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Get Out and Run (for Office) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jay Beskin, BT Contributor   
March 2020

A dearth of candidates means democracy suffers

Omarcyne of the most enduringly popular board games in the world is Monopoly. Each player takes one of the distinctive pieces -- Scottie dog, top hat, thimble, boot, wheelbarrow, cat, racing car, or battleship -- as his representative and moves it as many spaces at a time as his roll of the dice will allow.

The properties he can buy if he lands on one and has the money to cover each represents an entire street in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Once he owns a street, he can develop it in stages, first with houses, then with hotels. Whenever an opponent has the misfortune to drop in, he must pay rent. The more built up the street becomes, the higher the rent. The game continues until only one player is left standing with enough money to continue his travels.

When I was a municipal commissioner back in the early days of Aventura’s incorporation, we got kidded a lot for running a city very much like the one depicted on the game board, with developers running around buying up properties, throwing up houses and hotels, hoping to build up enough money in the bank to support the empire and come out on top. We did not mind the ribbing, but we were mindful never to allow any one developer or syndicate to dominate the city’s real estate market and transform it into a monopoly.

We had the credibility to do our jobs, I always felt, because we -- the mayor, the commissioners, the city manager -- were the furthest thing from a monopoly ourselves.

I had grown up in Chicago under Mayor-for-Life Richard J. Daley, who died in office after 21 years (as opposed to his son, Mayor Richard M. Daley, who is still alive and left office after two terms). I knew what monopolistic political machines looked like, and I had seen the impact of corruption on urban life. Nothing like that would ever happen in my beloved Aventura.

We were a diverse and rowdy bunch, with our share of disagreements, but we tended to arrive at balanced decisions and the city prospered.

There was real drama when we took votes on major issues because we weren’t predictable and never rubber-stamped anything. It is true that there were times when we were pretty sure on our way into a public session how the vote would turn out, but it is equally true that public appeals and citizen testimony often helped us to alter our perspective on the potential impact of certain projects. I believe that we generally approached our roles with open minds.

Ultimately, the only way to guard against a monopolistic one-party rule where we devolve into government over the people, despite the people, ignoring the people, is through the simple expedient of holding elections.

Every few years, the commissioners must stand before the people to be voted on, yea or nay. If elected, they may serve; if rejected, they must swerve. That is the American way and it assures the people can be governed by whomsoever they freely choose, and that there is a simple method by which the stale and the stalled can be uninstalled. You voted ’em in; by golly you can vote ’em out.

In Aventura, we also had term limits, which theoretically should be the ultimate check and balance. If commissioners serve eight years and move on, the danger of a city controlled by a few insiders is significantly mitigated. And, as I say, we lived it, and we believed that it was working.

But the key is real, active, lively democracy, which can only happen when a lot of people are running for office and the voters are getting a nice selection from whom to choose. It always seemed to us like there were plenty of prospective contenders for our positions and we had no business becoming complacent.

That was then, this is now. It is theoretically an election year in the City of Excellence, and three commission seats are up for grabs. If you don’t find yourself being grabbed by the candidates to ask for your vote, the reason is very straightforward: Your candidate does not need to buttonhole you and try to win your favor because he or she is unopposed.

Yes, indeed, all three seats are showing one lone candidate waiting to be voted in to these positions. In Seat 1 and Seat 5, Linda Marks and Gladys Mezrahi are incumbents unencumbered by any competition. Even Seat 3, where Howard Weinberg was retired by term limits, there is only one registered candidate, Jonathan P. Evans. So basically the elections are over before they have begun; no race is “too close to call.”

My critique is not intended to belittle or besmirch Marks, Mezrahi, or Evans. It might very well be that these are the three most appropriate candidates imaginable, and that no greater blessing could possibly descend upon the city. If you took the thousand most qualified administrators in the city and lined them up, they would be far outclassed by these three.

Yet even if that were the case, democracy would suffer. The fact is that an election without selection is like a meal without courses, a course without holes, a hole without mice, a mouse without a Disney contract.

I’m not accusing the powers that be of putting up obstacles against potential candidates. I honestly do not know the genesis of this new phenomenon of someone running against no one, but I find it a chilling trend. Whether people are being discouraged from running for office, or whether people have lost the will to run, I find myself paraphrasing from The Cat in the Hat: “I do not like this, I do not like this one little bit!”

Again, without criticizing any of the current shoo-in candidates, I wish to strongly recommend that other candidates put a shoe in as well. If you have ideas about the future of the city, if you have always been curious, if you have always wanted to get involved in communal life, now is your opportunity.

There are a bunch of flabby candidacies in place, folks who have not had to compete in some time. Go in there and sweat a little, and make them sweat a lot! The time has come to revitalize our fledgling democracy; run with excellence, vote with excellence, the time has come!

I hope this important concern is addressed. (Perhaps there are plans already for this, which have not been publicized.) I would like to see this project bear fruit, not remain a virgin, so to speak.

 

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