Meme Watch – Election Edition

With election results now official, it’s worth noting a few things on the recent election.

The ongoing meme during Mayor Thane’s term centers on the notion that somehow, someway, her administration lacks standing , or perhaps better said, does not truly represent the views and policies of the community-at-large. This manifests itself in a number of ways but largely serves as a recurring, recycled, and repackaged set of talking points espoused by her critics across the media landscape. How many times have we listened to folks wrap themselves in the cloak of the common folks with claims to reflect the “will of the people” or “respecting taxpayers” and on.

Of course, a key channel for spreading the meme is the local airwaves and especially its vocal propagandist who rants and raves on how the players in the Thane administration need to be “put in their place”; I’m not sure what that place would be for the Corporation Counsel but it’s been made clear, to great hilarity, by a local politico that Mayor Thane’s place is — and I am not making this up– “the kitchen”.

So when you read in today’s Recorder this statement from the defeated mayoral candidate:

It certainly doesn’t show she has a mandate,” Emanuele continued. “That’s not the message being sent by voters. But I’m just going to continue to keep the positive outlook for our city, and continue to serve on the Industrial Development Agency board and support the Republicans as county chairman, and stay as active as I can in the political arena here in Montgomery County.”

You see the meme merely shape-shifting like a spectre awaiting its return to haunt the next years of this term. See kids, it’s not a mandate so the legitimacy of the administration lacks standing and as such, really does not reflect –wait for it– “the will of the people”.

In many ways, this is reflective of the broader attack on the legitimacy of President Obama, largely fueled by the same rhetoric, as somehow being “otherly”. In other words, not one of us but one of them. The fact that this comes from the chairman of the opposition party seems wholly consistent with the line of attack.

I don’t want to digress too far from our fair city but I must note that Republicans were rather silent on the notion of a mandate when Bush lost the popular vote to Gore in 2000. Somehow that was a valid outcome from a “democratic process” which somehow applies not to Ms Thane nor to President Obama. let me get back on point.

I am curious, by that very same standard, if Mr. Wierzbicki or Mr Chiara by their very slim margins also lack a mandate in their respective roles. It would appear so because a handful of votes hardly scream mandate to me. As such, should we question their legitimacy and standing in their official roles. Oh my, what about “the will of the people”?!

It’s also interesting to discuss the “message sent by voters”. Overall, the message sent by most voters is one of disengagement — turnout plummeted compared to previous elections. To me that is the loudest message sent by voters.

The other message sent by voters enforces what is happening nationally — the public is fairly divided and that chasm appears to be growing. I think the mayoral election represents two different views to where the city is headed. As someone who thinks we need a new course and strategy, I’m heartened to see that a sizable bloc of the voters feel likewise. Sometimes it feels rather lonely on pushing forward some ideas against the never-ending-inertia here.

What strikes me as more interesting than “the message sent by voters” is the “message sent to voters”. The campaigns in this regard are quite different along a key dimension — the role of the Web. It is quite clear that Mayor Thane embraced a digital strategy to complement the legacy direct mail and radio ads. Mr. Emanuele eschewed the Web opting for direct mail, print and radio(?). Interestingly Mayor Thane opted-out from a print campaign.

This is quite telling and a “teachable moment”.

In such a closely contested election, I think the Web quite likely tipped the election; I think it has hard to dispute the overall messaging on social media from Facebook to blogs to the Mayor’s web site favored Mayor Thane. It’s shocking that a campaign in 2011 would allow a Google search on a candidate to direct a viewer to an opposition page to said candidate or other pages either not relevant to the campaign or in fact supporting his opponent. As not an unbiased observer, I simply could not believe that this was not addressed.

It’s like Googling Pepsi and every page takes you to Coca-Cola. Do you think Pepsi would say “no worries” and just ramp up direct mail pieces? Laughable at best.

But the above should come as no surprise as the contempt and irrelevance of the Web along with the contempt of marketing and advertising to selling the city is another of the local memes championed by a large bloc of the political, editorial and pundit class. Even more, many of Mayor Thane’s critics mock her ability to market and her advocacy of the Web as a tool for marketing. That meme is ever present.

