Here we go again! A group of individuals, a very small group of individuals, masquerading as the Democratic Party in Schenectady County, is consolidating its power. This time it is in the form of Chris Gardner’s appointment to the Schenectady County Industrial Development Agency.
If you were to ask 100 Schenectadians about the most recent flexing of so-called Democratic power, at least 99 would yawn, if they even knew about it. They should not yawn, and they certainly should know about this power grab. After all, as Lord Acton famously said, “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Why does this latest power grab matter to taxpayers? Why should we care if Gardner, the county attorney, is appointed to the IDA’s board of directors? Why should we care if public agencies are treated as a club in which it appears members are admitted only if they agree to toe the line of the person calling the shots?
And why should we be concerned if one party (whether Democrat or Republican) controls the appointments of everything in the county from the IDA to the Legislature to the community college to City Hall and the City Council?
Cause for concern
We should very much care that political and economic matters are tightly controlled by one party. For the past decade, it has been the Democratic Party (although I suspect real Democrats would have little in common with our local Democratic politicians). Just to be clear, had it been the Republican Party that controlled our community for that period, I would be pushing for the same political change.
Regardless of the ability of the people involved, taxpayers are poorly served when one party controls everything. Different viewpoints allow a community to move in directions otherwise impossible. And when different viewpoints are shut out by one-party rule, we lose the possibility of cost-saving decisions that save dollars for financially stressed taxpayers.
Of course, the dysfunction in Washington is hardly proof positive of the virtues of competition. Yet it is clear that no one benefits from one-party rule, except the handful of people in the inner circle of that party. Not the businesses shut out. And, of course, not taxpayers who are “asked” to foot the bill for more costly solutions to existing problems or for the financial fallout from non-bid contracts.
Case in point
The appointment of Gardner, the Grand Puppet Master of Schenectady, underscores the problem in my view. I obviously do not sit behind the closed doors of the Democratic hierarchy (very few do). I do believe, though (and most in political circles would agree), Gardner quietly pulls the strings of the county’s Democrat-controlled Legislature and Schenectady’s mayor, just as the mayor pulls the strings of the majority of Democrats on the City Council.
Although decisions are closely guarded, there are occasional glimpses of how those decisions are manipulated. Exhibit one: the sales tax agreement, where the mayor pushed aside the team of officials negotiating with the county, worked out the agreement with Gardner, and had the majority of his Democrat puppets on the council approve the agreement (to the detriment of the city). Exhibit two: the political threats to City Council member Carl Erikson for having the temerity to question that agreement.
No, Gardner is not the only elected official on the IDA. So what? The fact that something wrong has been done in the past does not mean it should be done again.
The argument made by Jim Buhrmaster, one of two non-Democrats on the county Legislature, that more people should be involved in government is correct.
He is also right that having Gardner, who is on the county payroll and whose new agency is overseen by the Metroplex Development Authority (most of whose appointees have to pass muster with Gardner in his role as Grand Puppet Master), on the IDA board is wrong and a clear conflict of interest.
Interlocking directorates were banned in corporate circles long ago. Not so in politics, and certainly not in Schenectady.
At some point, the citizens of Schenectady — city and county — will have had enough of one-party rule and the costs they have to bear because of it.
This seemingly innocuous appointment may not be the straw that breaks the back of one-party domination. As the New Year begins, though, we can hope it is.
Roger Hull, of Schenectady, founded the Alliance Party and lost to Gary McCarthy in the 2011 mayoral election. The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.