Saturday, June 21, 2008

Reform und Drang: Part I

A special piece to the Subversive Garden regarding the victories, defeats and eventual schism of the Hoboken Reform movement from the artful and insider view by Hobogomil. A brilliant piece on the politics of the reform movement and why in general progressive politics cannot slay the dragon of either the evil Republicans or the corrupt (wink, wink), democrats of Hudson County. Ever its own tempest in a teapot, the Hoboken Reform movement boiled over boisterously this past year, making serious noises and big splashes all over town. By May, however, it had finally sizzled itself down to its last few wisps of hot air on the small but scalding surface of Hoboken politics. Perhaps feeling it had found a home on that range, it got - perhaps - overconfident after extending its reach into the wild west part of town with the 4th Ward successes. But it wasn't all flash and no substance - what strange brew left such a mess? And - hey, now - is that remaining hot air instead actually enough to raise a balloon to race around the world??

Whah hahppend??? Big, surprising victories over the Evil Machine in '07 school board, Democratic committee, and at least two city council races - capped with a 2-1 margin on a Machine-opposed open-space referendum - completely offset (and then some) an embarrassing Assembly-race thumping of erstwhile progressive icon, Carol Marsh, and heralded a Reform 'coming of age' in Hoboken. Pundits reeled, progressives cheered, and gob-smacked, gin-soaked Machine apparatchiki fell about the urine-drenched stoops of Washington Street like so many hopeless drunks. (Given the Hoboken likes of ex-State Senator Bernie Kenny, City Clerk Jimmy Farina and ex-City Business Administrator Dick England, there's actually no metaphor there.) The Machine trundled out all its cheapest tricks and heavily outspent Reform, but lost ground on almost all fronts anyway.

Okay, but -- whah hahppend??? 'Whah,whah,whah' happened. Wailing and whining about just desserts did them all dirty - first inside the Machine, then inside Reform. The County Democratic leadership, utterly convinced of its inalienable right to unmitigated feudal sovereignty, forgot entirely (and almost justifiably) about progressive dissent and opposition after a decade of beating it 90% to 10% in every race everywhere. Then little bosses got big ideas and civil war began to poke its hideous little face out from behind the relative calm and beauty of Union City white slavery and North Bergen thumb-breaking. "Why should these few old bosses (who made each of us) have all the spoils?" they bi-atched. Greed reared, complaints mounted, ranks broke, rancor followed - filtering down apace to the Machine lieutenants in Hoboken, aka New Pork City. Reform, ever staring glumly at the Machine's Great Wall, the political palisade always in front of them, quickly noted the opportunity in a crumbling Fortress Hudson and charged like newborn sea tortoises into the breach, snapping up minority representation for themselves all over town. Everywhere you looked, Reform was taking 40% of wards, district by district, most by a 51%/49% margin. Fiscal control and middle-class domination bobbed deliciously ahead in the next wave of '08 races.

Ah, but schism happens. Now, whereas the Hudson/Hoboken machine's ambition is dollar-denominated, the Hoboken reformer's ambition is ego-denominated and you can bet it didn't take more than a New York nanosecond for their morally-gifted, upper-middle-class selves to dive into an ethical pissing contest over who was most fitting as the next Yertle-on-Hudson. Some assumed it should be the one who had the most disposable income available for a political hobby. Green reared, complacency mounted...

Oh, come on -- whah really hahpennd??? In 2001, on the heels of state-of-the-art corruption under then-Mayor (and recent ex-con) Anthony Russo, current Mayor Dave Roberts - in a leap of political genius not seen anywhere since... late yesterday - lied unabashedly in claiming he'd end the regnant corruption and swept to victory over Russo with a council slate of three 'dyed-in-the-wool reformers'. Russo's machine methodology and gold-lust were so blatant Gollum and three syphilitic orcs could have beat him on character and charm alone. Somehow, though, the nascent Reform leadership of Marsh, Mike Lenz, Beth Mason and Tony Soares mistook this windfall changing of the terminally-corrupt guard as proof positive of personal political gifts - as some benediction of charmingly earnest grass-roots chaos turning coffee-klatsch into beer-hall putsch.

In actuality, Russo lieutenants jumped ship and exported Machine strategy and tactics to Roberts' covering brand, and then excised the honest if naive reform-minded progressives from the hustings. The new regime was not installed by Reform purity and spiritual eclat, but by old, thoroughly-organized cheats with a new, thoroughly-sterilized front. All ensuing (and myriad) election defeats for the dispossessed reformers were rationalized as due merely to a) lack of sufficient funding or b) vicious tandeming of assiduous back-stabbing by Roberts and a well-tapped parochiality of the born-n-raised polity. This, to be sure, would explain why slim victory might morph into narrow defeat above a citizenry supposedly hungry for Reform's college-bred, upper-middle-class sociopolitical decency- but not why they would lose election after election, by 20-30% or more. Reform leadership's surfing to initial victory on a zeitgeist of anti-corruption sentiment deftly managed by Machine retreads rather than their own organizing skills left them blind. And prone to castrating rationalizations about Reform's own vigor, charisma, skills and vision. Of course, Reform leadership proceeded to in-fight over just whose mayor-elect ego was owed coronation – rather than engage in any honest self-scrutiny.


la francaise said...

sturm und drang... FYI

Anonymous said...

I didn't know Beth Mason was involved with Dave Roberts from the very beginning. Good to know. Thanks!