But like most memes, it simply falls apart when you step back and look at how the opposing camp’s failure to adopt the Web and a focused marketing campaign likely cost them the election. I believe this was noted by Mr. Isabel who pointed to the role of blogs in influencing the outcome. (I can’t find the article but attest to the statement)

My hope is that this outcome gives folks some pause in their assumptions on the role of technology and how radically it shifts and changes the way we do things. I think this shift needs to be considered in light of how we position and strategize on the role and the shape of the city moving forward. It’s ironic that we just had a lengthy exchange on the role of AIDA and its relevance — or as I argued its irrelevance– to economic development. So it’s worth noting this from the article above:

[snip]But I’m just going to continue to keep the positive outlook for our city, and continue to serve on the Industrial Development Agency board [snip]

I’ll hand the mandate to Mayor Thane.


15 thoughts on “Meme Watch – Election Edition

  1. You make a great point about the use of the internet and social media, a point that I missed.

    About Mayor Thane’s place being in the kitchen, I found a tweet on election day from someone who said, “Don’t vote for Ann Thane. She’s an idiot and a woman.” The tweet was from a young person.

    I too sometimes feel that sense of loneliness at pushing against inertia. Sisyphus would have felt at home here.

    The elections were a vindication not only for the candidates but for their supporters.

  2. Amsterdam is changing, The needs of the City are changing, The expectations of the population are changing, the faces of Amsterdam are changing.
    I would have expected a close race for Mayor as we are at the crossroads of change.
    Lets embrace the change and be progressive.

  3. I received about three oversized poscards from Emanuele, but I also received one large fold-out pamphlet from Thane. Also, I did hear at least one commercial for Thane on the radio. So I would say that Thane engaged in a multi-front campagin. Agreed that Emanuele entirely missed the boat on the web front.

    The mandate comment from Emanuele is silly, does he think that somehow he *does* have a mandate with slightly less votes? What I would say, however, is that Thane does not have as much political capital to spend going into her second term as she would if she had gotten a larger percentage of votes.

    • Yeah, but more than 50 percent of the people who voted didn’t vote for the winner, either. Sounds like a split city to me.

      Honestly, it’s all splitting hairs at this point anyway. Picking apart the numbers doesn’t change the results. No matter how it gets spun by both sides, Ann Thane has been re-elected as mayor and has another four years on the job.

      Move on.

  4. There is no mandate here, and to think otherwise would really be rather stupid. Way too many people did not vote, registered voters that is. Why? Are people just fed up with local politics?? This is certainly not the time. Our city is going to be bankrupt if the mayor and GD continue to negotiate contracts giving raises when all across the country companies and local and state governments and even the federal government are trying to cut back on spending. Here in NY the state employees just voted in a contract with no increase in pay. How does our mayor expect to not increase taxes and override the 2/3% caps? Last year the council struggled with decisions and this year is going to be worse. City hall staff is at a minimun, dpw is always struggling due to ineffective leadership and APD and AFD are well paid and staffed with no layoff in their latest contracts with their 2% pay raises every year for the next four? How do you work around that?

    And now I hear, the mayor is asking the council to bond for more monies to take down the Esquire Bldg. It would seem to me, we take care of city properties and issues first before we fix private sidewalks and Dove Creek which is private property. And that bond money is already available, so use it. The realities of doing work on private property are already coming back to haunt with those that paid for their own sidewalks and wanting city reimbursement. What did you expect, they would sit and take it. That is part of the problem and why the voting public is
    fed up. Stupidity has to stop.

    As for sidewalk issues, other communities use a lottery system. Homeowners only, are selected based on the worse conditions. One from each ward is chosen randomly from a hat. The homeowner pays for the materials, and the city provides the labor. A fairly reasonable solution to a very expensive project and one that does work. But the dpw would need someone at the helm who can organize and direct crews in their job functions. The current Gen For cannot do the job and that is why there are holes all over the city and nothing gets done.

    • Forgive me for being nerdy, but let’s be clear on what we are talking about when we say “mandate”. The Collins English Dictionary’s definition reads “the support or commission given to an elected representative and his policies through an electoral victory “. Therefore, by this definition, an election won = mandate given.

