and the People
April 13 editorial about leadership in the city is important,
though I believe the target of it is misplaced. The problem
begins at the top. That is, with the people.
the current situation Commissioners have jurisdiction but lack
authority. Their actions, when taken according to form, have
the force of law. But given the thin basis for their selection,
with voting participation consistently around 20% and usually
less, they act without communal investment. Over time candidates
for office have learned to target consistent voters in their
campaigns, so that the conversation of politics has become increasing
narrow. In this posture it is to be expected that city affairs
lurch from one confrontation of stakeholders/ad hoc interest
groups to another.
was invented so that social science might rescue our sagging
democracy. [Let us agree to not even notice the irony.] All
help is welcome, but as your editorial points out, an able staff
is no substitute for a plate of top bananas. The press, and
the legion of civics wonks our city supports, need to confront
the democracy itself.
are three kinds of reasons for not doing this. The historical
reason is that the people in their collectivity inherited their
exalted place as the source of all power from the royal personage,
of who it was said that s/he could do no wrong. And so we are
reluctant to blame the people when anything goes wrong, though
occasionally philosophers say things like 'ultimately the people
get the rulers they deserve.'
second and more immediate reason is that political actors who
blame the people tend to get fired, though not often enough.
third kind of reason has to do with the delicacy of political
mobilization itself. Politicians who call on the people for
support in carrying out a program can discover that the people,
newly mobilized, enjoy this engagement of power and, instead
of going home when it's over, stick around and bully their minions.
As we have recently seen, this can make representatives snapish
about being told what to do or how to vote.
if we are to be serious about the future of the City, the matter
must be taken in hand. Pity the poor civics teacher who, with
a class of 20, decides to play "City of Sarasota"
and asks the class: "now, who shall be our two voters?"