Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Stirring the pot

Were the writers at the Saratogian capenters, they'd be better at smashing their own fingers with the hammer than ever hitting the nail on the head. And proverbially speaking, there’s no better way for a reporter to bash the living hell out of the aforementioned digit than to start stirring the pot of Saratoga’s twisted genre of partisan politics.

Such was the case in Tuesday’s article about the city firefighters’ faux pas last month, when they hosted a John Sweeney campaign pow-wow featuring Republican heavy-hitter Rudy Giuliani and a veritable laundry list of other party heads. As Public Safety Commissioner Ron Kim rightly pointed out, the fire house is a public building and should therefore be free of partisan politics, or at least when there’s a media circus in tow.

Having a partisan rally at the station seems about as right as if the city Dems were to throw a beer-bash pig roast at the Public Works garage for Hilary Clinton's re-election campaign. While it’s no mystery the firefighters' ranks are dominated by republicans, there’s no need to use the department itself, a public entity, as a campaign battle ground. But this is a simple point of semantics and not necessarily worthy of much more than a staunch verbal reprimand, followed by assurances that such an event won’t happen in the future.

With all due respect to Kim, a self-professed political independent, he did follow the proper avenue in consulting the ethics board for their determination on the matter, although he more than likely could have handled everything himself. This allowed County Republican Chairman Jasper Nolan to politicize this mole hill into a mountain by laughably characterizing it as a Gillibrand-camp conspiracy to intimidate working class firefighters. Simply hilarious.

There is, however, an element of politics that could be noted in the whole sordid affair, even though it’s hardly worth more than a brief on the inside page of the Spa City’s daily disappointment.

See, there appears to be some hard feelings Kim has harbored toward some city Republicans following the 1999 election, which saw the first democrat majority in nearly two decades swept into office. Back then, he was an active member of the GOP in the city’s fourth district, who argued that the city Repubs should choose their leader through ballot vote, rather than by caucus.

Then, five years later, Kim’s seat on the Zoning Board of Appeals, a position he held since being appointed by former Republican Mayor Michael O’Connell, was unceremoniously stripped from him by another former GOP mayor, Michael Lenz. And who was picked to replace Kim? None other than Fred Whipple, a long time GOP loyalist, lieutenant with the city fire department and president of the firefighter’s union, which brought Sweeney to the fire house in the first place.

The Saratogian chose instead to ignore all this history. In a single-source article that couldn’t be more off the mark, it was Kim, a Democrat, waging a battle of partisan politics against the Republicans as a whole. And from simple observation, this is far from the case, seeing as though Kim is not and has never been affiliated with the city Democrats, other than riding their endorsement into office last year.

All this can be a valuable lesson to outsiders: at the depth where city politics rest, the waters are mighty murky. Party loyalty isn’t as mandatory as it is at the upper echelons of politics. Rather, local politics has a bit more to do with longstanding grudges harbored by one city politician against another; republican and democrat loyalty are merely vesicles for these grudges to be exacted. Just ask Mayor Keehn and the brothers’ McTygue.

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