A breeze blew in from Long Island Sound, scattering the squabble of seagulls that had just colonized the swath of pavement providing fishing and sunbathing roosts along Hudson Park’s southeast boundary.
The popular public park, home of Summer Sounds musical events, holiday celebrations and spontaneous spring fever and wintertime longing offers New Rochelle’s most picturesque vista. It is where America’s heritage, our citizen-soldier’s valorous defense of the nation and the city’s inspiration to early and latterly champions of intellectual and artistic freedom and individual and political liberties have been celebrated.
A place of star gazing and personal contemplation, becalming summer beauty and the mind-clearing clarity of winter winds. But this reverie is breached by the decayed public amenities and unkempt flora that surround. Trees and ground cover in need of trimming and renewal. Fencing around the bedraggled pavilion is haphazard, detached from couplings, rusted and hostile to the touch. Hand rails framing parking and harbor areas defaced a faded and revolting baby blue, oxidized in red; so perhaps explaining the paucity of kids and adults reveling in the persistent surf, sunlight and breeze.
Thus another example of public accommodations that have suffered managerial neglect and fiscal strangulation. Add dismay over parks, sidewalks and curbs to complaints of washboard intersections and pot-holed streets. Few who are aware of these inconveniences and insults to safety will admit of any pride in the state of New Rochelle’s public amenities; evidence of New Rochelle’s travails is displayed for all in journalistic black and white and the accountants’ fine point red/medium of harried taxpayers, but a perplexing minority of residents have registered their complaints and concerns publicly.
If you require further confirmation of the city’s “fall from ‘reputational economic’ grace,” or dare it be said, languishment in mediocrity, ask a neighbor coping with real property tax increases, diminished police, fire, parks/recreation or DPW staffing or the unenviable task of finding a fitting buyer for her private home. Ask the friendly MLS broker on North Avenue or Huguenot Street, or for the really intrepid, over the border in Pelham or Eastchester. Face the facts; New Rochelle is at present, a tough sell. The type of prospect that before harkened to its coastal charm, small city/suburban efficiency, variety of family types and rich cosmopolitanism, now perceive depersonalization and bureaucratization in its density and the scale of downtown construction and school size. To say nothing of incessant and unrelenting increases in school and city taxes; double in digit if you count taxes masquerading as phony “fees,” and diminutions of civil service details and service reductions in leaf collection. Plain talking agents will tell you that people resembling the likes of you twenty years ago fleeing the mean streets of the Bronx or the expense of Manhattan’s Upper East Side, now are being shepherded to Rye Brook, Larchmont, the Hudson River towns and Yorktown and the “wilds” of Fairfield, Putnam and Rockland counties. Most who now seek the “relative value” or even the “bargain” of New Rochelle, are the chosen ones who, a la Yonkers and Mount Vernon, “don’t need the schools” and send their kids to say, Iona Prep and Solomon Schecter!
Has a regime of acceptance and resignation taken over the local body politic? Have the professional Democratic majority “regulars” in and around city hall succeeded in neutralizing the self-corrective mechanism of public controversy and citizen activism? Is the ordinary, amateur Democratic membership of citizen voters simply embarrassed at the failures of its council majority’s platform and budgetary priorities and afraid to invite unwanted publicity with public comment? Or will the currently unorganized and demobilized citizenry of independence and principle for once refuse to be disarmed, refuse to be fooled, refuse to be cowed, reject the smugness of faint-hearted majorities and the self-satisfaction of bureaucrats and finally, resolutely oppose being “taken for granted” by neighborhood elites and majority faction hirelings?
As reported in last week’s Westchester Guardian (see feature about New Rochelle’s betrayal by its Democratic council majority and a spineless Republican party “loyal opposition”) a palpable public malaise concerning civic life has been accompanied by a failure of coordinated renewal or reform. One of the reasons for the absence of meaningful change is the absence of any meaningful debate. For a debate to take place, of course, there need exist two parties (individual or group) ready, willing and able to engage.
