I am old enough to be receiving Social Security benefits, so I remember George H.W. Bush declaring in his acceptance speech at the 1988 Republican National Convention, “Read my lips; no new taxes.”
What endeared H.W. to me is that he broke that promise. What happened was that the Democrats, who controlled both the House and Senate, sent Bush a budget which included a line to raise taxes as a way of reducing the national debt. And listen to this. Bush compromised and signed the legislation!
Bill Clinton in the 1992 presidential campaign accused Bush of being untrustworthy, because he broke his promise. Many political scientists think that his compromise cost him the election.
As far as I’m concerned, H.W. is one of my heroes, because he was willing to approach governing pragmatically as an activity which is about getting things done and not as an ideological battle in a culture war.
A man I interviewed several years ago quipped, “Religion is like the mafia. You’re either all the way in or all the way out.” Politics and governing at their best are not religious or ideological. They’re not about fighting for absolute truth or perfect justice. At its best, governing is about incremental change.
And, when the federal government or the Forest Park Village Council has a healthy diversity of opinion, governance is about respecting opinions you disagree with, finding common ground and making the kinds of compromises for which Bush got punished.
That’s an admittedly long introduction to my expectations for the new village council. In a word, it’s all about attitude.
Iconic football coach Vince Lombardi declared, “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.” Lombardi was wrong, especially when it comes to governance in a small community like Forest Park.
My expectation is that our leaders will set egos aside and see decision-making as a process of taking incremental steps towards a commonly defined goal more than arriving at the goal itself. I think we have a fair amount of consensus in Forest Park regarding goals:
Reduce the deficit.
Do SOMETHING with the Altenheim property, but don’t do anything rash! We all feel the tension.
The glass is half full regarding diversity. Let’s make it two-thirds full.
The economic glass is half full. Let’s make it two-thirds full.
Participatory democracy. Frustrated that it took two referenda re. video gambling to make their voices heard, the majority of residents in town want our leaders to bring as many folks as possible to the decision-making table when the issue being considered is more important than what kind of flowers to plant along Madison Street and Roosevelt Road.
My expectation is that they will advocate for whatever their self-interest is—be it the business community or the environment or fiscal responsibility—while keeping in mind that how you play the game is as important as winning.
My religious convictions dictate which direction I lean on many of those issues, but my religious faith also reminds me that I am not God, am limited by my own psychological history and need the perspectives of other people in order to see 20/20.
And that means compromise.
On election night, commissioner elect Jessica Voogd responded to her win by stating, “If we can be candid with each other in discussions, open to new ideas, I think we can find some success.”
Along with compromising I also expect transparency. In that regard Commissioner Joe Byrnes, Police Chief Tom Aftanas and the former park director Larry Piekarz are my role models. They always respond to my questions. In the past, some village officials—elected or appointed—haven’t even returned my phone calls or emails. It, basically, is a question of who is working for whom.
I understand why they would hesitate to respond to a reporter from the Review, but that’s part of their job. The Review gets things wrong sometimes and often doesn’t focus on what officials would like us to emphasize, but I can’t think of a better medium for giving residents all sides of an issue and then holding officials accountable for the promises they make.
Facebook groups don’t even try to be balanced. They excel at holding people with whom they disagree accountable but are really poor at self-criticism. The rumor mill is even worse.
Regarding leadership, I heard the mayor elect say during the campaign that he doesn’t want to be a leader in the sense of imposing his agenda on the council or the village. Rather he wants to be a facilitator, someone who brings many voices to the table and presides over a bottom up approach to decision-making.
That sounds good to me as far as it goes. But, like it or not, the mayor often is the public face of the village. Like it or not, elected officials are moral leaders as well as decision-makers. President Donald Trump is a clear negative example of ethical leadership. Which ribbon cutting ceremonies and school activities and events at the library Mayor Rory Hoskins attends make value statements.
A few paragraphs back I urged the mayor and commissioners to be transparent, to respond to requests from the Review regarding decisions they made or are going to make, and articulate where they stand on different issues.
That said, I would encourage them to respond to questions with “I’ll get back to you in a day or two. I need to think about it.” What we say on the record matters.
Finally, I expect our elected officials to live balanced lives. The mayor elect will receive $30,000 a year for being the mayor and $10,000 annually for serving as the liquor commissioner. He will need to keep his day job to keep his family out of the red while working to get the village out of our shared fiscal hole.