There was a knock on the door the other morning. It was one of the candidates for school board. I had signs up for him and affiliated candidates on my lawn. He asked permission to put up a larger sign, which I granted. The sign doesn’t say he’s a Democrat, as the school board elections are officially non-partisan, though it’s no mystery which slates belong to which party.
Wyckoff, my town in New Jersey’s Bergen County, is predominantly Republican. The Democrats currently hold no seat on the town council, and this year didn’t manage to field a candidate for a seat scheduled for election. I wrote in my own name and dropped my ballot off at Town Hall. I mentioned my spur-of-the-moment candidacy to the school-board guy, but I’m not sure he knows my name. I’d received an email from the local Democratic club earlier in the year asking if anyone was interested in running for office, a prospect I hadn’t found enticing.
A few years ago, a Democrat was elected to the council, and there were some contretemps over whether he’d be allowed to take a turn as mayor (a rotating position the council members choose whom among them will fill), which he was. Then he retired, and a second Democrat who’d gotten elected switched to Republican, somehow persuaded that uniformity was desirable. Then at a Memorial Day event, a Republican mayor speechified about how it’s the soldiers, not the poets, who defend our freedom, an apparent slap at Amanda Gorman.
I’ve never put much credence in the “All politics is local” chestnut attributed to Tip O’Neill, and these days it’s less persuasive than when he was Speaker of the House. There’ve been debates, in my town and nearby, about development versus open space, with Republicans more for the former, Democrats for the latter; but these seem matters of emphasis, not radical contrasting visions. The real tension is driven by differences over national politics. When gas prices peaked, I’d see a sign saying if I’d voted for Biden, I owed the homeowner gas money. School-board meetings are more contentious, based on rhetoric from faraway think-tank operatives. Insofar as crime’s a big issue for voters, it’s not because of any increase in this affluent area.
I was a Republican for over 30 years, which I’ve written about extensively; I can imagine an editor’s head hitting the desk at the prospect I’d rehash it again. I retain good relations with many in that party, locally and elsewhere, and prefer some middle-ground between looking for political arguments and avoiding politics as a taboo subject. It helps, perhaps, that I’m in the political center, friction against leftward motion provided by my work fact-checking some progressive op-eds. One claimed that an “analysis” had determined that a quarantine crackdown was underway in New York parks against black people while white people were allowed to wander freely. It turned out the “analysis” consisted of photos someone had posted side-by-side on Facebook, with no pretense that any study had compared or vetted the images.
Bad ideas on left and right aren’t hard to find. Some, however, are more impactful than others. I’m pleased that Trump signage has mostly disappeared from my town, and hopeful that Republican voters nationwide will choose someone else as their nominee in 2024. Still, I’ll hold as a litmus test that any candidate or official who supports claims that the 2020 election was stolen ought to be opposed, as impervious to facts and hostile to democracy.
Though I’m a Democrat, I’m also a member of the Forward Party, which is currently set up as an advocacy group rather than a party with formal registrations and ballot lines. I’m enthused about Andrew Yang’s organization’s promotion of ranked-choice voting, where you can state your order of preference among multiple candidates. Such a system makes it more likely that a winner will have a broad range of support, rather than just a plurality of fired-up zealots. It also encourages more-positive campaigning. Maybe it’ll get me on the ballot someday.
—Kenneth Silber is author of In DeWitt’s Footsteps: Seeing History on the Erie Canal and is on Twitter: @kennethsilber