The letters page of the Hoboken Reporter has always been feisty, but increasingly, it is getting mean. More space each week is spent on new installments of angry ongoing battles. Not since the Yuppies and Born-and-Raised battled over Feast Bombs in 1987 has it been like this. Except, of course, at election time.Some of the letters make good reading. F. Hass tries valiantly to make sense of Otto Hottendorf’s theories. Ross London responds to Dale Walker’s view of history spread under the pseudonym T. Weed. Letters written by political consultants and signed with false names are painful in their obviousness. Free speech flourishes.
The letters that trouble me more are those by writers who discuss everyday issues and problems in the most hostile terms. David Alexander doesn’t like the way long time residents treat him, so he writes an angry letter. Irene Smith doesn’t appreciate his opinions, so she responds. I don’t personally know either of these writers, but I doubt that in real life they can possibly be as rigid and mean-spirited as they come across in print. Each has valid points, but they’re presented in so provocative a way there is no possibility the other side, or those of us in the middle, can hear them.
An even clearer example of this inability to hear other views — mutual deafness– is the battle between dogs and kids, over the use of the parks. Initially, both parents and owners wrote to place the blame on the other side, rather than accepting the simple reality , there are just too many people and too little public space. Over time the rhetoric has cooled somewhat, much to the credit of both sides, but still it is focused on issues that divide, rather than those that unite. The interests of dog “parents” and parents of children should be the same, maximizing public space and controlling new construction and new congestion. Instead, the ongoing battle over who pooped in who’s park, who doesn’t watch who’s kid, is obscuring their mutual interests: control of development and enough public space for all.
I have been guilty myself on occasion of focusing on blame rather than solutions. I’ve written letters about who did what that was wrong, rather than what we needed to do that was right. The kind of letter that is full of zinging lines and name calling, generating more heat than light. As a result, good people who might not agree with every point I made tune me out.
As people have asked me to consider running for Mayor, I’ve taken a different approach in talking about making Hoboken better.
I still tell the truth as I see it, the way I always have, but strive to focus on broad areas of agreement on what our whole city needs, rather than harping on polarizing issues. Good ideas can come from anywhere, even from my opponents; bad ideas must be resisted, even from my friends. When I’m wrong I’ll say so. (as in a recent letter, where I stated that George Ortiz had received a raise, along with Robert Crespo, in their City Hall jobs. I was wrong. Robert got the raise, but George did not.)
Political campaign, even Hoboken campaigns, can be a dialogue in which ideas are developed, heard, contrasted and improved. But too often, particularly Hoboken campaigns, they turn into food fights, where whoever screams the loudest wins. Perhaps screaming comes naturally when long-time holders of public office see their careers threatened. Perhaps screaming comes from candidates trying to be heard by voters whose lives are too busy for them to listen.
Either way, I’m going to try a new way. Over the next few months, as I explore running for Mayor, I will be speaking out on issues that affect Hoboken. I will be focusing on ways of preserving and enhancing our town’s unique character, while working to reduce the costs and hassles of living here. I am betting that people are ready to work together without screaming and name calling to enhance the town in which we all choose to live.
If you have an idea to offer, or want to help, please call me at (201) 795-5557. Either way, be sure to register to vote. If you need a form or just have a question, call me for that too.