Mirroring much of the rest of the nation, ours is a community divided. We are split on politics, gun control, the distribution of wealth, abortion, religion, the sanctity of Confederate statues, the legitimacy of modern labor unions, school safety, gender and race.
These differences are supposed to be the things that make us grow and evolve — the working theory is that reasonable adults can take into account all sides of an argument, weigh those ideals against “the public good” and determine a course of action that is most beneficial to the quality of life we have, and hope to have in the future.
We see this in business all the time at succesful companies. A competent board of directors or management team is not compiled of “yes-men” and “like-minded” individuals, as much as it is a menagerie of beliefs and thinkers that can create new ideas, and hold strong to good ideas that have historically been effective in the past. The goal is simple and understood around the room: Make the business stronger, and as profitable as possible.
And, that’s it. Feelings can go take a seat in the hallway.
But that model simply does not work in our current political climate. It’s not that we don’t have the thinkers or planners required to get it done, as much as we have people in positions of power — on each and every side of the political aisle, mind you — who are more focused on winning their next election than they are in accomplishing anything for the public good. It is more important for our leaders to “win” than it is to serve. It is more valuable for them to yell down the other side of an argument than admit that person might have a valid point.
And that is a big reason why we are where we are today, and where we have been for a solid two decades.
On the bright side, and it really is a significant positive, most local governing boards do not operate the same way. The division seems to soften a bit as we get further away from the federal hornet’s nest of division.
The State political scene, including in Delaware, is still a cesspool of partisanship, and controversial issues are often predetermined by which party has the power — be it in a committee or an open vote. The County, while filled with candidates who represent political parties, is more about issues than affiliations. And towns are often run by people who just want to see the town do well.
I was reminded of this last Friday night as I had the opportunity to serve as moderator of a candidates night forum the Coastal Point hosted for the upcoming Bethany Beach Town Council election. Seated at the table were three incumbents and two challengers, vying for four seats on Council. Incumbents Bruce Frye, Rosemary Hardiman and Lew Killmer were all familiar to me, and I have had the pleasure of knowing challenger Faith Denault for many years. The other challenger, James Sirkis, was a person I had never met before, but I did get the opportunity to know his daughter when she interned at our paper in the past, and I viewed her as smart and professional. That has to reflect well on her parents, right?
In short, all of the candidates impressed me. I suggested to one Bethany resident after the forum ended that the Town appears to be in good shape going forward, no matter how the election shakes out on Saturday, Sept. 8. That person agreed, and mentioned that he hoped all of them would be involved with the Town in the future, be it on Council or committee work.
Throughout the evening, there was not one attack on any individual for their position or views. There was a little good-natured back-and-forth between two candidates at one point that was greeted by laughter from all parties, but there wasn’t one sentence uttered by any of the five individuals on the dais that I would have considered nasty or unproductive.
What they did was talk about their own beliefs on how to make the Town as effective as possible. They discussed flooding, and the challenges the Town faces in trying to fix that issue. They talked about pedestrian and bicycle safety. They told the audience what challenges they felt were coming Bethany Beach’s way in the future, and they shared the ideas they had to combat those challenges. They talked budget and fiscal responsibility, and the importance of maintaining Bethany’s strong financial status going forward.
And when they had differing views, they offered them as differing views — not as line-in-the-sand proclamations that leave issues unresolved, and progress stuck in neutral. It was a gentle reminder that when smart people are committed to a common cause, great things can happen if they don’t allow political biases or outside influences to creep into the picture.
As a society, we don’t pay nearly enough attention to our town and local officials. They often impact more of our day-to-day lives than the national politicians with whom we exert so much energy on worshiping or condemning, and they are often our friends and neighbors who experience the same problems we do — except they are willing to roll up their sleeves and put in the work that most of us are unwilling to do.
Get out and vote in town elections when afforded the chance. It’s your best oportunity to really be heard.
By Darin J. McCann