Sydney accuses, then loses
Published in the Brookline
September 28, 2000
I remained pretty even-handed during the state representative campaign.
My comments on several issues may have favored the challenger more often
than the incumbent, though that wasn't my goal. I did make fun of the
PIPERS--the Progressive Intelligent People to Elect Ronny Sydney--but
whoever made up that name deserved the ridicule. I also criticized Frank
Smizik's initially tepid anti-MCAS
My underlying neutrality stemmed from several beliefs: that modern elections
are neither a significant means of social change nor an expression of
meaningful democracy; that neither candidate's politics was sufficiently
leftward of mainstream liberalism; and that it wouldn't make much difference
in most people's lives which liberal politico won.
So I endorsed no one and planned to join the non-voting majority--until
the end-of-campaign endorsement fiasco got me so annoyed I went out in
the rain and headed for the voting booth.
Endorsements persuade. A seal of approval from someone who's well-known
and well-liked helps some voters make up their minds.
Someone like Bobby Allen, for example, the popular Selectman whose own
campaign last spring actually brought in some new voters. Allen was listed
on Sydney's endorsement list in a TAB ad just before the election and
in a brochure mailed to households all over town.
Many people didn't see a TAB article appearing the same day as the ad,
which explained that Allen and several other supposed supporters never
gave permission to be listed.
Sydney initially blamed the screw-up on her failure to give the campaign's
computer operator the names of incorrectly listed people, but that didn't
explain why those names were on the list to begin with. She later speculated
that separate lists might have been mistakenly intermingled.
Other comments made things worse. Sydney offered one of those accurate
but minimal "I'm sorry, but these things happen" statements. She said
she'd apologize directly to everyone who was incorrectly listed, but didn't
pledge to spend the remaining five days of the campaign notifying every
registered voter of the errors. Such an action might even have gotten
her some needed votes.
What got me out in the rain, though, was Sydney's insistence that she
"deserves an opportunity to scrutinize Frank Smizik's list" and--with
absolutely no evidence whatsoever--that she was "sure" there were wrong
names on Smizik's list, too.
That low blow, a sign of a decent person's campaign falling apart, was
entirely undeserved. Not a single person on Smizik's list has claimed
to be listed incorrectly. In the meantime, the number of people who say
Sydney included them wrongly has crept upward.
Unfortunately, Sydney's comments were consistent with her campaign's
pattern of vagueness and avoidance (about many issues), heavy-handedness
(from last spring's effort by supporters to oust former TAB columnist
Stanley Spiegel to Sydney's accusation that Smizik "blatantly lied" about
her record), and plain bizarreness (the PIPERS, whom I'd like to figure
out how to blame for the endorsement problem).
In fuzzy-headed protest I voted for Smizik.
The new rep, whose savvy campaign was more focused and less error-prone
than Sydney's, has an impressive activist record. I'll be surprised, though,
if he makes as much difference in the Statehouse as his supporters expect.
As I see it, legislatures react to mass pressure, not individual heroics.
Besides, I'm still waiting for his plan to end Speaker Finneran's lock
on the House rules.
So I'm curious to see how he does, and I wish him luck. But I won't hold
I'm also curious to see how he'll defend his record two years from now,
perhaps against a more careful Sydney.
My curiosity also extends to his remaining time on the School Committee.
Last year, Smizik's increasingly emphatic anti-MCAS comments outpaced
his overly cautious actions as Committee Vice-Chair. He waited until June
to force a vote on a strong anti-MCAS statement. He's never voted to stop
reprisals for student boycotters or to reverse MCAS's distortion of Brookline's
curriculum--actions the School Committee could take on its own, without
appealing to the state.
C'mon, Frank! You can do something about MCAS right here at home. And
then you can try to do it again downtown. Now's the time!
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