Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Meet the New Boss, Same As the Old Boss

I’ve been reticent to write anything about the local Ocean City election I’m covering because the last time I wrote about local politics, I got in trouble.
Journalists have a lot of leeway online to pontificate about their various beats, yet sometimes their blogging activities are curtailed by nervous editors or irate politicians. While my editor gives me carte blanche to write about anything my twisted heart desires online, some bigwigs have expressed opposition to the content on this blog, stating that it shows bias and journalists should be objective.
I am objective when I write newspaper articles.
This blog, however, is my intellectual playground where I can write anything I damn well please, thank you kindly.
God bless the First Amendment.
The situation in Ocean City is as follows: The two gentlemen are running for mayor are both wealthy. One of them is an amusement park owner with strong ties to the community, while the other is a financial consultant who moved here some years ago. The amusement park owner has a high school diploma, while the financial consultant is college educated. The race has been about local connections versus outsiders. It’s about the local boy everybody knows versus the carpetbagger.
What amazed me about this election was its benign nature compared to the volatile shitstorm in the past. Four years ago, the mayoral candidates campaigned hard and raised obscene amounts of money for attack ads that made it seem they were running against the Taliban.
Now, the local businessman and the financial consultant are spending their own funds on quiet campaigns that are commendable and genteel. It was as if the good, old-fashioned mudslinging of American politics had been replaced by a hum-drum, civil discourse only seen in the sleepy hamlets of Canada or someplace where people say “please” or “thank you” instead of kick you to the curb.
One of the biggest annoyances for me as a reporter is when people solicit me for my opinions.
“What do you think about this?” they ask, hoping I’ll pontificate like the Oracle at Delphi and offer sage wisdom like a mighty soothsayer divining portents.
“It doesn’t matter what I think,” I usually respond, much to their chagrin.
Yet they still prod me for my opinion.
So here’s what I think, unvarnished and raw:
No matter who wins this election, we’re utterly fucked. This is a clash of titanic egos, of two men hell-bent on being little Napoleons flirting with power. The local businessman will probably win because of his connections. His friends are influential and have lived here all their lives and control various businesses. They’re the status quo that believes upsetting the applecart of their rule would be detrimental to their own interests.
This is normal in small towns where one set dictates the town’s agenda behind the scenes.
The guy is genuinely nice, and served on various boards and volunteered his adult life. He’s a hard worker, and down to earth, yet he’s not the sharpest crayon in the box. Though I admire his tenacity and family legacy (his father was a past mayor), the city needs an independent thinker who will separate his friends’ interests from the people’s interests.
Now the negatives as I see them: His campaign has been about fluff over substance, of friendly, smiling faces posing with him on leaflets and mailers. It’s not a mayoral election as much as it is a high school class president’s election. It’s a popularity contest, bereft of concrete solutions or plans. His supporters aren’t voting for him because he’s a renaissance man brimming with ideas.
His opposition - the financial consultant - is more cerebral and managerial. He’s all about cold-hard facts and figures and will micromanage every department. The financial consultant is president of a local taxpayer advocacy group that has decried rampant city spending.
He’s also somewhat snobbish and dismissive of the local businessman, claiming it doesn’t take much to run an amusement park.
Problem is, there hasn’t been a dynamic, charismatic leader emerging in this town. The previous administration spent money like drunken sailors on shore leave. While the city’s roads, drainage and other infrastructure needed attention, the administration bought decorative lighting for the Boardwalk and ornately designed crosswalks for the downtown.
Rome burned, the emperor fiddled. More apropos, the emperor issued press releases describing how successful he was at obtaining state grants for various projects.
One the positive side, the town has never looked better, however, aesthetics are only skin deep. Potholes, clogged drains and a crumbling concrete Boardwalk substructure require more than a new coat of paint or superficial ornamentation.
This is a wealthy town where conservatives kvetch about taxes from the comfort of their beachfront homes. They wring their hands at the stupidest things: a proposed bicycle path on trail through the wetlands, an ugly building that blocks their bay views, protective sand dunes blocking their beach views and the kind of wood used to deck the Boardwalk.
I’d like to drag any one of these over-privileged, Izod-wearing preppie douchebags to Camden, NJ and show them what a troubled city looks like.
Camden was one of New Jersey’s manufacturing and commerce hubs that had fallen on hard times following the race riots of the 1960s. Now Camden is one of the worst, most violent and dangerous places to live in New Jersey, with abandoned buildings, street gangs, prostitution and drugs. I know this firsthand, because my father’s dry-cleaning business is on Broadway Street in Camden and I used to work there as a kid on Saturdays. While my friends got to watch cartoons, I spent Saturday mornings listening to drug addicts and watching unattractive hookers pass by the store. Gun-toting robbers held up my dad’s business and cleaned out his cash register. Someone threw a brick through my grandfather’s windshield.
I’m sorry, but whiny little Ocean City does not have problems. It doesn’t have shootings, armed robberies or widespread vandalism. It doesn’t have the National Guard patrolling its streets like Camden did. It’s not consistently ranked at the bottom of lists of the worst places to live in America.
Ocean City is a country club where Republicans go to die. This is a land of seaside fun with saltwater taffy, amusement parks and its own public golf course.
It’s said that people get the leaders they deserve. I don’t think that would apply to this town. They deserve better. This year, they’re getting the same.

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