I am writing this on Election Day morning. I don’t know who will win any of the elections tonight. But eventually, one way or another, it’s going to thankfully come to an end soon. It was a sad spectacle. Far too much of it was not about ideas. Instead the whole discussion devolved into character assassination, and straight out, unedited insult.
Unfortunately, that seems to be far too much of the public discourse in America nowadays. The acerbic frequency of accusation and slander reverberates even throughout local politics, and even with regard to an issue as seemingly mundane as the West River Connector trail project. People seem more willing to bash and attack each other over even the flimsiest of pretexts rather than engage in considered reason and debate—and that goes for both sides.
I have no idea what the State will say
Like the election results, as I write this, I have no idea precisely what the state will announce on Wednesday when then convey their conclusions and set their final plan for the West River. But no matter what they present there will be people who are (as you read this) disappointed.
Despite the disagreement, I sincerely hope that we can finally move on from the frothing storm of animosity. Throughout our history America has been a place where forgiveness and peaceful accord mark the end of even the most robust debates. America is not a land of entranced grievances where we nurse perceived slights for generations. Maybe because of (or perhaps despite) our religious heritage, we forgive. We move on.
For example, when President Obama beat Mitt Romney four years ago, Mitt Romney did not take up arms and lay waste to the White House. And even in the much-disputed election where President Bush beat Al Gore, despite losing the popular vote, when the dust settled both men shook hands and moved on. America needs to work on how we debate, but it has an incredible capacity to forgive, adapt, and heal after the debates are over.
Speaking of insults, let me share a few. He was ". . . a mongrel between pig and puppy, begotten by a wild boar and a [expletive] wolf." That was said by founding father John Adams, of all people. But it gets worse. Another said of the same man, “How [he] gets a living now, or what brothel he inhabits, I know not . . . He has done all the mischief he has in this world; and whether his carcass is at last to be suffered to rot on the earth, or to be dried in the air, is very little consequence.”
Yikes, right? Pretty awful stuff. But who are we talking about here? What scoundrel? What lecherous miscreant? Well, let me continue the quote above to give you your answer. “Like Judas . . . men will learn to express all that is base, malignant, treacherous, unnatural, and blasphemous by the single monosyllables of [Thomas] PAINE!”
Believe it or not, the words above were used to describe one of the most brilliant founding fathers, who wrote the immortal work “Common Sense,” which has been described as “the match that lit the fuse of democracy” worldwide in general and of America in particular.
Thomas Jefferson used Paine’s works as a template when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. He was directly inspired by Paine's ideas on natural dignity and humanity. Jefferson even tried to model Paine’s writing style of every day, relatable, vernacular-based prose (I need to work on that!). Yet despite the greatness of Paine, many hated him and thought of him as a misguided fool. He ended his life being buried without fanfare in a nondescript grave in New Rochelle, New York
The story of Paine does not end in New Rochelle. Not only did his work endure beyond his death, but so did the journey of his mortal remains. Ten years after his death, his once fierce opponent, William Cobett, (the one who compared him to Judas above) actually dug up Paine’s bones without permission for the purpose of building a memorial in London to inspire the British people to embrace democracy. Somewhere along the way, however, the bones were lost—(you can’t make this stuff up). The point is that in America, even the fiercest of political foes, can forgive each other and move on.
We can forgive, heal, and move on
No matter who wins the election tonight, and no matter how much you hate Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Trump, America will endure. We are strong. And we are strong because of our values, which are the values of Paine and Jefferson, such as freedom of religion, equal representation before the law, and freedom of speech.
And here the stakes are much, much lower. If we can shake hands and move on after debates of national consequence, we can certainly come together as a community after this. I am confident that experts at the State have taken the time to study the alternatives and the thousands of comments. The decision will be based on years of study and analysis, and not the emotion of the moment.
It is clear that I strongly believe that repurposing the Parkway is the best solution for Grand Island as a whole. I truly fear a path with more pavement and guardrails down the middle will be an eyesore that even those opposed to the closing of the parkway will curse in years to come. Those who now say “Save the Parkway”, would eventually chant, "Tear up the path!" But because I have trusted the process, I promise to listen and adhere to the final decision. Enough tax payer money has been spent. No person or group should control this alone.
If I knew the storm was coming . . .
I was recently asked, “If you knew how much trouble this would cause you and us, would you have still taken such a strong stand?”
I thought back to a story my Mom once told me about my Dad, who was working construction during the Blizzard of 77. He took a project in a half-built mansion to earn a few extra bucks. My family needed the money at the time. He had no idea that the storm would be so strong, and when he tried to get home, his truck got stuck in a drift. He wandered to a house to ask to use the phone and they told him to go away by threat of force. He was forced to make his way back to the mansion, where he spent three days, freezing, without heat. I told my mom, “Jeez, if only he knew the storm was coming.” And she answered, “He would have gone anyway. He ended up finishing half the house and made a killing.”
Just going through the motions as a politician is easy. Getting things done is much, much more difficult. Because no matter what stand you take, someone will hate you for it. I guess that’s why so many politicians don’t take a stand. But I will not refuse to take a stand (as you have seen). Yes, this whole thing was started years ago by the previous administration and is a State Park project – nothing to do with me or the Town Board. But, admittedly, I pushed the State to get the project moving forward again. And I’m proud of that. Even if you don’t agree with the outcome, I hope you will make the most of this. I hope you will move forward. There’s work to do; even in a storm.
With much respect,