Compromise can be a bad word in politics. It’s considered selling out, caving in, and giving up. But if the word compromise makes you uncomfortable, would you accept the words deal, bargain, or negotiation? I would. Because I think compromise is often a good and a necessary part of life. And balanced negotiation is a lost art, especially in politics. In most circumstances taking 75% of what you asked for and fighting for the rest later is far superior than stomping your feet and walking away with nothing.
The worst negotiators are the guys who slam the table.
I’ve spent my professional life as a corporate attorney. On many occasions, I’ve been the guy sent into the room to save a deal or get a deal done. Getting a deal done doesn’t mean being a pushover. It means understanding where there is room to give and where you can’t budge. And it also means as long as those ‘can’t budge’ areas are kept safe, you find a way to get the paper signed.
I remember negotiating a contract with a gigantic German fellow (almost seven feet tall). On our first day together he entered the room with his chest puffed out half a foot. With large arm movements and heavily accented English he told me, “I don’t take no for an answer, and, if necessary, I use my size to get my way.” In one of the rare moments in my life where my timing matched my wit I said, “Gee whiz, how’s your love life?” The somewhat crude line worked. The room broke out in laughter and the giant was left flustered. In the end, he compromised and we got the deal done. You see, strong arm tactics may play well on TV shows and before partisan crowds, but they don’t really work well in real life. At least they don’t work if you really want to get anything accomplished. Being reasonable and working towards mutually acceptable solutions is almost always the best way forward.
The Town Board is getting things done by compromising.
The Town Board features the full spectrum of political views—moderates, Independents, Conservatives, Republicans, and Democrats. But thus far I’m proud that we have been able to compromise (bargain, negotiate, deal) on all manner of issues, from the Gus Macker to the Professional Services RFP. It can get a little argy bargy at times, but I am thankful that there has been frank, open, and transparent discussion and a spirit of compromise, in the best sense of the word.
One issue that has required a great deal of compromise is trapping. Now, I had very little interest in trapping before I took office. But I met with as many experts and interested parties as I could. I also read a great deal about the subject and sat down for discussions with members of our Town Advisory Boards. Relying on all of this, I worked with my colleagues on the Town Board (who also conducted a great deal of independent research and had their own opinions) to draft a law that addressed the concerns expressed to us by people on both sides of the trapping issue.
Truth be told, the original draft law in my opinion, was quite favorable to the anti-trapping folks. I was proud of that. I know Councilman Mike Madigan (who is an avid sportsman and someone I have come to respect as quite principled) would have probably liked the law to be far more favorable towards the trappers. But the Town Board as a whole worked something out that we believed to be a fair and well thought-out response to this issue.
Despite our efforts to get a deal done on trapping, however, the negative fallout from the anti-trapping folks was considerable. Misinformation regarding the proposed law and the types of traps you can use (those dangerous, toothy bear traps are certainly illegal) was plentiful. And the internet has been covered in pictures of my face with dead animals (as well as my fellow council member’s faces). On the date of the public hearing, we had out-of-town activists chanting that Grand Island has “blood on its hands.” All of this, despite the fact that we proposed limiting trapping more than Amherst, Buffalo, Tonawanda, or just about any other town in New York State.
The personal attacks are fine. That’s what I signed up for. I’m not complaining. I bring it up, however, because I think the experience highlights a principle that I think is important and that I will strive to make a hallmark of my term as Supervisor. Life is not a zero sum game or an all or nothing proposition. There is room for compromise in all things. And if leaving a sliver of leniency to balance the interests of trappers gets the deal done, I’ll take it. And this balanced approach is the same approach I will rely on going forward.
Compromise moves things forward.
There certainly are times you must take a stand and not bend. Those times are personal decisions, but some great leaders have expressed the hopelessness of mindlessly standing firm and not budging. In the words of Ronald Reagan, “I’ve learned while negotiating union contracts that you seldom got everything you asked for.” And I agree with FDR, who said in 1933: “I have no expectations of making a hit every time I come to bat. What I seek is the highest possible batting average.”
Since I brought up trapping, I need to say how proud I was of the way our community acted at the Town Hall meeting on March 7. It was packed! Yet we had a thoughtful and sincere debate where even outsiders were able to come and express their opinions openly without fear of rebuke. In my judgement, many (including me), went away further edified. Heck, I think the news reporters were disappointed that it was all so darn pleasant. On March 7th I saw balance. I saw respect and consideration of opposing views. I saw America at its finest – reminiscent of what the Founding Fathers intended when they spoke of the “marketplace of ideas.” Thank you Grand Island!
With highest regards,
- as first appeared in the Island Dispatch