenda. Therefore, any consideration of ITS’s opponents’ arguments could be dismissed by ITS as pointless. Thus ITS was able to hold on to its narrative because ITS was incapable of considering arguments that might jeopardize the euphoric unity its members were experiencing.
It is also important to note that this pathology was not being exhibited by teenage zealots. The members of this group include professors, lawyers, and retired business executives.
In their quest to portray the writers of the charter proposal as charlatans, the members of this group circulated statements that were either incorrect or grossly misleading:
“City Council Members given authority to set their own salaries [their emphasis]” [in the flier above]
And “Lifetime [their emphasis] healthcare benefits” [also in flier]
And from a TU article: “Critics of the proposal said it was crafted by City Hall’s most powerful insiders [my emphasis]…”
And in the most recent classic example of magical thinking, Dr. Robert Turner from a November 7 story on WAMC: “I think what this election showed was a stunning repudiation of the commission form of government.” [JK: As Shakespeare observed “The empty vessel makes the loudest sound.”]
Playing To Fear
Pretty much everyone, including myself, is frustrated by our federal government that seems incapable of acting on behalf of its citizens. An army of lobbyists armed with generous donations to elected officials seems to have, if not hijacked, at least disproportionally taken control of the decisions made allegedly on our behalf.
Is it any wonder then how easy it is to exploit this general disillusionment with government and create suspicion of our own city officials who many do not know? Ignorant of the details of the charter proposal and assailed by things like the flyer above and a flood of disinformation on social media, is it any wonder that the proposed charter changes were defeated?
In many ways the modest nature of the changes in the charter proposal meant that a logical, rational defense could not compete with the drama offered by its opponents.
To make my point, review the flyer above and then listen to Charter Commission Chair and city attorney, Vince DeLeonardis’ interview following the defeat of the charter. Cerebral, thoughtful, and measured, it cannot compete with the image the opponents conjured up of defeating the alleged cabal that operates out of city hall.
In the end, the failure of the very modest changes proposed by the commission was a lost opportunity.