November 2, 2015

By Arthur H. Gunther III

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 3, not a birthday “present” this year, but it has been often enough. In earlier times at a newspaper, I worked most birthday/election events. No complaints. Liked the job.

Not sure, though, if this year’s stable of candidates, and that might be an apt word given the field though it insults noble horses, will have us finding much to celebrate. For example, while the nation has had some awful presidents and national leaders, there also have been Heaven-given ones who led us through conflict, depressions and the national identity crisis that was the Civil War. That the debate for such high office, the highest one for us, could come to the mundane talking heads, outright falsehoods and race- and ethnic-baiting that we see in current primary lead-ups, means election time is not the holiday it ought to be.

July 4 may be our natal day, but our true birthday is Election Day or Primary Day, for that’s when optimism renews, thanks are given to time well served by those retiring good leaders, and hope is ready to leap come the day after the big vote.

This year does not include the presidential election, but the race to the primaries has been so drawn out and the rhetoric so banal and the substance so threadbare that the fear is even local/state contests on Nov. 3 won’t be well-attended. And that’s bad form. You should show up for the biggest birthday the U.S. has. So many countries don’t offer the privilege.

In my pea patch, local contests are mirrors of the national, with most renewing candidates hawking inflated records and challengers claiming they can make gold from dirt. Behind almost every contest in Rockland County, N.Y., is the shadow of excessive growth in a suburb just 20 miles north of New York City, expansion that today is geared to a religious bloc focused on its “needs.” It is an imbalance that threatens quality of life, the local treasuries and the costly infrastructure, and which fosters prejudice because this county, though it has a 200-year-plus history of diversity and tolerance, is not getting as good as it has given. Whatever blueprint there was for orderly development has been washed away in a grab for group expansion. Very few local candidates want to grasp this or seem to care. Many will win, serve a short time and probably move elsewhere with pensions. Not so for we locals who have our roots here, who want all to live  in balance, with mutual respect.

That’s in Rockland. But everywhere, of course, there are local issues, some complex, which may drive voters away from the polls.

In state contests, the electorate fears that special interests will negate their voice, so why come light a candle on the birthday cake? And with the middle class in continuing decline as greed makes a few — just a powerful few — bulge their pockets, who can afford a candle anyway?

Back when Nov. 4 was the occasional Election Day, I felt I had some of the biggest birthdays ever. I was photographing on the election, or editing copy about it or commenting on the results. It was so party-like, the atmosphere. It mattered not that no one knew it was an individual’s birthday. For me, I had a lot of people in the room, and it seemed like there was a really big cake with the heat of so many candles.

Hope our nation doesn’t forget its birthday this time, however depressing the voices. It’s the sort of day that begins a year ahead, with the hope, at least, of exceptional candidates for exceptional times. Might be a stale cake with a withered candle this 2015, though.

    The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via