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Speech spots shape the substance

by Dan Barton
March 24, 2011 02:05 PM | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
You can’t choose the weather, but you can choose the location. The I’m-running-for-mayor events of Hayes Clement and Shayne Gallo are an interesting study in contrast. The former chose as his spot the steps of Kingston’s City Hall — an architecturally beautiful building which had fallen into near ruin during the Urban Renewal Era and was restored to its former glory. I don’t know if he intended this, but Clement’s selection of the southwest-facing steps on a late winter afternoon had the effect of bathing him and his supporters in a golden glow from the setting sun. If one wanted to impose symbolism on it, one could say that Clement choosing the resurrected City Hall complemented his optimistic take on the city’s future: if this building could be restored to again serve as Kingston’s civic center, Kingston itself can be restored.

Shayne Gallo chose the driveway of the Kings Inn, the dilapidated shut-down motel which for years served as ground zero for Kingston’s blight, to make his announcement. I am I am reasonably sure he did not intend to pick a cold and rainy day to make his statement, but he did choose the location. If one wanted to impose symbolism on that, one could say that Gallo choosing the city’s most prominent eyesore complemented his sterner take on the city’s future: this building embodies failure and the struggles the city is embroiled in, and nearly dragged down by, and optimism and hope must be married to honesty and determination. If the restored City Hall represents the finish line, the Kings Inn represents Square One.

Now, let’s take a break to acknowledge that journalists love — nay, live — to impose narrative structure on reality, seeing it as our solemn duty to explain things to readers. (While we hope the collections of words that run in newspapers and websites are 100 percent full of accurate facts and insightful analysis, there is, after all, a reason we call them “stories.”) This is part of human nature, after all, the desire arrange events into patterns and assign meaning to them. Sometimes this desire yields accuracy; sometimes it does not. In the Clement-Gallo race, it’s impossible, as my esteemed colleague Hugh Reynolds points out on the facing page, to not see this as a showdown between the traditional, native Kingston and the progressive, newcomers’ Kingston. The latter is more about the imagination and the possibilities; the former more about the hard realities and the limitations. Or to look at it another way, Clement, like your new friend, emphasizes the great things about you and focuses on where you’re going from here. Gallo, like the friend you’ve known all your life, acknowledges the great, but knows all about your buried bodies and has the moral authority to call you on your BS. But these distinctions may not even be real; I am noticing so far not a lot of difference in any of the mayoral candidates’ platforms. Perhaps some kind of consensus has been reached on what the city needs (more jobs, less crime, lower taxes) and the only choice voters may really have is who they think will actually get those things done.

In that way, this race reminds me of the 2008 Democratic presidential primary process — on the one hand you had Hillary and the prospects of the Clinton restoration, for which could be said that you would have someone familiar with the levers of power working the levers in the name of progress. On the other was Barack Obama, whose freshness and non-connectedness held the promise of sweeping away old networks and owed favors and ushering in a new era of government, finally, for goodness’ sake. I remember standing in the booth on primary day that year, never feeling so uncertain of who I was going to vote for, completely at a loss to choose between the two approaches. (I ended up voting for Obama, for the mere reason that I don’t think we should have political dynasties in this country, but I wonder to this day if President Hillary would have yielded a better net result.)

Another point: With so many GOP mayoral candidates — four now — if a three- or four-way primary should arise, every Republican vote in Kingston is going to take on a lot of importance, making the race seem like a hotly contested student government election.

Final point: It says something good about Kingston that so many intelligent and energetic candidates want to be its mayor. If this city were doomed, only an idiot would look to run it.
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