Leader Blues

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

FROM THE PUBLISHER >> Politics at local level rough, just ask mayor

“All politics is local.”
— Thomas “Tip” O’Neill,
longtime Speaker of the House

The political pros know that voters are more passionate about local issues than about national politics, even in time of war.
How the local electorate feels about their representatives’ local job performance can affect the outcome of national politics. No wonder there’s so much furor over the firing of seven U.S. attorneys: Their job security was tied to how well they prosecuted local Democrats. Former U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins lost his job because he corralled but one lowly Pine Bluff alderman, not enough to change the outcome of congressional and gubernatorial races here.

Of course all politics is local: Last month, the Sherwood City Council rebelled when Mayor Danny Stedman made a decision the aldermen decided was theirs to make.

What did Stedman do wrong? Did he accept payments from contractors who were doing business with the city?
Did he pave private roads to supporters’ homes?

Did he hide weapons of mass destruction in the basement of city hall for possible use against his political opponents?
No, it was much more serious than that: Stedman tried to hire his own public works director. The council forced him to withdraw his choice.

Not only is his public works director gone, but so is the mayor. Stedman became ill, complaining of chest pains, and he called it quits.

He served but three months, although everyone had expected he’d be around for at least three terms.

Crusty former Mayor Bill Harmon is filling in until elections are called in June.

Local politics can be brutal. It’s like hand-to-hand combat, winner take all. Rep. Will Bond, D-Jacksonville, unsuccessfully challenged Rep. Benny Petrus, D-Stuttgart, for House Speaker, and guess who’s bringing home the bacon now.

Petrus, who may be a keen student of Tip O’Neill, knows how to reward his supporters and shut out his challengers.
So don’t expect any General Improvement Funds for Jackson-ville anytime soon, even if Mike Wilson doesn’t go to court to stop them, although he probably will.

Sure, people care about local issues more than, say, a balanced federal budget.

When they see crumbling schools and inadequate roads and they drive by a garbage dump higher than the tallest building in their community, they know local politicians should do more, a lot more, although we’ve noticed Eddie Joe Williams, Cabot’s energetic new mayor, has embarked on a manic road-building program.

Our youngest daughter, visiting home from out of state, noticed the stinking garbage dump along Hwy. 67/167 and the North Belt Loop south of Jacksonville on the way home from the airport. She said it reminded her of poverty-stricken India.
Amazingly, this is what the people see when they enter Jacksonville—and it’s a couple of hundred yards from a youth baseball field.

The dump keeps growing, like a Tower of Babel. The burning flames lighting up the sky remind me of an oil field in the Middle East.

Didn’t city planners have the foresight to keep this dump well away from Jacksonville? Waste Management, the dump’s operator, gives Jacksonville students a couple of college scholarships a year, but I’d give them back and tell them to take their dump someplace else.

When people start asking how this dump was allowed in here in the first place and allowed to expand in all directions, it will become a major political and health issue.

City planners in the biggest communities make bad decisions and in smaller cities they’re capable of doing even worse. Look at the controversial Graham Road closing for a poorly planned railroad overpass at Main Street, forcing motorists to detour for six blocks if they want to get to North First Street.

People have abandoned that area, hurting businesses and leaving North First Street, which was widened several years ago, virtually untraveled, wasting millions of dollars for taxpayers.

So we’re back to Tip O’Neill’s dictum. Local politicians ignore it at their own risk.