Addressing Wave Readers And Letter Writers
Three recent letters by Wave readers concerning the recent special election for City Council in our district (the 32nd) have prompted me to offer a response.
In a letter under the heading Disgusted … with Politics as Usual signed only by "CR," the writer attacked two of the recent candidates for the Council seat, Dr. Geraldine Chapey ("sneaky and evil") and Lew Simon ("loud and embarrassing"). Whatever one feels about candidates representing positions or policies one is not comfortable with, we should not stoop to name calling. Moreover, both Dr. Chapey and Lew Simon, Democratic district leaders in our area, are respected community activists who have repeatedly put themselves out for our neighborhoods. Neither deserves to be impugned in this manner. Sometimes refusing to give one's real name allows one to feel free to insult others. While free speech enables all of us to do so, the rules of civility should prompt us to do otherwise. We can and should be able to disagree with others without suggesting they are evil or foolish.
In another letter Charles Savino (A Voter's Viewpoint) raises the ugly spectre of political collusion when he writes of the petition challenge filed by Dr. Chapey which effectively knocked Howard " Beach Democratic district leader Frank Gulluscio and independent Rockaway resident Glenn DiResto off the ballot. As we all know by now, Republican district leader Eric Ulrich from Ozone Park won that election. But Mr. Savino asks, "Were the challenges against the two gentlemen who were running done to benefit a certain young kid?" Eric Ulrich, of course, is 24 and the second youngest elected City Councilman in the city's history.
Eric has demonstrated his interest, skill and commitment to local politics since he first volunteered as a campaign worker back in the 90s, yet besides making him out to be even younger than he is, the letter writer goes on to suggest that our new Councilman is the creature of others including two former City Councilmen, Tom Ognibene from central Queens and Al Stabile of Howard Beach.
I can assure this reader that I have known Eric for a number of years now (since he was in his teens, in fact) and he is nobody's creature but his own. That he has cultivated good relationships with other, more senior politicians, is a sign of his good judgment and forward thinking, something we need more of in our district. Of course, Eric did not know in advance that he'd be the one to benefit from Dr. Chapey's legal actions. Obviously Dr. Chapey hoped the benefit would be hers or she wouldn't have taken the steps she did and, in fact, it looked at the time as though Eric would actually do better with more Democrats in the race! Suggesting any kind of collusion is pure paranoid fantasy and unsupported by anything other than the fact that Eric actually benefited against all the odds.
A "cocky, arrogant, young man" is what Mr. Savino calls our new Councilman on no other basis than that he apparently dislikes him. In this he reveals a hidden agenda which can only further call into question the speculative and spurious allegation of political collusion he makes earlier in his comments. The truth is that Eric IS young and this is as much an asset as a liability because of the high level of energy and commitment he is thus able to bring to his new job. I know some forty- and fifty-year-olds who demonstrate less judgment and capacity than our new twenty-something Councilman. We keep hearing how it's time for new blood. Well it is and that means young, energetic pols like Eric who, though he doesn't reside on our peninsula, has spent so much time here over the years that sometimes you can't tell!
Finally there are the comments of Dorothy Ryan (Democracy is Dead in Rockaway). Referring to the just completed special election, Ms. Ryan complained that it's the "same old useless crowd, pulling the strings, feathering their nest, how dishonest this election has been." I would like to reassure Ms. Ryan that this election brought us a sea change because Eric Ulrich, the winner and our new Councilman, is not part of "the same old." Just ask Mr. Savino who complains that he is too young and callow to represent us. But truthfully, isn't it time we had some fresh young people stepping forward to replace "the same old" Ms. Ryan is worried about?
It's understandable if letter writers to The Wave sometimes feel disgruntled or disheartened when their candidates lose. As a Republican activist out here I have often felt the same. But I've always tried to be balanced in my outlook and to recognize that those with whom we disagree are not necessarily bad people and don't, just because they see things differently than we do, deserve to be demeaned or derided.
In this recent special election, we should all feel pleased that we had a chance to choose from such a wide variety of candidates instead of being stuck with the usual names and faces as Ms. Ryan notes. We may not always get our own candidate into office, but democracy is best served when many candidates run. Democracy was never more alive in our district than in the recent special election because of the opportunities for ballot access. Still, as we saw with the petition challenges that knocked two of the contenders off the ballot, impediments to real voter choice remain.
Our group, the Rockaway Republicans, believes that ballot restrictions should be eased so that we will have more elections like the one we just saw in February. But to do that, legislation at the state level is required. Unfortunately, most incumbent politicians tend to like things just the way they are — for obvious reasons! Still, with a fresh face in the City Council to represent us, we now have a chance to overturn politics as usual, not only in our district but citywide. Looking back in days to come, voters in New York may say to themselves that real change began right here, in Rockaway. Ms. Ryan says that "democracy is dead in Rockaway" but nothing could be further from the truth with Eric Ulrich's upset and substantial victory (he got 47 percent of the votes cast in a four candidate field, far outpolling his nearest competitor). Instead, democracy in Rockaway is just beginning.