This past Tuesday my village of 1,993 residents voted to elect two new members to its Village Board–a board that, along with the mayor, forms the governing body of our tiny community. The Board has many responsibilities: finalizing development plans, negotiating with the sanitation department and other village committees, determining budgets and approving building proposals. They also set the tone for the community at large.
In a tiny place like Cold Spring, the Mayor and the Board Members are highly visible members of the community. Some own businesses on Main Street. Others have kids who attend the local elementary school. One past mayor used to ride his bike all over town, stopping to shake hands and hold babies and pet dogs. It can seem like a useful arrangement, this: that those living within a community preside over it, ostensibly making the community strong and stable and sincere.
As a relative newcomer to Cold Spring (I moved here six years ago) I’ve been dismayed by the politics that take place around town. I remember well the way my neighbors — sweet, protective folks who took good care of me (a newly single mom with a very young son) — yelled after to me to choose the “right” guy as I walked past them on my way to cast my vote in the first village election I participated in. (In that case, the “right guy” for mayor was a guy who had already been mayor for 16 years.)
I didn’t think much of their attempt at coercion at the time. To be honest, I didn’t really care who won that election—I hadn’t lived here long enough to understand the nuances, or the profundity, of the battle. Besides, I grew up in a small, rural upstate town—a town where my father held office as the (Republican) president of our city’s Water Board for nearly 20 years—and so understood that the genuine passion to preserve a town’s legacy trumped almost everything else during political races like that (and often for good reason).
I’m a terrible sports fan and so I’m registered as an Independent voter (because I never like to wear foam fingers or take sides), so I vote with my heart and my gut and can’t always tell you why.
Though I’d never be a good politician, my politics have always fallen very far to the left of my (very conservative) aforementioned father’s on issues such as abortion and gun control and fluoridated water but we love each other, so our differences of opinion about matters even as important as those have never descended into personal attacks. First we are family. Then we are fellow community members. Then we are people. We’ve never waded into the murky pit where enemy lines (and weapons) are drawn.
This year, in Cold Spring though, some folks have insisted on separating themselves by party lines. And not only separating themselves, but have made it their mission to destroy their competition. You know, the other community members they are running against. It’s been a vicious and ugly fight–one in which spying, muckraking and taking opposing sides on all matters was on full display in BOTH of our local papers. When I was at the fire station casting my votes the other day, the police were there, too–apparently called to the scene because of a disgruntled poll worker who was causing a raucous. Truthfully, I was surprised that the place didn’t erupt with violence, everybody in town has been about to blow for weeks.
This election…THIS ELECTION…has been contentious and rude from the very start and was, in the end, decided by 20 votes (17 in the case of the second place winner) but has divided our community in a most spiteful and unkind way. The malicious run-up to the vote on Tuesday, coupled with all of the accusations and attacks and nasty comments on Facebook–have conceivably injured our town’s soul in a manner that I fear it may never heal from.
I’m sad for that. For the broken soul of this adopted town of mine that I’ve grown love; a town that my son calls home.
Ours is a town that carries a physical beauty that still manages to take my breath away, despite this mercilessly cold and snowy winter. We are blessed to live in a village of unequaled allure; a community that draws huge crowds of tourists on weekends throughout the year and causes my NYC friends (who refer to it as “Brigadoon” when they visit) to comb the real estate windows on Main Street searching for houses they can afford as second homes.
Will its magic be gone now that the battlefield of our government (and Main Street) is scattered with broken swords and resentment? Will people turn their heads away from one another as they pass on the street? Will we become an “us” and “them” place, like that island that Dr Seuss’s Star Bellied Sneeches inhabit?
In the coming days it’s not going to be the significance of who won this election that matters, but the conscious decision of the two newly elected officials to find a way to try and bridge the monstrous gap that remains between those scant 20 votes; for them to work to heal the very critical injuries this election cost the members of our very small town.
Everyone is bloodied from the fight. And everyone is tired. We will all need to work together to stave off this seemingly never-ending divisive and blood-letting fight.
It is my hope that our two newly elected board members recognize that nearly half of the vote casters voted for the other guy. It’ll be important for both of them to remember that often during the coming two years, when they are faced with opposition and disagreement; when not everybody in the room wants them there and, because this is America, you get to say that out loud.
I fell a little out of love with Cold Spring over these past few weeks, but I want to find a reason to be in love with it again. Yes, spring is coming. Eventually Dockside Park will be green and Breakneck Ridge will be packed with hipsters and cars will be fighting for parking in front of the shops on Main Street. It is my hope that, in the meantime, my community (led by those very leaders that we elected) will find a way to come together as the beacon of beauty and hope that so many from the outside come to bask in.