Well, in New Rochelle, the Democrats see no need to “engage” since they control all the institutions and processes of power; appointive offices, planning and zoning boards, assorted community/historical/cultural panels, the separate New Rochelle City School District Board of Education, and assorted fund raising committees, environmental and public health non-profits. They do not have to do anything they do not want to do, and, in schoolyard parlance, “no one is going to make them.” The Democratic Party’s domination of the political and social life of the City of New Rochelle is comprehensive and absolute.
An occasional conservative/libertarian gadfly has taken the Democrats to task for the city’s continued decline by objective measures and compared with other localities of comparable size, ethnic and economic composition. But generally, the public at-large has shown little interest. The ownership and editorship of Westchester’s daily and periodic press, cable television and talk radio has exhibited little inclination to spend resources on fairly complex, statistically-driven considerations of the efficacy of governmental expenditures. And who in the mainstream media cares to see conservatism succeed in any case?
Many of the lesser-employed, underprivileged and newly-arrived are reliant on municipal spending and benefit from rampant allocation of tax revenues and the occasional redistributionist practices available to localities. And the Republican opposition seems unsuited to the detailed and unpleasant “Scrooge-like” task of holding the bureaucracy to account for squandering of this public trust; so the wayward enterprise of public fiscal enterprise continues its errant course.
Once again, the somnolence of the electorate and the bafflement in assaying governmental operations and institutional integrity inspire little hope. Once again, the partisan political operations of the Democrats and Republicans provide predictably unwieldy organs for achieving improvement if any were even desired!
We have seen the Democratic machine in full throttle, re-upping for nomination a strikingly mediocre, unimaginative and ineffectual incumbency (with the looming exception of one sitting member of the chamber denied re-nomination; a petty and quite puerile bit of strife occasioned by the ghastly, almost incendiary effort to extend corporate welfare to Mr. Bruce Ratner’s Forest City development combine; certainly Westchester County’s all-time, greatest outbreak of attempted illegitimate and unearned “Crony Capitalist” beneficence courtesy of poor New Rochelle’s troublingly endangered coffers, thankfully consigned to the dust heap of suburban history in 2013). Dutifully obedient council majorities (comprised of the Democrats; sometimes supplemented by the two embattled Republicans, but nearly always reinforced by the singular and reliably fainthearted, Republican-by-convenience representative of Council District Two) compound the atmosphere of sullen fiscal misdirection. Like many municipalities in the state, New Rochelle has seen its Republican inclinations evaporate in a scant 30 years.
Failing cities and suburbs continue to elect Democratic political leadership; and the populations electing these are not strictly the underprivileged and “disenfranchised” (readers of New York’s newspaper of record will understand these terms). Many are supremely wealthy, privileged like Rajas; professional gentry of diverse ethnic and religious stock (some of whom previously Republican in registration, or sons and daughters of the GOP, converts by marriage or PTA membership to the ranks of the Democratic way of seeing things) who simply are accustomed to following their “spouse” and voting for Democrats or are discomfited by anyone to the right of the late free-spending Republican Governor Nelson Rockefeller.
Indeed, it is hard to conceive of any literate and sensate collection of Democratic or Republican inclined voters anywhere in the country that would consent to Republican enablers of Hudson Park’s debasement remaining in office for even five minutes! But, as we have seen in at least the past five mayoral elections in the Queen City of the Sound, the Democrats responsible are excused for any incompetence and neglect, and so far inexplicably get a free “pass” for their role in the misadventure. But this is an old story. (Never-varying and never-ending. New Rochelle’s economic decline continues amidst a consistently growing population of non-stake holding, ie, non-property tax paying, occupants of state-subsidized rental apartments, questionable sublets and illegal basement dwellings; and a disproportion of low-skilled, incidentally illegal economic migrants from Central and South America. Consider also, a continuing decline in career, union-membership availing employment in manufacturing and assembly, warehousing and distribution and other traditionally artisanal, skilled and semi-skilled placements. Consider further, a resident population of some 80,000, making New Rochelle the second largest city in the county of Westchester, and the sixth largest in the state of New York; but whose annual proceeds in sales tax revenue trails that of White Plains by 50%, a city with some 25% fewer residents.
