Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Fair & Equal: The Response

After Kevin Hannan finished reading the prepared statement about the Fair & Equal initiative at last night's informal Common Council meeting, the question came from Alderman Robert "Doc" Donahue (Fifth Ward), who asked: "Won't this restructuring force supervisors to run against each other? . . . One of them would lose their seat." The supervisors he had in mind were Ed Cross (Second Ward) and Bill Hughes (Fourth Ward). The new ward boundaries would put Robinson Street, where Cross lives, in the Fourth Ward. He also mentioned Sarah Sterling (First Ward) and Don Moore (Third Ward), because the proposed boundaries would put Moore in the First Ward. Steve Dunn explained that the proposed map was "drawn to respect communities of interest. It did not consider incumbents."

Alderman Abdus Miah (Second Ward) asked about the percentage of minorities in the proposed new wards. Dunn told him that the percentage of the minority population would increase slightly in the Second, Third, and Fourth wards and decrease slightly in the First and Fifth wards. Avowing that he had no problem with the principle of one person, one vote, Miah said he had problems with the boundaries. He then launched into an emotional discourse about the different interests of different groups in Hudson. People in the First and Third wards, said Miah, "have money," and they are "looking for parks" and "worry about lights when some people have no food." By contrast, according to Miah, people in the Second and Fourth wards are looking for low income housing.

Miah said the proposed ward boundaries did not serve poor people and predicted that, were they to be adopted, minority representation on the Council would be diminished. He ended his statement by saying, "They will have no voice in the City, and it will be evil." Dunn pointed out that the Second Ward now elects representatives that are minorities and the proposed boundaries would not compromise the representative voice of minorities.

Alderman Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward) asked about the vote of the Council president in the proposed plan and was told it would be the eleventh vote. She then asked, "If two aldermen from the same ward vote differently, will they cancel each other out?" She was reminded that the same thing could happen now.

Garriga went on to say that she agreed with Miah and asserted that the people on Mill Street and Robinson Street want to remain in the Second Ward and "don't understand why they were not included in the conversation." 

Bill Hughes, supervisor for the Fourth, said he was "part of the discussion the last time around" and acknowledged that the redistricting scheme he had proposed--to create only three wards by combining the First and Third and Second and Fourth and leaving the Fifth Ward as it is--would also result in his having to run against Cross.

Hughes' main concern, however, was Crosswinds, the income-based development on Harry Howard Avenue where the residents now vote in the Fourth Ward but were counted for the purposes of the weighted vote in the Fifth Ward. Hughes argued for drawing ward boundaries "by demographics," creating wards that were homogeneous by residents' socioeconomic status. He said the Fourth Ward should not go below Third Street and Crosswinds should be part of the Fourth Ward. 

The most passionate and personal criticism of the proposed boundaries came from Ed Cross, supervisor for the Second Ward. He declared that he'd lived in Hudson all his life and represented his ward for twenty years. "Why are you trying to kick me out of my ward? Why wasn't I invited?" Speaking of the those representing the Fair & Equal initiative, he complained, "Some of you all I don't even know. Somebody should have said something to me. I didn't deserve that. I think the whole thing has been done wrong. . . . You locked the door on me. You're changing my life!" When Dunn reiterated that "the map was not drawn to accommodate incumbents," Cross protested, "You went about it like sneaks!"

Hannan defended the initiative saying, "This is as direct as democracy gets. We want to see a city where everyone is represented fairly."

At the end of the discussion, city attorney Ken Dow explained the process. The petition had been submitted; the city clerk was validating the signatures. The Council has two months to send it to referendum. If the Council fails to do that, with additional signatures, the petition can go directly to the Board of Elections and go on the ballot.

Sarah Sterling, supervisor for the First Ward, asked if the Council could change the boundaries. Dow told her that the Council could adopt the petition as is, with the map that accompanied it, or it could act entirely on its own to propose different boundaries.

Donahue took the opportunity to ask Sterling if she wanted to run against Moore, praising her and Moore both for being excellent supervisors and doing a wonderful job. Sterling answered simply, "I'll accept the will of the people." Moore then wryly expressed his gratitude to Donahue for the compliment but said, "I would be happy to give up my seat, because I think [doing away with the weighted vote] is that important."

Before the meeting was adjourned, Alderman Michael O'Hara (First Ward) observed that the Council could come up with its own proposal for eliminating the weighted vote which could go to referendum along with the one proposed by the Fair & Equal campaign.


  1. Thanks, Carole, for another terrific reporting job. I must say that I share Alderman Miah's and Donohue's reservations about the "proposed" boundary redrawing in the petition. I have stated elsewhere (on Gossips) that I misunderstood the petition to say only what was in the words of the resolution, which did not mention the ward redrawing graphic. The proposed redrawing, as I see it, is anything but fair and equal and certainly, as any student of American representative government knows, does not guarantee fair representation for every citizen. Mr. Hannah is simply wrong in stating that "this is as direct as democracy gets." This proposal has all the challenges of any representative governance structure and the many questions and objections to the proposed raised at the Council meeting are exactly why the petition writers, as well-intentioned as they may be, made a big mistake in linking the ward redrawing to the question of weighted voting. Alderman O'Hara had the best suggestion, if I understand it correctly: the council should offer its own proposal for eliminating the weighted vote (minus the ward redrawing) and vote on that as well as that of the proposal by the F&E folks. --peter meyer

  2. I see two emphases pulling in different directions.

    The first studies the whole picture, then adjusts its interests in service to the general welfare. Though its outward concern is equal rights, an idea of the good is its guiding principle.

