Walk the plank!

June 16, 2012

Reality Check for Malone Municipal Elections

Calvin Luther Martin, PhD

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Take a close look at the cartoon.  Keep it in mind when you go to the polls November 8th.

Courtesy of the Toronto Globe & Mail

What’s the take-home message?  We elect people to serve on the Village and Town Board, and we expect them to keep the good ship “Malone” afloat and ship-shape, and when we decide they’re doing a lousy job we make them walk the plank.

Consider Andrea Stewart’s poignant letter in the Telegram about her husband, Mayor Brent Stewart, a week or so ago.  Brent and Sue Hafter opted not to run for re-election this year.  The sense I get from Andy’s letter is that, frankly, both were fed up with taking a beating for their efforts to keep the ship, “Malone,” afloat and on course.  Both Hafter & Stewart felt they were on the business end of that plank, above, and being fed to the sharks. Or about to be fed to the sharks. Or being repeatedly fed to the sharks.

Andrea has a point.  (Full disclosure:  I, myself, have on more than one occasion clamored for both Brent and Sue to be tossed overboard.)

The cartoon tells a different story, however.  Notice, the ship is already taking on water.  It’s waist deep and going down.  The crew (that would be you and me, dear reader) has failed to grasp what Captain Stewart (rolling his eyes with incredulity) realizes:  They are all walking the plank!  Everyone is going down!

The ship is sinking not through any fault of the captain, whether it’s Captain Brent Stewart and officers “Village Trustees,” or Captain Howard Maneely and officers “Town Council.”  It’s going down because Tru-Stitch is gone, Cleyn & Tinker is gone, Gildan Shirt Factory is gone, Ballard woolen mill is gone, John B. Hinds foundry is gone, Bombardier is gone, Durant Baking Co. is gone.

They’re gone not through any screw-up by Malone or its government; they’re gone for complicated reasons of national and global economics.

Industries long ago fled small and medium-sized towns, and even cities, across America—not just in Franklin and Clinton County.  And if you want to find out where all (or most of them) eventually wound up, go to Walmart and look at the tags on the clothing and shoes and hardware and stuff.  “Made in China.”

Jobs?  Malone needs jobs and manufacturing?  Go to Walmart. Your jobs and manufacturing are in “Made in China.”

Are your Village and Town taxes going up?  You can thank “Made in China.”

As I say, it’s complex. Empsall’s Dept. store is gone, as is Pearl’s Dept. store. So are Irv Caplan’s and Earl Lavoie’s Army/Navy stores. That, too, is partly explained by what is now the “Made in China” economy (cheaper clothes made abroad), but it’s also explained by shopping malls (which we never had) and big chain clothing stores (which we never had). (On the other hand, we have kept IBC. Hooray!) The fabulous Northern NY Hardware is gone, with its legendary sales force who serviced surrounding hardware stores. Our hardware stores, now, are more modest, one or two of them are chain stores (yes, they employ people), and there is of course Alix’s in Chateaugay, which is a phenomenon.

The elegant Flanagan Hotel is gone, leaving behind a shell, a skeleton of its former glory. Same with the CrossRoads Restaurant. Both were a big deal in their day. This is not because of “Made in China,” although there are connections, to be sure.

What’s left? Malone, like every other rural community throughout America, can absorb only so many service jobs—jobs like Alice Hyde Hospital or insurance agencies, grocery stores, pharmacies, fast food restaurants, and so on.  And it can reasonably expect only so many government jobs—like Border Patrol, Dept. of Corrections, State Police, etc.  (In fact, Malone has done extraordinarily well with government service jobs.)

Anyhow, you see where I’m going with this:  Let’s think twice before we blame the Captain and Officers for the misfortunes that have befallen the ship “Malone.”

I believe there’s another lesson to be learned.  We need to start looking to our own resources, our own ideas, our own initiatives to keep our ship afloat.  Stop expecting state and federal governments, state and national economies (and global economies) to somehow fix Malone’s problems. Stop expecting them to somehow lead us into the future. Malone’s future belongs to us, not to the state or nation. We have virtually no control over the state or nation and their political ways and direction and budget and economy. By the same token, we need to establish our own budget and economy, by which I mean that we become masters of our budget and economy.

When you vote on November 8th, ask yourself who among the candidates for Village Trustee and Malone Town Board is capable of thinking along these lines. Capable of re-visioning Malone, re-imagining Malone, and, to a degree, re-inventing Malone?

Years ago the Province of Quebec experienced a similar crisis of identity and survival during a period of upheaval known to history as the Quiet Revolution (1970s). Quebecois decided to stop being so dependent on federal mandates and initiatives and on the national economy, and become, in their memorable phrase, “maître chez nous.” “Masters of our own house!”

I suggest you vote for candidates who give evidence (not just campaign rhetoric) of a “maître chez nous” mindset.

Here are three who have convinced me they are “maître chez nous” people:

Hugh Hill has been the face of Malone’s Chamber of Commerce for the past several years. He has been tireless in promoting Malone’s assets, its virtues, far and wide. And he’s eager to take that message even wider, he tells me.

