I recently had the privilege to attend a presentation by Middletown Area Middle School students who participate in the anti-bullying Club Ophelia. I was impressed by the compassion, empathy and courage those students demonstrated in their stand against teenage bullying—a phenomenon that is frighteningly real, even in Middletown.
But sadly, bullying in Middletown isn’t limited to schools.
As a reporter, I follow what local political movements are saying—and I have to say that I’ve never seen a political campaign in a small town that was more vitriolic and personal than the one preceeding Middletown’s recent primary election.
While there are many examples, I’ll mention two that particularly stood out to me.
The website for Middletown Citizens for Responsible Government—a political action committee that mysteriously refuses to name what candidates it supports—posted an “Open letter to Mayor Robert Reid.” The letter snidely attacks Reid—widely respected, in my experience, as a humble man who truly cares about the town—for not endorsing council incumbents and saying the website took one of his quotes out of context. It calls the mayor names and sarcastically insults his intelligence and competence.
Contrast that with the respectful reaction of mayoral candidate James Curry to Reid’s endorsement of a different candidate: “Everybody's entitled to their own opinion, but I'm hoping that the people will look at it objectively and pick the candidate who's best suited for the job.” It still gets the point across, but without the rudeness.
The second example is Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, a Facebook page that claims to belong to a Penn State Harrisburg student (although Wesley Wyndam-Pryce was the name of a character from the television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer). The page, which drips with sarcasm, venom, and foul language, has consistently attacked candidates who disagree with council and their supporters. It’s accused people of allegedly abetting sex offenders, looking for personal monetary gain, and not paying taxes; called them names like the “secret squirrels” and “varmint”; and even created crass graphics to make people look foolish.
With attacks like that, what decent person would want to be involved in the public discussion to make Middletown better?
I’ve also seen childish attacks flung at the current borough officials—comments about someone’s appearance; claims that the a town leader is intentionally trying to bankrupt the town, like a comic book villain; rude, photoshopped images of borough officials.
If there is one thing that can definitely said about Middletown, it’s that the issues it faces are complex, and reasonable people can disagree without being stupid or dishonest.
As a reporter, I frequently get calls from people on both sides of issues—and, quite honestly, I’m often disappointed at the level of discourse. Most of the “tips” tend to focus on the legal records or other misdeeds of one person or another rather than actual policy issues.
Now, I do my due diligence to investigate the validity of these finger-pointing tips, but wouldn’t it be more useful to focus on the issues that will determine the town’s future?
At the end of the day, the negativity probably causes more problems than anything else, because it tarnishes Middletown’s reputation and discourages civic involvement.
Middletown is recovering from a brutally negative primary race, but the town’s political future still hangs in the balance in November’s general election.
As we approach that election, perhaps we should take the words of one Club Ophelia student to heart: “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”