It’s easy to get bogged down in the negativity of politics – but when recently attending a Civil War Ball fundraiser to benefit the Middletown Public Library, I had an epiphany that made me think of local politicians of all stripes in a positive light. I was struck by one fact in particular: although the ball was lightly attended, those who came to support it cut across the political spectrum, including people often thought to be part of particular cliques in Middletown that don’t always like each other.
Watching them smile and dance with one another, the epiphany came: although they may disagree on policy, the people active in borough politics have more in common with each other than they do with most residents. The average person might grumble when taxes are raised or services are cut but normally ignores town business. These people, on the other hand, are dedicated to making the town a better place, even when doing so is tedious and time-consuming.
The sorry condition of state and national politics, in which legislatures award themselves pay raises and cushy retirement packages, can cause us to forget that civic involvement is ultimately supposed to be about service. At the local level, there are no cushy salaries: the token meeting stipends hardly compensate for the time spent pouring over financial data, attending ribbon cuttings and sitting through endless legal briefings.
It’s a remarkable testimony to the civic-minded nature of Middletown’s residents that 17 people ran for borough council in the primary election, and all five council seats – plus the mayor’s seat – feature contested races in this November’s general election.
This doesn’t mean – as anyone who has even casually followed Middletown politics over the past five years or so knows well - the candidates won’t disagree, that those disagreements won’t sometimes turn ugly, and that elected officials won’t do things they shouldn’t do.
But when you go to vote this November, root hard for your favorite candidate, but also be thankful for the other candidates who are willing to sacrifice their time to serve the community.
Hopefully, the losers will continue to find ways to help make Middletown a better place.