What are its virtues? Consider these:

Malone sits on the northern boundary of the world famous Adirondack Park. Six million acres of “forever wild.” Millions of acres of public land—meaning, it’s freely accessible to you and me. Here you will find the best canoe country in North America (I speak from experience), fabulous fishing, worldclass skiing (consider Titus Mountain, as well), worldclass cross-country skiing on endless trails, snowmobiling, and wilderness hiking and camping and swimming, plus hunting.

Malone’s water supply comes from the Adirondack Park. Consider that natural gas mining downstate is likely going to compromise many water sources with its “hydrofracking” process of forcing millions of gallons of organic compounds into the Marcellus Shale. Western and Southern NY State are in trouble, in terms of potable water. Malone will be spared this. Nobody is going to “frack” the Park. Besides, the Marcellus Shale does not extend into the Park.

Agriculture. We have some of the world’s best farmers moving into the area. The Amish. More and more of them. Providing fabulous fresh produce in the summer months. And lots of it.

Malone is not subject to Mother Nature’s wrath: hurricanes, tsunamis, tornados, horrendous earthquakes, massive wildfires (consider Southern California and Texas, for instance), or drought (consider much of the American West and South). Yes, we had the Ice Storm, but it was minor compared to the natural disasters that regularly hammer much of the rest of the country.

Lyme Disease. My wife (a physician) and I refuse to walk in the woods or brush anywhere in New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and much of Massachusetts. Why? Lyme Disease. A complicated and even bizarre illness which easily evades detection and, once established in its victims, is horrendous. Malone and the Adirondacks are virtually free of this scourge. This means you can walk and hike wherever you wish around here and in the Park and not worry about Lyme.

Real estate. Malone’s old homes are fabulous. I live in one of them. And the price is right.

Community. This is a real community. People know one another. People help one another. This might sound banal to folks who have never lived elsewhere, but, believe me, “community” matters—and it’s becoming more and more scarce across America. Consider suburbs and cities. Yes, there are pockets of “community” within cities, but this is not the same as a single, coherent “community.”

Hugh Hill understands all this. And he promotes it. And he’s eager to bring this message to a wider America.

Why should people not move to Malone? My wife and I did—from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Thirteen years ago. For all of the above reasons.

Mike Maneely likewise understands the principle of “maître chez nous.” He understands the need for a new concept of town government. He understands “community.” Perhaps what appeals most about Mike—to me, at any rate—is his uncompromising support for Malone’s Police Dept. Given the stunning drug traffic in the region and the economic hard times, the Village needs a strong, intelligent, savvy police force—just as it has, now. But we need to keep it strong, intelligent, and savvy, and that means funding it properly and ensuring we get the best officers and leadership—leadership like Chief Premo and his senior officers.

Besides, Mike is someone you can talk to. He makes the rounds of the Village and listens to people. This isn’t just a campaign promise, this isn’t just rhetoric; Mike did this routinely when he as on the Village Board in past years. You can call him up. You can even ask him to stop by your home—and he does. Again, I speak from experience. (Unfortunately, there are some on the Board who become inaccessible once elected. Either inaccessible or arrogant as hell.) But not Mike Maneely.

Dan Honahan is a newcomer to elected office, and he looks mighty interesting. What does Dan bring to the concept of “maître chez nous”? His particular talents as a businessman. Dan’s no ordinary businessman; he does business all over the world, he goes to car auctions over much of America, he goes out and gets business. This is different from sitting back and waiting to see what comes down Route 11, knocking on our door—like the wind developers who rolled into town in that infamous yellow Hummer. We can do better than that; we can go after interesting-looking business and entice it here.

At least we can try, and we can do a better job than the Franklin County IDA does—far better! Dan is eager to give it a shot, as is Hugh Hill.

I first encountered Dan when he chaired the Town Planning Board. Yes, it was during the wild and wooly years of the wind developers—the guys in the yellow Hummer. Dan was on the hot seat. And he handled that complex and stressful situation with grace, with intelligence, with decorum, and with wisdom. I was hugely impressed. The guy has a true “presence” about him. Dan would be a marvelous ambassador for Malone.

Of course, Paul Walbridge and Louise Taylor are also running, hoping to keep their seats on the Town Board. This is a toughie for me; they’re both excellent people who have likewise distinguished themselves in trying circumstances, including the wind turbine fracas. That said, I think Dan is worth serious consideration.  I especially like his experience and eagerness to go out and find business and people and cultural events that can enhance our community. Besides, I think he would bring a valuable dynamic and presence to the Town Board.

Hugh Hill, Mike Maneely, Dan Honahan. How would the three of them handle the distressed ship “Malone”? How would each work with the Captain and fellow Officers to get her floating and on course? Ask yourself the same question about the other candidates.

Do the candidates have the imagination for this? The courage? The courage to stand up to the state and even the feds and say “No, we’re not accepting any more unfunded mandates! No, we’re not going to follow your ridiculous rules which result in this community being dead in the water and sinking! No, we’re not going to continue to let Main Street be a superhighway! And we are going to stop our knee-jerk response to everything with ‘Let’s apply for a grant!’ By, God, we’re going to do it ourselves!”

“We’re going to do it ourselves.” That, I think, should be the motto for this year’s election.

Malone is our vessel. Only you and I—not Albany, not Washington—can get her floating again.