I was nervous and excited at the same time. I had just cast a vote that, if it worked out, would have a really big effect on my life despite it being an election for a small town, borough council seat. I had just voted for myself. And not as a joke or a throw away, write-in vote. I was an official candidate for borough council.
The experience of voting that day was cool but weird. As a musician, I’m used to seeing my name in print, but seeing it on the ballot was a little different and much more serious. I was thinking a bit nervously about what a councilman’s workload might be like as I walked out of our fire station polling place and into the cool, damp November air. It was cloudy and dreary. Good weather for worrying.
I wasn’t worried about losing. That I could handle. I was worried about doing a good job if I won.
While standing outside talking to someone I knew, a trash-talker from the other party came over and started in on me. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but it was something involving the phrase “after you lose today.”
“Classless and unnecessary,” I thought as I chose not to engage. This is local government. The work is time-consuming, the pay sucks, and it’s not going to launch your career as a national media pundit. Political philosophy rarely comes into play, the polar opposite of Congress. So why the aggression?
I wondered, through my fake smile, if this was the way it was going to be on council if I won. Is it always like this? Or was it because I was running as a Democrat in a town where Republicans run mostly unopposed?
Something distracted my heckler and broke my thoughts too; a car pulling up to the curb with a voice calling out.
“Hey- how’s it going over here?, he called to the trash-talker. I realized then that both trash-talker and driver were local Republican Party workers. I had met the driver a few times. Like I said, it was a small town election.
“And be nice to him,” the driver continued, referring to me. “He’s a good guy.” I waved as he pulled off. The trash-talker changed his vibe and ended the conversation. I went home hopeful that, should I win, I would be judged on my own merits and not assumed a jerk because of my party affiliation.
That night, I found out that I had in fact, won the election. Even in a small town on an “off year” contest, I was surprised by how few votes were cast in total.
Several weeks later I was sworn in and began helping take care of borough business. I was believed to be the first Democrat elected to borough council in 100 years or more. Obviously, I was heavily outnumbered in every meeting and committee.
But it didn’t matter. And it shouldn’t have. Everybody I met during my four year term had one thing in common. They wanted to solve problems and make living in our town a great experience for all residents. It may sound idealistic or even trite, but there were no liberal or conservative ideas- there were only ideas. There was no name-calling or insults. There were no hidden, personal agendas. There was no polluting of solutions with unrelated junk or “pork“.
Nobody had time for that. We were all part-time, community servants with the best interests of our town at heart. And I’m sure there are thousands of municipalities across the country just like ours, with the same, rightly-focused councils.
I don’t think it’s too idealistic to hope that we can force our state and federal governments to behave more like my borough council, and we’re outright fools if we don’t try- no matter which party is in control.