      The American Heritage Cultural Dictionary describes “mandate” as “a command or an expression of a desire, especially by a group of voters for a political program. Politicians elected in landslide victories often claim that their policies have received a mandate from the voters.” Based on this premise, neither candidates have mandates. If Emanuele had tipped the scales and won by 50 or so votes, then you would have had to admit that he doesn’t have a mandate either.

      At the risk of going off topic – Diane, how can you lay the APD and AFD deal on the Mayor’s feet when the common council voted unanimously for it – including all *four* Republicans? I think the one-year, no-increase was good. However, the 2% every year for 3 years might really hurt us if the economy doesn’t begin to improve in 2012. It’s kinda funny though – the one specific thing that Emanuele said he would work on cutting was union salaries. But this deal would have pretty much tied his hands for his entire term.

      • You are right Tim, they did support it and with no discussion, which is even more concerning. I am wondering if my fellow republicans understand the position we are going to be in this spring. Being elected to local office does not mean you always say yes. Am I the only one looking at a bigger picture and understanding the impact this is going to have on our budget next spring?

        On the other hand, it is GD and the mayor that negotiated this contract. We have no idea what the council was told the unions would work with. In light of what is going on, in and all over this country, I cannot beleive that harder tactics may not have worked to keep things frozen for the next couple of years so that we could possibly try to accrue a fund balance that has all but been spent. And it was not a fantasy, it was an audited fund balance.

        Mandate to me means like 2 to 1. Obviously I and many others have used it wrong. I think the close vote says two things: people are discussted(sp) and did not come out to vote; and those that did are split on what direction the city is going in. We have so many serious financial issues ahead of us, I can only pray that the new council along with a new controller will be able to better guide them.

        I also wish that the mayor treats the council with respect and choses to work with them. They are the legislators. She has serious problems, in that she has to stop thinking the DPW forman is God. He has an excellent memory for numbers, but he is totally incapable of supervision and direction of the department. For us to move ahead the position needs to be eliminated, and the department restructured.

    • Diane,
      With all due respect, citing staffing levels at City Hall and workloads of the DPW may not bid well, as you have argued for years that we need to trim, trim, trim. Adding personnel would probably irk your ‘fellow Republicans’, no?
      I didn’t attend the contract discussions, but I doubt it was a our-way-or-no-way conversation from the AFD to the CC. Perhaps the AFD requested 5%, the CC said 0%, and they both ultimately settled on 2%. That’s the goal of negotiation.
      Try more faith, less pessimism with how government works, especially when these unionized people have the ability to strike.

  5. Labor contracts are discussed in detail by administration and the Council in executive session. We go back and forth several times during the negotiaion process with input from the Council. This is a collaborative undertaking.

    It is unfortunte that comments made here are frequently baseless or misinformed, and that stated opinions becomes personal attacks rather than discussion that is respectfully thoughtful or critically constructive.

    It’s also frustrating that progress that has been made is discounted or ignored (once again, see for an overview.) The past four years have been productive financially and operationally for the city, many goals set in the comprehensive plan have moved forward, and our prospects for the future are promising.

    A win is a win, be it by hundreds of votes or one. I look forward to the next four years. New projects and opportunities are already coming to light and we haven’t yet rung out 2011. We have many reasons to be optimistic. Keep the faith.

  6. One last thing, a municipality bonds for specific purposes. In applying for a bond, tightly detailed descriptions of purpose must be provided to our bond council and requests must adhere to municipal law.

    Our Council has wisely bonded for demolition of dangerously dilapidated buildings, large capital projects and emergency response to the floods. In some situations, we bond in anticipation of reimbursement (grants, insurance, FEMA, etc.), so that vendors that have performed a service for the City are not made to wait until the State or Federal bureaucracy comes through with payment. The city cannot bond for one thing, decide that its needs are more pressing elsewhere and so utilize the money for a different purpose. A new bond request must be made if that is what is deemed prudent.

    In regard to the Esquire Building, the City Engineer has indicated that the building’s condition is of grave concern and has recommended attention be given to this property as soon as possible. We depend on the expertise of our staff to direct our decisions.

    It’s too bad that the developer we had three years ago was driven away by the political antics we’ve seen play out here in our fair city. (see: This letter should not be forgotten.

    We deserve better and MUST DO better.

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