As published in Westmore News on Wednesday, May 24, 2017
Port Chester’s two elections this year have followed patterns eerily similar to those of November 2016. As with the national elections, conservative candidates in Port Chester have ridden to victory on a wave of long-simmering anger from voters who felt that elected representatives had not been listening to their concerns.
Actually, voters from across the political spectrum have expressed concerns about the direction of our village. But the results of the mayoral and school board elections show that Port Chester’s conservatives have reacted by mobilizing to take back control of local government. Where is the corresponding response from Port Chester’s liberals and progressives?
Put simply: nowhere to be found. While conservatives have been campaigning vigorously and marshalling the full power of their ample connections and funding*, liberal and progressive leaders have failed to take the necessary actions – both within the halls of government and out in the community – to consolidate powerful bases of support.
Perhaps Democratic and progressive candidates’ most glaring mistake has been neglecting Port Chester’s communities of color. For example, candidates only visited Spanish-language and African American church services when pushed to by leaders in these respective communities. Visiting our places of worship should be a no-brainer, an automatic top priority for any campaign for office in this village.
Similarly, some Democratic and progressive candidates had not even translated their campaign materials into Spanish. Materials for the school bond campaign weren’t translated either. (The bond was a win for our side, but the slim 29-vote margin should have been a warning sign.) At issue is not just whether Spanish-speakers can read campaign materials. When campaigns fail to produce materials in Spanish, they send a message that they don’t really care whether Latinos feel included in the electoral process.
Democrats, liberals and progressives need to wake up to the fact that Latinos comprise a majority in our village and schools, and African Americans a sizable minority. There is no path to power that does not take seriously the concerns and aspirations of our communities. Including us in the campaign process is only the first step. Ultimately, to keep our support, elected representatives also need to fight for things like affordable housing, family-sustaining jobs, and policies that offer protection and better quality of life for all.
Liberal and progressive leaders also need to fight for fair voting processes. There has been talk for years about expanding polling places for school elections. It only makes sense to have at least two more polling locations to ensure that weather or transportation issues don’t hamper voter turnout. Unfortunately, those who would have supported this effort failed to act when they had the majority. We can only wonder how outcomes might have differed if more folks had easier access to the ballot and felt welcomed to participate.
Not all of the blame can be put on elected leaders. All of us who seek a more fair and just Port Chester need to be building stronger organizations that can effectively push our representatives to institute the changes we want to see. To do this, we must bring together and activate progressive folks from across racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic lines. This work must be done out in the neighborhoods where people live, and it can’t be done only around election time.
One organization beginning this work is Sustainable Port Chester Alliance. For those interested, the Alliance meets in the basement of St. Peter’s Church at 6 p.m. on the first and third Thursdays of each month. But whether or not it is the Alliance, we strongly encourage all liberals and progressives in Port Chester to become active in local social justice organizations.
Everything we have outlined in this letter will require a great deal of hard work. But we have little doubt that liberals and progressives can build a better Port Chester if we are willing to put in this work. As at the national level, we are not outnumbered, just out organized.
Sustainable Port Chester Alliance
*For example, during the mayoral race, Fritz Falanka’s campaign raised $45,270 in contributions compared with Greg Adams’ $6,603. Conservatives are putting their money behind their politics.