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Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, May 26, 2005

Diverse views benefit democracy

Political parties are absolutely necessary to modern democratic government.

In a representative democracy, where all the people are permitted to vote and to take part in the government, there must be some arrangement for nominating candidates for public office and for selecting the issues for public debate and determination. This is what political parties do.

The two-party system has a long and useful history in our country, since Colonial times, beginning with the Whigs and the Tories and progressing to the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists.

The Republicans and the Democrats have, since the Civil War, been the two dominant parties in America. And their battles are waged not just for the White House and Congress, for the statehouse and state legislatures, but for local governments across our land.

Guilderland is no exception. The town, which had been largely rural and conservative, was dominated by Republicans for nearly 200 years. In Albany County, the Democrats had lived in the city. With a shift in population to the suburbs, Democrats made inroads.

For five years now, Guilderland government has been dominated by Democrats. About a third of Guilderland voters are enrolled as Democrats, about a third as Republicans, and about a third are enrolled in small parties or not in any party.

As town board elections loom in the fall, the two major parties are assembling their slates. Last week, Bruce Sherwin, a Democrat who has served one four-year term on the Guilderland Town Board, told us the Democratic committee in town will not back him for a second term, although he’d like to run.

That’s a shame.
Many town board actions in recent years have been performed in lock step. Sherwin was frequently the only independent voice on the board.

Two issues where Sherwin voted alone are indicative of his thoughtful approach. Both of those were well-publicized and controversial issues where Sherwin focused on a flawed town board process.

One was approving the re-zoning of agricultural land so Jeff Thomas could build a senior-housing complex in the midst of a moratorium for rural western Guilderland. Sherwin cast the sole dissenting vote, saying, in part, "Even though there’s a need for senior housing, there are other needs in town as well. If I had to choose between the project and the planning process, I was on the side of the process."

He wasn’t intimidated by a hall packed with Thomas supporters; rather, he stood by a planning process the town itself had implemented.

The other was on a Patriot Act resolution. For months, a citizens’ committee had asked the town board to sign a resolution, as other municipalities had, to oppose portions of the federal act with unclear language that could violate the rights of innocent people.

Without telling the citizens’ group, which had attended every board meeting, the town board passed a different resolution that distanced itself from the citizens’ concerns, agreeing to forward the original resolution and town-board minutes of meetings to the state senators and local congressman, while stating, the town board "renders no opinion as to the accuracy of the claims made by the groups."

Only Sherwin voted against the resolution. He said that the board should have voted on the group’s original resolution and stated, "I would have preferred it to be done within a normal board situation, with it on the agenda."

Again, the process was flawed and only Sherwin had the insight or the guts to say so. The new resolution was not publicized, was not on the agenda, and was voted on without benefit of public discourse.

The danger of a single party holding all the seats on a board, as the Democrats do in Guilderland, is that the give and take, which is the hallmark of good government, can be lost. Citizens, Democrats and Republicans alike, should value a board member who questions and who is willing to speak his mind.

Sherwin told us last week, "My only agenda is: What’s in the best interest of the town""

Sherwin says he’s being punished for not toeing the party line. Certainly, someone elected on a party platform should stand firm on the party’s planks; that’s what voters chose when they pulled the lever on Election Day.

But Sherwin isn’t deserting Democratic party principles. He says his values and views are similar to those on the Democratic committee.

Instead, Sherwin says he’s being punished for such things as supporting Democratic candidates at the county level who the town committee did not back. Sherwin says that the Guilderland party chair, Councilman David Bosworth, told him who he must support.

"I said that’s unacceptable," said Sherwin. "I said that, in a democracy, there should be differences of opinion. I was told that I'd have no future in the Democratic party because of this."

Sherwin also says of the Democratic committee, "They didn’t feel I’d given the party enough local help in terms of going door to door and in terms of putting up signs."

Sherwin said he thought his time was best spent contributing to local organizations, such as the library board, the Guilderland Performing Arts Center, the Schoolcraft House, the Guilderland Hamlet Neighborhood Association, the McKownville Fire Department, and the McKownville Improvement Association.

Bosworth said of Sherwin last week, "He’s not a loyal party person. He’s distanced himself from party activities, like Democrat dinners, and he didn’t march in the bicentennial parade."

We’d rather have someone working in our behalf than making a display of his loyalty.

Two years ago, Republicans running unsuccessfully against Bosworth for town board accused him of controlling the other board members. They nicknamed him "Boss Bosworth" and said it’s a conflict of interest for a party chair to serve on the town board.

While at the time we dismissed the "Boss Bosworth" charge as hyperbolic campaign rhetoric, we can now see the seed of that conflict blossoming into Sherwin’s dismissal.

Serving a political party is different than serving the people who elected you.

"I decided to do what I thought was right, to represent the entire town, not just do what Dave Bosworth wanted," Sherwin told us last week.

Bosworth said he wasn’t surprised by Sherwin’s statements. "Bruce was fervent in his beliefs," he said, "and that can alienate people."

Whom does it alienate"
The Greek philosophers Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, taught the youth of Athens that politics is the most useful and honorable of all the professions. Good government requires good leadership, and this leadership depends upon the character of the politicians. That’s as true today in Guilderland as it was for an ancient Greek city-state.

The supervisor had this to say about Sherwin, "I do think Bruce is an independent thinker, but I think he’s always out working for the betterment of the town. Discussion amongst board members is a healthy thing. We don’t want to make decisions in a vacuum."

We’d vote any day for a candidate who puts the interests of the town before the interests of party loyalty and self-promotion. We hope the Democratic committee, which won’t officially nominated candidates for another week, gives us that chance by backing Councilman Sherwin.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer

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