In her best-selling book, "Team of Rivals," about President Abraham Lincoln's cabinet, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin writes that "good leadership requires you to surround yourself with people of diverse perspectives who can disagree with you without fear of retaliation.”
People willing to stand up and publicly express alternate points of view help political leaders and the public get a fuller perspective on important decisions.
So Schenectady residents should raise questions of their own about a decision by Mayor Gary McCarthy not to reappoint Matthew Cuevas to another term on the city Planning Commission, despite Cuevas’s 20 years of experience on the commission and despite the fact that in September, he was unanimously elected chairman by his fellow commissioners.
The mayor claims he was simply trying to get new blood into the commission, saying that bringing in new people keeps the board fresh. No argument there. Occasionally replacing longtime members can rejuvenate government boards with new experiences and perspectives.
But if that was the mayor's goal, why was Cuevas the only board member out of five not reappointed? Other members of the commission have served as long or longer than Cuevas. Why weren't they replaced in order to keep the board fresh?
Maybe it's because Cuevas has a reputation for not just rubber-stamping proposals, but instead publicly raising questions about plans that might otherwise have gone through unchallenged. One citizen supporter of Cuevas's noted the chairman's challenge to the removal of an ordinance that gave the public permanent riverfront access at the former Alco site and his questioning of the size of the proposed sign for the casino.
Vince Riggi, the only independent member of the City Council, was the only one to vote to keep Cuevas on the commission. He noted Cuevas' years of experience and his employment in an Albany engineering firm. He said the mayor’s decision smacked of politics. It sure does.
But the decision doesn’t just fall on the mayor. Why didn't anyone on the council question publicly why the mayor was removing the experienced and unanimously appointed chairman? They weren’t elected to rubber-stamp the mayor's appointments, were they?
Every proposal before the Planning Commission can have a long-term impact on city residents. Those citizens need experienced people like Mr. Cuevas who are willing to stand up and not let projects move forward unvetted.
Lincoln knew that appointing a team of rivals would be messy. He knew it wouldn't make his life easy. He knew he might not always get his way once others heard his rivals' point of view.
But if it was best for the citizens, it was what he should be doing. It's what all our elected officials should be doing.