Human beings are generally very social. The state of nature was not a state of war, but a state of cooperation since the dawn of time. We are far smarter than our primate cousins. And that intelligence allows us to cooperate (on a massive scale) in ways less intelligent primates cannot. Chimps work together in small families to maximize resources. Humans thrive in mighty cities. Think about places like New York. It all pretty much works: all those bus lines, traffic lights, and stacks of apartments. Every day the fact that so many people get to work on time in and of itself is a miracle. But it's a miracle created by the ingenuity of the very social human mind.
Humans don’t always cooperate
Although humans are social, they can also be very competitive, especially regarding disputes over status. This dominance can be seen throughout the animal kingdom. There can only be one chairman or CEO, one alpha dog, or one silverback ape. Everyone else is just somewhere in the pecking order looking up. Even insects follow this pattern. There is only one queen bee. Even when she is old and weak, she commands her retainers to drive out the rival and her entourage. The banished buch is known a “swarm,” a rather disparaging word.
The nasty nature of politics
Much of politics is like this too. It’s essentially a giant game of king of the hill: you only have so many open slots. There can only be one Supervisor, and only five sit on the Town Council. It’s a zero sum game, and in an election winner takes all. That’s why the competition in politics can get very nasty.
Because of this nastiness the last two years have been, in many ways, the most miserable years of my life. They have also been the best, but I’d be lying if I said my time as Supervisor has been all sunshine and butterflies. Some readers may point the finger at me, and I’m certainly not blameless, but my record speaks of anything but a person focused on political kabuki. I have other goals.
We are accomplishing those goals
I consistently remind readers of our accomplishments because, so many want them ignored. We have passed solar power initiatives, upgraded our roundabout, and protected hundreds and hundreds of acres of forest from apartment sprawl and bad development.
Barring unforeseen circumstances, by the end of 2018 we will have:
Sidewalks up and down the Boulevard
The West River multi-use path open
Holiday Inn Express (former Dunlop building) up and running
Cashless tolls in place
The Welcome Center built
We should be proud. These are achievements we can all celebrate together.
I could do better
I grew up watching a lot of Mr. Rodgers. Watching the old episodes with my children still inspires me. I wish we could all live more like the standard set by Fred Rodgers. Of the many wonderful things he said, “I believe appreciation is a holy thing, and that when we look for what’s best in the person . . . we do what God does; so in appreciating our neighbor we’re participating in something truly sacred.”
I appreciate the people I serve with, all of you. We know how deeply unfair and hurtful politics can be, but you all chose to serve nonetheless. Thank you to those who are running on November 7. You know how sincerely I hope that the candidates I support will win, because I believe their skills and experience will help our town. But even to those I do not support—one of whom I appointed as Planning Board Chair and one of whom reached out me in the past to express support for my leadership, for which I am still thankful—I appreciate your eagerness to serve.
We could all do better
There is another corrosive mentality we need to face outside the political arena: the idea that some people are “Islanders” and others are not. I grew up in North Tonawanda. I was gone for long time, and when I returned to Western New York my initial plan was to buy a house along the canal. That’s where my brother, a Republican and President of the North Tonawanda School Board, lives, and it's a place I have fond feelings for.
But I did not go to North Tonawanda. Grand Island was a special place to me growing up, and it's someplace that just felt right. When I came here I never expected to be the Supervisor, but after living here for awhile, I quickly realized that there were missed opportunities and potential challenges that would harm Grand Island unless someone stood up.
I stood up
Still, to some, I’m not an Islander. I’ve heard from residents who have been here over 30 years; some of their neighbors accuse them of not being “real Islanders.” How ridiculous is that? I wish those people would understand how hurtful they are to so many who make this place special. The narcissism of small differences is a term used by Sigmund Freud to describe how communities close together often engage in petty feuds and mutual ridicule because of hypersensitivity to small differences. I think this concept comes from that part of human nature that fears challenges to status.
I don’t want to challenge anyone’s claim on history or belonging. None of us should, whether we’ve been here for two years or 20 years. We are all residents of Grand Island, and we all have the opportunity to make our Town even better by being eager to serve, contribute and dream. We are all Islanders — Republicans and Democrats, long-timers and newcomers, rivals and friends — and we’re in this together. There is no swarm of angry bees on the outside facing off against a dying queen. We’re all on the same Island.