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Candidates deserve points for trying

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

At least we tried to make it.

— Moby

The results are in now — using the appropriate political cliche, “the people have spoken” — and the winners/losers of Tuesday’s elections are alternately celebrating/preparing to take office or licking their wounds/wondering what they might have done differently.

American politics, once described as a “gentlemanly endeavor” — at a time, it must be noted, when gentlemen were the only players allowed on the field — is now more akin to a blood sport, a no-holds-barred battle royale not meant for the weak of heart or spirit. Sadly, though, this atmosphere has bred a growing species of “civil servant” that has evolved into oxymoron, as there is little civility among the elected and many would argue the service provided trends more toward self- than community-.

The outcome of Tuesday’s various area elections will be debated and dissected microscopically by people who do that type of thing over the next few days, and all the campaign promises made by the winners have no doubt been put in storage, to be thrown back at them at an appropriate future date.

While I congratulate the victors in the various races, I’d like to take a moment before this election fades into distant memory (by Friday, most likely) to thank the local candidates — winners or losers — who had the courage to seek office. So many of us (yes, me included) are more than willing to criticize our officeholders, but when it comes to actually doing something about the issues that plague our community, that’s where we draw the proverbial line.

Why go and sit through all those one-, two- or three-hour meetings when I can read someone’s account of that meeting — or watch a 15-second sound bite on TV — and then sit comfortably in my living room and take electronic pot-shots at the elected officials at any of the various online sites at my disposal? Why risk being asked to explain my worldview when I have forums easily available that allow me to spout it without consequence or challenge?

I had the opportunity to set up meetings with and then take part in interviews with the candidates seeking office in Albany, and I also was granted interviews by the candidates in the Smithville municipal elections. One thing struck me as I talked to these 14 or so individuals from all walks of life: Each expressed a genuine desire to make the community in which he or she lived better.

I listened to and read much of the criticism aimed at these candidates as they campaigned, and while I’m certain a good bit of it had at least a degree of legitimacy, there was also a level of animosity based on personal preference or the repetition of some grudge-based tidbit that had no basis in fact. Such meanspirited commentary is what keeps most of us from even considering a run for office.

One of the best things in Albany, I believe, to come from this election cycle is the emergence of such first-time young candidates as Melissa Strother, Kowana McKinney and Jason McCoy. All are part of a generation far removed from the one that currently dominates local politics. And for a community to thrive — for new ideas to replace long outdated ones — local governments need an infusion of new blood.

If any of these newcomers prevailed in Tuesday’s election, that has the potential to be a plus for the community. If they did not, here’s a word of encouragement to them: Don’t be overly disappointed by your defeat. As long as you stay actively involved, your community needs you, in or out of office. If you feel, at the next opportunity, you’ll have more of an impact in office, start preparing for your next run.

It’s easy enough to criticize those who sit in the seats of power — heck, some of us even get paid to do it. But sitting in one of those seats and working with others to try and make your community better is a far different and much more challenging thing. To those who were willing to do so, you have my gratitude ... and my respect.

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