Friday, February 28, 2014

You can take your endorsements and ...

In the Times of Trenton’s Thursday, February 27, 2014 edition, local consultant Irwin Stoolmacher offered up an opinion on how to elect better candidates in Trenton’s local elections.

Under the headline “Trenton residents need endorsements and voting records to guide election of next mayor”, Stoolmacher advises that endorsements are similar to campaign war chests. He implies that the more of either a candidate receives raises them to higher level than their opponents.

However, endorsements, like campaign money raised, are significant as they can help to separate the top-tier from the bottom-tier candidates in a race with many candidates, such as the eight at present: Wiley Fuller, Jim Golden, Patrick Hall, Eric Jackson, Oliver ‘Bucky’ Leggett, Kathy McBride, Paul Perez and Walker Worthy.

Stoolmacher asserts that sorting “can be helpful to the electorate” and requests many local officials to issue endorsements.

For this reason, I’d strongly urge County Executive Brian Hughes, Rep. Rush Holt, Sen. Shirley Turner, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, county clerk Paula Sollami-Covello, county surrogate Diane Gerofsky and the freeholders not to sit on the sidelines in the upcoming race for mayor. They should each make their views known as to which candidate they believe is best equipped to lead the city into the future and the reasons for their assessments.

We suggest that Mr. Stoolmacher has not been paying attention. If he has, he would certainly know that Mercer County Deputy Clerk Walker Worthy has been endorsed by many of the very people he has named.

Endorsements are, indeed, coveted by candidates. Unfortunately, they really don’t give any evidence of a candidate’s qualifications or likelihood of getting elected. Nor are endorsements any kind of indication of how the successful candidate will perform in office. We only have to look at those who endorsed our recently convicted and removed from office mayor, Tony Mack.

The fact is elected officials offering up endorsements only give the electorate an excuse to not do their homework on the candidates.

Stoolmacher as much as admits this when he tries to place the weight of endorsements on the continuum of candidates’ qualifications for the office sought.

I’m not suggesting that endorsements are more important than a candidate’s experience, position on key issues or performance in debates but, because they often garner significant press coverage, they can be significant.

Because they often garner significant press coverage, they can be significant.

There you have it. Endorsements are a PR tool. Nothing more. Nothing less. And they let the electorate off of the hook by providing a shortcut to choosing who to vote for.

The voter’s thinking might be something along the lines of “Oh. If the newspaper/county executive/assemblywoman etc. thinks so-and-so is good, that’s all I need!”

To his credit, Stoolmacher does state that when elected officials endorse a candidate they should explain why. He says the endorsements should include the candidate’s skill set, experience, temperament, education, etc.

What about the candidate’s plans? What about who they associate with; surround themselves with; take contributions from?

These are important things to know. Why doesn’t Stoolmacher encourage the electorate to access the public information available via campaign report filings? Why doesn’t he suggest ways and means for the voters to research and evaluate for themselves? Better informed voters will get us the best choices.

The second suggestion in Stoolmacher’s opinion piece is for Trenton City Council to provide voters with objective information that would help them decide whom to vote for.

I’d suggest it consider making candidates’ voter participation records available. Voting is a clear indicator of concern and interest in government. If a person believes in government, other than incapacitating illness, there is no good explanation for not voting.

Stoolmacher’s reasoning is that “It takes a lot of chutzpah to ask constituents to vote for you when you have not taken the time to vote in the past.

Agreed, but why is it up to the city council to provide this information to voters?

It is public information available from the county board of elections. It comes as part of the data set when you purchase the list of registered voters in the city. The data is extremely easy import into and manipulate with a spreadsheet program.

Yes, there is a cost associated with obtaining it, but any individual or group can purchase it, parse it, and publish it. Why does it have to be the city council? It is not in their job description. Or is the author suggesting that each candidate provide their own voting history as part of their campaign resume?

This doesn’t make a lot of sense and it really doesn’t matter.

We need an engaged, enlightened electorate. We do not need more spoon-fed, “show-up-at-the-polls-and-push-the-buttons-I’m-told-to-push”voters.

If, as Stoolmacher closes out with, the Mayor Tony Mack fiasco has taught us anything, it’s that who is elected really matters.

Relying on the same elected officials to tout their favorites, as they have done in the past, is not going to improve our outcome. Choosing based on somebody else’s recommendation is how the city of Trenton got to where it is today.

Looking at and critically evaluating what a candidate proposes, what they’ve done, and who they choose to surround themselves with is what the voters need to do.

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