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Thursday, Sept. 15, 2011 10:42 pm

Mayor Houston’s politics and promises

I watched with fascination the two recent nationally televised Republican debates. No, I am not a Republican nor is my allegiance to President Obama slipping. Perhaps I am drawn to these debates because, having recently run a political campaign, I, in some very small way, feel a kinship with these candidates. My stomach tightened as I listened to each candidate strive to hit their talking points, sound tough but compassionate, make that key point that generates audience approval, and struggle with pointed questions they would prefer not to answer. I even caught myself, in horror, almost commenting on Michele Bachman’s hair.

One aspect of the debate really struck a nerve, leading me to draw parallels to my own race in April. Throughout the debate, the moderators tried mightily to highlight inconsistencies in certain candidates’ past statements and actions with their remade selves who pander to popular sentiment. But that is how one wins right? Tell people what they want to hear, keep it simple but sensational and assure them you are going to right the ship. It is a political truism that I just couldn’t abide.

I will never forget candidate Mike Houston’s description of city government early in the campaign for mayor of Springfield. Responding to a question about why he decided to run, he said that the city was an “utter and complete disaster.” A bit over-the-top, don’t you think? True, few in Springfield were happy with the final years of the Davlin administration (including myself, which is why I left). And yes, doubt, uncertainty, unanswered questions and wild speculation about Mayor Davlin hung over the city then and now. But was the city really an utter and complete disaster?

Candidate Houston’s strong rhetoric continued with the declaration that CWLP was a “political fiefdom” and there were at least 40 people in do-nothing jobs at CWLP who could be eliminated without breaking stride. The implication being that major changes were crucial and we could expect swift, decisive action. Yet now, four months later, Mayor Houston says we need to avoid rash judgments in assessing personnel and we need an outside consulting firm to make objective assessments.

I remember at one forum candidate Houston saying fixing the city’s budget problems was the “easy part” and he would do it in 30 days. He also promised to revitalize the east side, “heal Springfield’s racial divide,” rebuild older neighborhoods “one abandoned building at a time,” increase workplace diversity, hire 25 percent minorities in police and fire until 15 percent minority representation in each department was reached, and unveil an infrastructure plan soon after the election. And remember, he promised to do all this and more in just four years! No wonder he won – I can’t believe I didn’t vote for him.

My point here is not to heap criticism on Mayor Houston. I believe Mayor Houston wants to make a positive difference for Springfield. But most people familiar with politics and government know that after the campaign is over and the catchy rhetoric fades from memory, the hard reality of governance awaits. Mayor Houston claims now that he didn’t realize how difficult things were going to be when he was campaigning and is now striking a much more measured and moderate tone. Definitely smart politics, but honest politics? I’m not so sure.

Now that the campaign is over and the voters have made a choice, the job of the people, is not over – it has just begun. At every level of government, it is up to us to remind our elected officials of the promises they made when seeking our support and to let them know we care enough to expect accountability and results.

Mayor Houston, this is not sour grapes. I really do hope you accomplish what you promised us during the campaign. Because if you do Springfield will be a much better place and you will be a great mayor.

Sheila Stocks-Smith of Springfield, who ran for mayor in the April election, is starting a business as a special projects consultant.
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