The long game in Columbia

2 minute read

One political faction obtains a solid majority and uses it to push through a far-reaching initiative, only to have their dominance threatened in a subsequent election marked by newly-energized opposition and relatively low turnout. The 2010 mid-term victories of the Republican party? No, it’s the “Pioneers strike back” victories in the just-concluded elections for the Columbia Association Board of Directors.

Tom Coale has already done a good wrap-up, so I’ll confine myself to a couple of thoughts continuing the analogy above. First, what I’ll call the “anti-Arbor” faction faces a decision on strategy similar to that of the anti-Obamacare GOP post-2010: They apparently don’t have the votes to reverse the decision outright, so they face a choice between trying to shape the Inner Arbor plan more to their liking, making compromises where they can find them, or throwing sand in the gears of CA governance to try to delay things until they can re-take a board majority and kill the plan then.

I have no idea which strategy they’ll choose, and in one sense I don’t care—they’ll do what they want to do regardless of what I think. I’m more concerned about the strategy of those who favor the Inner Arbor plan and the accompanying 21st century redevelopment of Columbia. In a recent post unsuccessful candidate Julia McCready rues the “sliminess” in the electoral process. I understand her being upset, especially about untruths allegedly spread by the incumbent. Tom Coale also writes of “blatant and intentional lies” from Inner Arbor opponents. Going back to the GOP analogy, it sounds like someone’s been exercising their inner Karl Rove (or Lee Atwater, to use an example for an older generation). However I think the operative advice here is, “Don’t get mad, get even.”

How to do that? In another post Julia looks to the passing of the Pioneer generation: “… none of us are immortal. The time will come when those in power are gone.” Unfortunately I think this is like the Democratic party looking to demographic change for its salvation. Consider that even 70-ish Inner Arbor opponents can expect to live another 16 years or so if male, and almost 19 years if female, and they may attract younger proteges and supporters in the meantime. Waiting in and of itself is not going to win the day.

What will? I think Tom Coale has the right idea: “forward-thinking candidates” are going to have to build their own networks of dedicated supporters, people who will turn out reliably to testify at CA board meetings and vote in CA and village board elections. This will require not just online activism but old-fashioned offline relationship building and dues-paying, not just for a year or two leading up to the next CA elections but for the long term.

Which leaves me with a final question: Are there enough competent and energetic people who have the patience and stamina for that, especially in an era when Columbia is no longer the “new city upon a hill” but a suburb much like any other? The Columbia Pioneers have spent over thirty years promoting their vision of Columbia; is the next generation of Columbians prepared to spend the next thirty years promoting theirs?