THIS IS WHAT YOU GET

Detroit Porn, like Urban Blight Porn in general, is pretty played out at this point. A follower on Facebook suggested that I watch this video, though, and because it was produced by Detroiters rather than outside voyeur-journalists I decided to give it a shot. If you have the opportunity, give it a watch.

The first ten minutes are standard Michael Moore-style "Everyone is unemployed and the CEO gave himself a giant bonus" boilerplate that is so familiar to us now that it hardly registers. The next ten minutes about Detroit's local elected officials is…more interesting.

It is not a surprise that any city's elected officials – mayors, county boards, city councils, assessors, etc. – turn out to be incompetent boobs. Frankly it's more shocking when a local public servant isn't a knucklehead. What very few people appreciate, however, is how corrupt they are compared to, say, members of Congress and why the near-complete absence of interest in local elections ensures that we'll never get anyone better. Certainly I would never imply that corruption is absent at the higher levels of government; only that it is more common and significantly more brazen at the local level. Detroit is just one of many big cities whose elected officials could be used to prove that point.

The problem is that most Americans pay very little attention to politics. What attention they pay is generally devoted to the big national political issues of the day and Washington. As newspaper readership continues to plunge, radio programming is increasingly syndicated/nationalized, and local news is downplayed we are left few people outside of the over-55 local TV news watching and newspaper reading demographic paying any attention to local politics. Not coincidentally that's also essentially the only group voting in local-only elections, in which turnout is often under 10%.

Morons, scam artists, lunatic extremists, the guy who owns 8 bars in your medium sized city…this is the kind of person who ends up on a county board. And they will continue to because local politics are ignored unless and until someone makes the mistake of trying to raise property taxes by 0.01% or pass a bond issue to do something evil and socialist like build a library or fire department. Then the pitchforks and torches come out, of course.

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21 Responses to “THIS IS WHAT YOU GET”

  1. Xynzee Says:

    " And they will continue to because local politics are ignored unless and until someone makes the mistake of trying to raise property taxes by 0.01% or pass a bond issue to do something evil and socialist like build a library or fire department. Then the pitchforks and torches come out, of course."

    A parallel to this is when local government wants to "change something"—new lights, street art, foot paths, new toilet block in the park, etc—things go out on display for public comment and… nothing. As soon as the first shovel hits the ground, all hell

  2. Xynzee Says:

    " And they will continue to because local politics are ignored unless and until someone makes the mistake of trying to raise property taxes by 0.01% or pass a bond issue to do something evil and socialist like build a library or fire department. Then the pitchforks and torches come out, of course."

    A parallel to this is when local government wants to "change something"—new lights, street art, foot paths, new toilet block in the park, etc—things go out on display for public comment and… nothing. As soon as the first shovel hits the ground, all hell breaks loose about "lack of community input and consultation".

    Compulsory voting kind of helps—from personal experience—vote or we'll cancel your licence is a pretty good incentive to participate in a pissy little election. But not really as it's viewed as a "pissy little election" so I'll just tick some box.

  3. virginia penley Says:

    This can be overcome with a good, active County and State Chair to drive a grassroots campaign. They will have to overcome the pressures from the DSCC and DCCC on the state level, but locally they can prevail.

    The key is in what you said, most voters are unaware of even the names on the local ticket. You have to drive them (sometimes literally) to the polls and hand them a marked sample ballot as they enter, but it can be done.

  4. Michael Bloom Says:

    How does a good citizen wannabe find out who the (relatively) good guys are? Newspapers are, as you point out, a quaint relic of a better time– and even then were all too often co-opted by the same political machines that made the corruption possible in the first place. And in a teensy local election, every candidate will say the same things: I went to school here, I know and love this community, I'll keep the streets safe and the parks green and the local businesses productive. In my last alderman election, the candidate who seemed to be the progressive inundated us with so many mailers, yard signs and door hangers that I began to wonder just who was funding all this printing, and whether this candidate was as upright as reputed.

  5. Misterben Says:

    @Michael Bloom

    The upside to how few people take local politics seriously is that, if you make any kind of an effort to actually go and meet the various candidates and officeholders, they'll probably take the time to talk to you. This is especially true if you're able to introduce yourself as "Chairman of the Concerned Citizens of Maple Street", or something. So get your ten closest friends and neighbors together, throw a logo on some letterhead, write a quick letter, list everybody's names and addresses, and bingo: you're a group of civic activists! Now you're not just some weirdo: you're a weirdo who represents eleven voting households! In local politics, that's worth paying attention to.

