All politics is local, Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill famously said in the 1980s.
So it’s a mystery that we call it an “off-year” election when local races fill our ballot, and an even greater mystery that biennial apathy replaces voter interest. We are voting to fill the offices that affect the fundamentals of our county, towns, and villages, choosing the people to whom we’ll entrust our local tax dollars as they weigh the merits of differing projects and priorities.
Granted, these local issues might not be as headline-grabbing as global warming or foreign policy. But they’re often the things we complain about when we’re talking with our friends and neighbors about the state of affairs on our streets. These races are all about local direction, development, public safety, road repair. We’re voting for people who build local relationships with state and federal officials who, in turn, exert certain measures of control over available resources.
It’s so much more than behind-the-scenes minutiae and — without detracting from their importance as issues significant to all, far more immediate to us than global warming or foreign policy. Consider the extent to which COVID-19 thrust our local government officials into the spotlight. The people whom we elected in “off-year” contests were suddenly indispensable crisis managers, deciphering constantly-changing guidance from Albany and Washington and balancing normal civic responsibilities against what we’ve all come to know as a “new normal.”
These local officials were nothing less than lifelines for their constituents. And they were elected in an “off-year,” when not too many of us bothered to show up to vote because it was “just a local race.”
Tip O’Neill was right, too, when it came to the politics. There’s no question that local elections can come custom-packed with a sharp political edge that can cut deeply into the tenor of local, regional, state, and even national policy-making. Major and minor political parties use these local races to test mettle and build their benches, so to speak — finding the candidates who show the moxie to move up to county- and state-wide races, on to higher-profile offices. Today’s town supervisor is tomorrow’s candidate for the state Legislature.
Remember that in this “off-year” election, we’re voting for the people we will expect to pick up the phone or return our e-mail when this-or-that goes wrong on our street, when we’re looking for a building permit, when we’re concerned about local traffic patterns, or when we have no idea where to turn for help when we have any question about our government.
Don’t forget that this year’s ballot includes five proposals to change the state’s constitution —
● Amend the state’s political redistricting process and permanently fix the size of the state Senate at
● Establish for every New Yorker a right ‘to clean air and water and a healthful environment;’
● Allow same-day registration for voting;
● Authorize no-excuse absentee ballot voting; and
● Increase the jurisdiction of the New York City Civil Court.
We’ll lean hard into the cliché, then, and say ‘local elections matter,’ because they do. We urge every resident eligible to vote to head to the ballot box on or before Election Day, November 2.
Thanks to the League of Women Voters, this week’s paper highlights the candidates and issues calling us to the ballot box on or before Election Day. We hope you’ll take a few moments to study the candidates and the issues and be ready to cast your ballot.