Being Nowhere
Circus Tradition
Class Politics
Enormous Loss
Haditha Tragedy
Homeless Being
Illegal Camping Ordinance
Journalism Priviledge
Keep Us Safe
Leadership and the People

Lesser Evils
Lynching Iraq
News for Working People
Nice Cops
Palestinian Democracy
Poison Fish
Political Communication
Selective Memory
Vestigial Entrances

Leadership and the People

Your 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.

In 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.

SCOPE 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.

There 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.'


The second and more immediate reason is that political actors who blame the people tend to get fired, though not often enough.

The 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.

But 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?"













©Al Katz • Prof. of law SUNY, Buffalo, 1969-1989 (ret.)