    The second worldview is overtly concerned with rights, but rights which are less focused on the general good, and which may appear as local interests.

    While the former group resolves the inner tensions between rights, interests, and the general good in a spirit of self-sacrifice, the latter group is hard-pressed to distinguish its idea of rights from its self-interests, never mind finding a balance between them.

    As a displacement, emphasis is put on imaginary threats to the perceived rights of the local interests, even to the point that preserving an unequal power arrangement is explained, paradoxically, as a legitimate defense of fairness.

    (The previous commenter asserts that the proposal is "anything but fair and equal," which we've now heard for weeks without any evidence or explanation why that should be the case.)

    The first group must help the second group understand that principles, which embody the idea of good, are different than interests. They're even antecedent to rights, which are less helpful guides when planning necessarily imperfect ends.

    When Mr. Hannan says that "this is as direct as democracy gets," surely his position is informed by the alternatives studied by his group.

    The first alternatives jettisoned must have been any cures for the weighted vote which didn't include boundary changes. But by all means, invite the Council to reinvent the wheel.

  3. Why do we need the ward system at all? Just have city residents elect a slate of ten citywide alderman.

    Are we protecting politicians at the expense of democracy? That's pretty low.

    Why should property tax-paying voters in wards with less voting power allow their dollars to be allocated by representatives of other wards with more voting power and a lower tax base?

    1. General elections easily lead to insurmountable power blocks. We've had our fill of something very like that with the unfairly weighted system.

      Second paragraph: yes.

      Your last paragraph is the same question many of us have asked for years. It's a very good question!

  4. Peter,

    The Council voted on eliminating the weighted vote in October. By design, the resolution did not specify ward boundaries. It was defeated by the same Aldermen who are opposing this initiative today.

    With proposed boundaries, or without, they oppose.

    There is no question as to whether or not we are engaging voters via direct democracy. Petitioning the public, and then putting a matter to referendum, is exactly that. State law provides this for exactly these types of scenarios.

    All this aside, thank you for posing the tough questions. Public debate and exchange can only help.

  5. I can't find a single question asked, let alone a tough one. I do see many sniping statements laden with insinuation.

    When will those who oppose fair and equal voting offer their first principled reply to the only tough questions being asked by anyone?

  6. Thanks Kevin. I missed the part about putting the matter to referendum; yes, that is about as close to direct democracy as you can get. I still don't understand the political strategy of adding the redrawing map to the referendum since, as was evident from Council debate, it is such a hot button issue that it will, IMHO, cause many people who would otherwise support elimination of the weighted vote to vote NO just because they don't like those lines. Onward, as they say. --peter m

  7. Supervisor Ed Cross is attempting to conflate his localized interests with some sort of an unspecified right.

    "I'm wondering why you're trying to kick me out of my ward," he asked.

    Across the nation, redistricting is the process whereby boundaries of elective districts are periodically redrawn - usually following the latest census - in order to maintain equal representation on the basis of population.

    Evidently, the Supervisor only knows Hudson's unfair and unequal system, and nothing of how the rest of the nation resolves the identical problem.

    He's right out of the starting gate assuming that his mere interests amount to a right, which gives him the premise that he's been cheated.

    It's an example of how today's rights-based culture is undermining the fabric of society under the mistaken belief that rights trump all.

    Soon, everyone's self-interest is identical with their right, even to the extent that basic civic knowledge (e.g., municipalities everywhere routinely redistrict) isn't expected of a long-serving politician who presumes to know his rights.

    Our republican experiment requires careful thought, prudence, and some level of self-sacrifice, always. The experiment can't last where this or that self-interest is elevated to the status of a right, let alone a principle.

    The instinct to preserve group interests isn't wrong, but it easily becomes unprincipled when it's divorced from deeper obligations to the community at large. That's when the whole experiment unravels for everyone.

    1. A friend complained that, in her view, my phrase "rights-based culture" (above) is an oxymoron.

      I immediately recalled something the artist Joseph Beuys once said when faced with the latest vanguard monstrosity: "It may be art, but it isn't culture."

      My companion explained that a total dependence on perceived rights is not "culture," properly speaking, and even threatens an erosion of culture.

      Citing the German concept of "Bildung," cultural maturation - and social progress generally - depend on individual efforts of self-cultivation. To use art as the model, through their unique talents and abilities individuals transmit and develop previous cultural achievements, which are themselves conveyed by their own authority.

      In practice, the idealism of the rights-based framework works against this formative approach, even tending towards self-interest, and (ultimately) resignation. In that view, the obligations we "owe" to others - whether past, present, or future - are primarily voluntary, given by consent if given at all.

      In the latter scenario, our civic and political involvements devolve into networks of mere alliances, each of which emphasizes individualism and individual rights (which is naturally extended to the perceived rights of self-identified groups).

      To paraphrase Beuys (and my friend), it may be society, but it isn't culture.

  8. Peter,

    The strategy behind including the map is to give the public something solid to react to that is ethically and legally sound, a complete proposal that they can react to. It requires trust, and a lot of communication.

    I would not presume that the council members' concerns perfectly match the public's. In petitioning, we have found many people who are unaware of the problem, or with partial understanding of how it negatively affects them. Once explained, they are all too happy to sign up for full representation.

  9. It "requires [the] trust" of a community which habitually conceives of rights in terms of trump cards.

    The trouble is, there's no longer any obligation (ethos) to rise above, and to think of the greater good.

    This non- (or perhaps pre-) debate is a microcosm of what ails representative democracy everywhere. Americans in particular are losing sight of their classical Liberal Democratic foundations, until all social life is reduced to some form of journalistic enterprise.