    So, do that. Send email requests to candidates and office-holders introducing yourself and requesting a meeting. Then go question them, and decide for yourself if they're the good guys. Just bear in mind that in any given election there might not BE any good guys…

  6. virginia penley Says:

    Masterben speaks the truth.

    Another way is to look on your local party's website and start going to the precinct and county meetings. Find out who recruits candidates (there is a committee), and then be with that person when it is going on, and also recruit your own. You have lived there all this time? Get involved in your county party.

    When municipals are filed in a few months, or again in 2 years, get people you know to run as candidates, work their campaigns, and know who the donors are. If they had money for lots mailers you are right to wonder where it came from, Michael Bloom, so find out.

    I live in NC, we have suffered terribly from the tea party, but this time we stopped the bleeding, and made some gains. It takes a long range plan, and work on the ground.

    Find your county chair, and get started. This is the year (2015) the party builds its organization for 2016. The time to begin is right now.

  7. Major Kong Says:

    Anyone who thinks that government works best at the local level has never sat on a condo board.

  8. virginia penley Says:

    Not effectively, anyhow. To be fair, HOA's are not democratic. Join your local party as an activist.

  9. Eric S. Says:

    Major Kong, "… never sat on a condo board."

    Man, true that. I just resigned as president of my little condo association (14 units) and it was a very frustrating couple of years.

  10. deep Says:

    Yeah, especially when Crazy-Ben in unit 3-b hasn't paid his condo-dues in three months and nobody wants to talk to him because he's CrAZy!

    So you file a suit against him and then some poor attorney gets stuck in court while Crazy-Ben reads his manifesto to the Court Reporter about how Obama is the Antichrist or something.

  11. Mo Says:

    Maybe if we bring back ward heelers and free whiskey turkeys.

  12. Emerson Dameron Says:

    @Michael Bloom:

    One problem is that machine Democrats with some good qualities (Eric Garcetti, Rahmbo) are the best "good guys" one can typically expect in a large city.

    If you want to find Greens and other eccentrics, you can find them in the papers (if you hunt) and on the ballots – they just don't have much of a constituency compared to the high-profile Devils You Know who can raise many times more cash. Their best chances are in "smaller markets" – Santa Monica, Asheville, and the like.

    What really sucks about this is that, when people in urban centers want to "shake things up" out of pure frustration, their only real option is to pull the lever for a Trojan Horse like Bruce Rauner.

  13. Robert Says:

    Our recent municipal election here in Oakland surprised me. Multiple candidates for every office, much coverage in the local weeklies – but then, I pay more attention to local politics than I do to pro sports. So I may not be representative. But I get the impression that things are different elsewhere, especially from reading G&T. We even have public libraries open every day of the week – how cool is that?

  14. vegymper Says:

    Could the commentariat enlighten this poor South American, where voting is compulsory in most countries, why is it democratic NOT to have compulsory voting?

  15. mothra Says:

    Vegymper, non-compulsory voting is a feature, not a bug. To the Republican party, that is.

  16. Emerson Dameron Says:

    @vegymper:
    Can't help you. Don't get it. At all.

    I suppose forcing Americans to act like they give a shit about America would be unAmerican.

    We're closer to compulsory firearms ownership in most states.

  17. Major Kong Says:

    @Vegymper

    When this country was founded only white, male property owners could vote. We've been fighting that ever since.

    Any US conservative will gleefully state: "We're a republic not a democracy!"

    Which is like saying: "That isn't a dog, it's a Golden Retriever."

  18. verbal Says:

    Neighborhood committee mailing lists are generally anti-change reactionary forces. But they do let you know what's up.

    Have you considered running for office? If nobody is paying attention you could do some cool stuff!

  19. blahedo Says:

    Some resistance to compulsory voting is based on the idea that, if they can't be bothered to go vote, they're probably not educating themselves on the issues either, and it would be counterproductive to push _more_ low-information voters to the polls.

    It's not an entirely spurious argument, imo. But there's definitely tradeoffs.

  20. Johnboy Says:

    Hi all, long time lurker here. I just wanted to say as a 21 year old male graduating from college with Sociology and Political Science degrees, that Ed has truly convinced me that wherever I end up I am obligated as a competent human being to be involved in local politics. Thanks Ed.

  21. Silver Wolf Says:

    We recently had municipal elections here in Ottawa (and all of Ontario). The turnout was just under 40%.