This article was written by Michael J. Fitzgerald as his weekly column, “WRITE ON” in the Finger Lakes Times (Geneva). It was published on Friday, June 3. Fitzgerald’s third novel, “The Devil’s Pipeline” is planned for publication early next year.
If there is one theme running through virtually every U.S. election this political season, it’s about a desire for change. Even radical change.
Certainly at the national level, presidential contenders Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have tapped into different pockets of unfocused public anger looking for an outlet.
The nation seems as unsettled as it was in 1972 when Democratic Sen. George McGovern tried to unseat incumbent GOP President Richard Nixon. Nixon won that race handily, you probably remember. You might also recall that he resigned in disgrace just two years later in the wake of the Watergate scandal and faced almost certain impeachment.
That unsettled feeling is in the Finger Lakes, too, exhibited in two races, one congressional, one for a state house seat.
The challengers are struggling valiantly to get their names and ideas for change out to voters while the incumbents play political duck-and- cover, a successful gambit they’ve employed to stay in office during the last few election cycles.
There are major differences between these incumbents and their challengers when it comes to their respective visions for the future of the region.
But how would we know?
Regardless of political affiliation, this year voters should start demanding there be some serious, well-run debates so candidates running for offices representing the Finger Lakes are forced to articulate and defend their stances.
Without face-to-face debates, voters will be forced to make their decisions based on the usual pastiche of colorful lawn signs, advertisements and often-uninformative mailers.
It’s early enough in the election cycle — with five months until election day — for any number of civic-minded groups to step up and organize a series of debates.
A starting place would be chambers of commerce, citizen coalitions, educational institutions (Hello, Hobart and William Smith!), even highly focused organizations such as the Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association.
And not a single debate. Perhaps a half dozen, each on different topics.
It’s likely that some — if not all — of the aforementioned groups or organizations might want to use a duck-and-cover tactic themselves to avoid hosting a debate.
SLPWA, for example, shies away from advocacy. But its hundreds of members are very passionate about the need to protect the water of Seneca Lake.
What better group to host a focused debate about water quality issues with heavy-industry champions Reed and O’Mara sparring with Danks Burke and Plumb, both of who have articulated a much more environmentally friendly future for the Finger Lakes?
The mention of Reed and O’Mara as heavy-industry advocates — because of their oft-stated support for hydrofracking in New York as well as approval of Crestwood/Con-Ed’s gas storage projects — will likely result in a carefully crafted complaint from both professional politicians.
It might show up in a letter to the editor to this newspaper, claiming they really are misunderstood and champions of the environment.
Certainly they are free to claim that.
But that is exactly why debates — held in front of audiences with an attentive press taking notes — would be so useful for voters.
It’s one thing to have a public relations professional craft a politically safe missive, a canned response that obscures or skirts important issues.
But it’s something else to stand in front of constituents and answer a question in a debate tied to a specific pro-heavy-industry vote recorded in Congress or the State Senate.
Likewise, Danks Burke and Plumb would have to demonstrate their chops, not just as debaters but to articulate and defend their ideas for a different Finger Lakes future than the future that O’Mara and Reed see.
There should be no debate about the need for debates..