Reflecting regional and national developments, Democrats continue to be favored in downstate New York as they are throughout California, the Pacific northwest and urban precincts Midwestern, Mid Atlantic and Floridian. They are prized, sometimes unaccountably and sometimes against obvious or apparent economic self-interest by: people of lower economic levels; immigrants legal and unlawful; professional folks like public and government lawyers, accountants, public-health workers and doctors, and bureaucrats, and: private lawyers, accountants, managers (for-profit and non-government organizations) who earn their living serving the government, litigating against the government and servicing government administrative agencies and the like.
Democrats are praised, or otherwise “gazed-at-adoringly” by most of the reporting, news compiling and aggregating press and broadcast media (especially in such popular venues as National Public Radio, and millennial grazing compounds like MSNBC and the countless ESPNs) web administrators and site-preparers, and the leftist, agit prop sectors of the academic/entertainment industrial complex. The uptown swells, the Upper West Siders, Dumbo and Atlantic Avenue habitants, the Bleecker Street irregulars and the Mandarins of Chappaqua, Pound Ridge and the “Rivertowns,” assorted North End Elites and alleged “wannabes” of “Scarsdale-section” New Rochelle. These, and professional fundraisers, artists and food-preparers of-the-world and glitterati-of-all-types will never vote for anyone other than a leftist Democrat and why should time be expended trying to illuminate such mind-bending sumptuary excess anyway?
The better question; how is it that in places other than Weimar-On-the-Sound (Westchester, New York’s Sound Shore) legitimate Republican conservative, non-“RINOs (Republicans in Name Only), conservative Democrats win public office with notable regularity? (per last year’s mid-term national elections, Republicans continue to dominate the political landscape of most state and county polities and a surprising portion of local governments, regardless of how many “End of Days”-for-Republicans scenarios are proffered by paid CNN pollsters and underemployed professors of law, political science, sociology and demographics!). And, somehow, small business-averse, crony capitalist-craving left wing Democrat knuckleheads are occasionally voted or driven (Congressperson Anthony “Carlos Danger” Weiner) from office (and sometimes elevated to high correctional institute standing; see: New York State Senator Pedro Espada and Assembly Leader Shelley Silver) and replaced with reformist Democrats and even Republicans.
It is beyond the purview of this essentially local, Sound Shore New Rochelle, New York commentary to review the universal political and campaign dynamics that often restrict political change and even necessary policy course correction; but also make change, even seismic change possible. But it is instructive to consider in light of the foregoing, how a comparatively high-income, culturally and intellectually enriched burg like this growing, nearly 80,000 peopled entity has reached a state of such political dystrophy and resistance to any sort of reform. The sort of reform that, contrary to the patently partisan and self-serving invective that follows critiques of the philosophical and organizational status quo of customarily incumbent majority and minority factions, might be viewed in a reasonably neutral and fair-minded manner to be both pro-business and free-market enlightened, and also procedurally progressive and socially liberal at the same time.
That the New Rochelle body politic has reached a state that in objective terms, seems so onerous, but in light of the availability of so much subjective good offers opportunities for beneficent outcomes should marvel the reader. But the real conundrum is the fact that the only opportunity for reversing New Rochelle’s decades of sorry outcomes lies in reforming the unsuccessful minority political organization. For what majority party would facilitate internal change if its way of doing business has brought it nothing but success in this past?
Let us now consider the present and future prospects for New Rochelle’s hapless Republicans. They of the “The party that dare not speak its name.”