The Bumpy Road of Politics When Fairness is an Excuse to Stop the Game By Peter Livingston














Yesterday, my son came home earlier than expected from playing at a neighborhood friend's house. He and his friends had gathered to play football. One boy was unhappy with the team he ended up on and decided that he wanted to change the way that they normally chose teams. However, unable to reach consensus, the boy became frustrated. Ultimately, the boy declared "this isn't fair," took his ball and went home.

Without a football, the remaining boys decided to go home and, as my son did, demand an earlier dinner. Also, he wanted his own football.

I pondered his request as I watched the evening local news. WGRZ ran an interesting story about some of the worst roads in Erie County, focused on Goodrich Road in Clarence. It is in bad shape and many believe that it is a safety hazard. The reporter, Danny Spewak, noted that during his campaign for County Executive in 2011, Mark Poloncarz specifically identified Goodrich Road as being "in really bad shape" and called out his opponent for not fixing the road.

When confronted with the campaign footage, Mr. Poloncarz said it was "unfair" to do so. My thoughts quickly returned to my son's football request. I wonder what Mr. Poloncarz would instruct the boys that he coaches to do in my son's situation? Probably: take the ball and go home.

After dinner, my son went out to play with his friends again. He came home pretty tired, took a bath and went to bed. That granted a stay before I had to make a decision on the football. I used that time to contemplate fairness. Was it "unfair" to confront Poloncarz about campaign rhetoric?

Candidate Poloncarz, as Spewak reminded us, spoke a lot about roads. But he has said very little since he was elected. Refer to Poloncarz's State of the County address as an example of the attention he gives to roads. The address is 5,913 words long; he used only 44 words to discuss roads and bridges. By comparison, he uses 114 words to discuss libraries, 212 words to discuss cultural organizations and 307 words to discuss parks.

These are all important topics, but they are not a public safety threat like dangerous roads. I think most people would place public safety concerns ahead of other quality of life issues.

Most people, but not all. And certainly not County Executive Poloncarz. During his address, he stated "I believe investment in our arts and cultural assets should be no more optional than funding our parks, roads and bridges." At the same time he bemoans the legislature's refusal to rubber-stamp his demand for a tax increase, he discusses how he increased funding to parks, libraries and cultural institutions. I doubt that will relieve people injured as the result of dangerous unrepaired roads.

When questioned by Spewak about the lack of repairs to Goodrich Road, Poloncarz employed his tired refrain blaming the legislature for refusing to raise taxes. He cites the $8 million that the legislature cut from his proposed budget to avoid a tax increase as the reason that Goodrich Road cannot be fixed.

Poloncarz needs to find another scapegoat, unless he is willing to acknowledge any sort of personal responsibility. But that's not his style.

Last month, the County Executive submitted to the legislature a plan to spend money that wasn't used from the 2012 budget - over $4 million. That package restored some of the cuts made by the legislature as part of the 2013 budget process. It also introduced new spending that was not related to any of the cuts made by the legislature.

Logically, before introducing new spending priorities, previous higher spending priorities must be fully funded. By introducing new spending priorities for 2013, Poloncarz must acknowledge that the higher priorities are adequately funded. Therefore, by introducing new spending priorities, he has lost the right to argue that his previous priorities are no longer adequately funded.

As such, Poloncarz's misplaced blame of the Legislature for the failure to repair roads is a subterfuge for his inability or lack of desire to make safe roads a priority. To compound refusal to accept any responsibility for breaking a campaign promise, he even goes so far as to suggest that the people of Clarence should pay more taxes if they want their roads fixed. Clearly, the answer to every problem facing Poloncarz is higher taxes. This lack of imagination, intellect and effort must serve as the new definition of "leadership" in the Rath Building.

So, what to do about my son's request for a football? I think I will discuss fairness with him. When someone declares something is "unfair," have a discussion as to why something is "unfair." Determine if the claim is legitimate, or merely a diversionary response to avoid a discussion about personal responsibility, distaste with an unexpected outcome or some other reason not rooted in fairness at all.

And if the boy takes his ball and walks away, don't just give up. There is typically not just one answer to a problem. I will encourage my son to use his intellect, creativity and communication skills to find alternative to the ball game.

One thing I won't do, however, is take him to the Rath building for advice, only to find that Mr. Poloncarz has taken his ball and gone home.

Comments? Please email me at peter.r.livingston@gmail.com. I also occasionally comment on Twitter @PRLivingston.




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