I'm sure you're familiar with a reference made by our sixteenth president just about 152 years ago now. (19 November 1863). It was a little something about government "of the people, by the people, for the people."
But my experience shows me that "The People" are having an increasingly difficult time governing themselves. We've just had an election, and while I was focused on a local municipal race, I've heard this one called in some corners, "The year of the incumbent". I cannot disagree.
Almost every seat in Waltham was open for candidates this year; the only ones that weren't were 3 seats in the School Committee; half are up every election cycle.
That means that the Mayor, all 15 City Council seats, and 3 of 6 School Committee seats were up for grabs.
So to break it down, we had two candidates for mayor; the incumbent, and a sitting member of City Council who decided to challenge.
For the six At-Large city council seats, we had 8 candidates. But of those 8, five were incumbents. One seat was abandoned by the Mayoral candidate. So that left 3 "new" candidates. 1 of those was a former council member, and 1 had run several times before, so that technically left just one outsider.
All nine Ward councilors ran unopposed. Think about that for a minute.
Then we get to my race. There were five candidates for three seats. Three longtime incumbents vs. two newbies, and I have to count myself in that 'former candidate' list, again leaving just one outsider.
Out of all that...only ONE change happened, and that was for the At-Large seat abandoned by Councilor Stanley in his quest for mayor. That was taken by the many-time candidate Carlos Vidal, but only just - by 300 votes.
The more disturbing trend in the city was summed up by my next-door neighbor in his day after post on facebook:
Truly a sad commentary on the entire city, 11,000 people out of 64,000 went to the polls to vote for Mayor. I have heard people say they don't vote because it takes too long or they are too busy. My wife and I are just as busy as everyone else, If I am late to work I'm late, I take time to vote. My wife voted after work and I voted at 8:00 this morning. One freaking day to wait 10 minutes is not much to ask. I vote at Government Center and every time it's as if I am the last person in the city of Waltham, all alone, in and out in 5 minutes. Truly a sad and disturbing trend. The Vote was for change, which was to be Tom Stanley, but most could not be bothered and now have to take the status quo.
I don't know if The People can win anymore. I've seen that candidates fall into one of three categories, so you tell me if you disagree.
1. The Hobbyist - this is a candidate running for the sake of running. They might have some good ideas, but the network is too small, the effort is not there, or maybe the candidate themselves just aren't taking things as seriously as they should.
2. The Crazy One - this is the candidate out there with a lot of smoke and noise. They might get the headlines, but they're trying
to get the headlines by their words and actions. They think they're serious candidates, but they're actually not.
3. The Machine - you know this one. This is the candidate with all the resources, network, and power already. They also have the arrogance and attitude that they're The Chosen One, and we all need to grovel at their feet.
We had all three in Waltham this year, but most of the candidates fell under "The Machine" category. I regret that I must consider myself part of "The Hobbyist" group. I ran a better campaign than in years past, but it wasn't enough. Which gets me to my point. The Machine itself is so geared towards "The Machine" candidate that small, average-joe guys can never win.
One of my friends on the Council told me that on his first try, he spent over $5,000 on the campaign - and he didn't win. As for me, I'd say move the decimal. I didn't spend $500 on this...primarily because I don't have the big network, or more to the point, the big campaign donors. (Yes, we have those in Municipal elections, too. Mayoral Candidate Stanley spent $150k, much of that donated by businesses on 128, Police and Fire unions, and the State Democratic Party.)
So - Waltham will enjoy the status-quo for another election cycle. The "old-boy" network will remain in place, and longterm incumbents that owe each other favors will continue to work and play for their own betterment. Should they accidentally do something positive for the city...that's by chance rather than design.
As for me - this last cycle was my last real chance at School Committee. Javier graduates in four years (Can you believe it??). There are three more seats coming open in two years...but Javi will be just about done by then and with no "skin in the game", I don't think it's my place on the school committee.
That said...my friend and neighbor Robert J. Waddick, sitting Ward 6 councilor, has indicated to me that this term may be his last. I'm already thinking about it.