Perpetual campaigns ruin ability to get things done election cycles

Sun Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale, FL
Copyright © 2011 Sun-Sentinel

If the city of Lake Worth was a state, it would be known as the State of Perpetual Campaigns. A new surgeon general’s warning could be created for communities such as ours, since living with strong-headed intransigent people who are politically polarized to the point of paranoia is clearly hazardous to one’s health.

The epidemic is a national one.

Perhaps it is the state of our union or the nastiness of our newsfeeds, but this condition has exhausted my social network and has all but destroyed the electorate’s state of mind. Persistent, sour divisiveness makes the most patient civic participant want to take a long walk off our shortened Lake Worth pier, as intolerance of one another has risen past our collective debt ceiling.

My city’s perpetual challenge? Two or three out of our five elected seats are up for grabs every other November. And with this spring’s premature departure of former Mayor Rene Varela, Lake Worth residents were forced into a June special election, followed by a July runoff held last night, for a seat that will be up for grabs again come August.

To worsen our disparity, two commission seats are always filled in alignment with congressional mid-term or presidential elections, while the mayor and the other two commissioners are elected during odd years, when voter turnout is historically much lower. As a result, officials are always either campaigning to win their own seats or working to fill the ones beside them. Rarely is one commission team ever responsible for any single initiative because the majority of decisions inevitably cross multiple election cycles.

For many, last night’s electoral hookup turned into today’s walk of shame. Unlikely bedfellows awoke after the runoff staring straight into the face of a neighbor they don’t even want to share a city with, as others escorted strangers out the door after a one-night stand because they never wanted to meet halfway across the street, never mind across the aisle. We’ve come full circle again – and will watch to see how others do and undo under duress – all in the name of winning a moment.

If it is true that tragedy plus time equals comedy, then the problem is clearly that there is never enough time between elections to find any levity among the houses in this game of thrones. However, we can moderate the temperature locally if we extend the terms of office a year to hold elected officials accountable, return to March municipal elections to make voter turnout more equitable, and force each of us to get more serious about marriages of political convenience by making it harder to file for quickie annulments when things don’t go the way we planned.

Tony Plakas is the CEO of Compass, the gay and lesbian community center of Lake Worth and the Palm Beaches.