Did everyone remember to "Fall Back" an hour last night? The bigger question is will everyone "Fall Back" upon the incumbents during Tuesday's election, or strike out in a new direction?
The Utica mayoral race has grabbed attention for good reason. Five candidates and no incumbent is unprecedented. Clearly change is coming to Utica . . . but with the three most familiar candidates all tied to one political machine or the other (assuming there really are two machines) it is unlikely Utica will see significant change unless, somehow, one of the two political outsiders manages to get elected. It is local history that the same old people keep getting recycled ... after all, plenty of patronage jobs ensure loyalty to the ruling elite.
The excitement over Utica Mayor has distracted from what is probably more important to Greater Uticans: the Oneida County Executive (CE) and Legislative races. I say more important because Regional policy as determined by Oneida County and its surrogates has trumped anything that Utica and nearby governments could do for at least the last 15 years. The County exerts controls over Greater Utica that it does not exert elsewhere. Unfortunately much of the County's activities goes unnoticed because of a lazy (or complicit) newspaper.
For example, two of the most important municipal services are water and sewer and both are essentially controlled by the County in the entire Greater Utica area. The people in the Part-County Sewer District are denied the opportunity of controlling their own destiny when most of the County legislators who control the Sewer District reside outside of it. No one on the board of the Mohawk Valley Water Authority is elected. However, the crazy setup for appointments ensures that a County perspective prevails, rather than that of the people who actually reside in the water district and pay the bills. How else does one explain MVWA's attempt to send Greater Utica's limited supply of water to other parts of the County that have alternative sources available, and the CE's recent involvement in MVWA's affairs? Considering that these systems are costing us hundreds of millions of dollars, the fact that they are not controlled by the residents of Greater Utica is a major problem.
Although nominally Republican, the failure of Democrats to field their own CE candidate, and the fact that many of the legislator positions are uncontested, make clear that we are really governed by a regional ruling elite for which party label has little meaning. The elite are the successors to the Utica textile mill owners of the early 20th century, running everything in the County to favor themselves and squeeze out the competition. They can be found on the Water Authority, OCIDA, UIDA, EDGE, MV Chamber of Commerce, and even the New Hartford Planning and Library Boards. The current CE, one of a long line of CEs who have been carefully groomed for the position, is merely the latest head on this beast, because the policies have essentially been unchanged for 30 years.
Four years ago I asked whether people would take comfort with their known leaders or take a chance on new ones. In Utica voters went with the new, but in the County they went with comfort. It is interesting to reflect on the 2007 election. Many of the issues we had then are the same ones we have today.
Too much of what goes on at the County Legislature is rubber stamping what the CE wants... which is rubber stamping what the elite want. I'm not going to try to recap events like I did 4 years ago -- it takes too long -- but look through the posts on this blog, they are there. Decisions seem to be made to commit taxpayer money to projects with no weighing of costs and benefits. "Build it and they will come" is their motto, without realistic assessment of the competition. Economic development has been nothing but moving jobs from one place to another. There is constant subsidization of new developments on green-fields, requiring new supporting infrastructure, while the infrastructure in our cities goes underutilized. County officials look the other way when laws are broken to favor development ... whether it is in New Hartford or in Ravenrock. Overall, little has been accomplished other than making our property and sales tax rates among the highest in the nation, and leaving people vulnerable to things like flooding and sewage.
This year we have a choice for CE... only because Mr. Potocki took on the task himself because he did not want to see this job go uncontested. Given the experiences detailed in his book, "From the Inside," he has seen the good, bad, and the ugly in the County and both Utica and Rome. He has seen it all and offers a lot more experience than what is currently in the CE position now. . . and a lot more independence and rational thought. Here the choice is clear, more of the same or a new direction.
Some of us have choices for Legislators. Look at the records of the incumbents. Are they rubber stamps, or do they show independence and a willingness to take on the conventional wisdom? If they are rubber stamps, consider going with the new guy. They can be soon replaced if they don't produce.
Remember to Vote Tuesday, November 8th.