After a major defeat at the polls, the losing political party takes stock and starts planning its return, like any Jedi knight.
But since the Democrats handily won four seats on the City Council in the November election and will have a 6-1 majority come January 1, the Rye Republican landscape is looking a lot like Planet Alderaan.
Doug French, a Republican, who was mayor from 2009 to 2013, said it’s the two-party system in Rye that has been embattled the last 12 years.
“The Rye community has become more apolitical on the local level the last decade as residents don’t completely ascribe national political views to local government issues. As a result, the parties have had a hard time fielding full slates each election, let alone ones that align along their ideological lines.”
He continued, “And yet, the Rye Republican party continues to operate as in the days of Boss Tweed where local issues are discussed in a backroom in the context of what is good for the so-called ‘party’. What’s good for the residents are transactional issues such as paved roads, sound finances, public safety, effective land use, and overall quality of life.
For the party to rebuild, short-term, French said it needs “an immediate leadership change to allow for more inclusion, points-of-view, collaboration, and discussion. Most of those involved with the party the last 25 years would agree. As an example, after the two parties negotiated the cross-endorsement of one slate in the 2007 election (effectively taking the vote away from residents), the 2009 Change for Rye team was created and infused new people, ideas, and energy into the party that rebuilt the infrastructure for upcoming campaigns.”
Long-term, he believe the parties need to move to a model similar to communities like Rye Brook, Bronxville, and Scarsdale in which candidates run as individuals — not tied to political parties — and register with an election board. “This way, voters are deciding based on the qualifications, positions, and merits of individuals. Unfortunately, the concept would be rejected outright by, you guessed it, the party bosses.”
Susan Watson, who ran and lost along with the rest of the Republican ticket for Council this fall, said that for the Republicans to have more success in the next election in 2019 they will need active district leaders and a galvanizing issue, as Crown Castle and the Disbrow Plan were in this election.
Since the election, Watson has reviewed poll numbers. “Two years ago, Catherine Parker won the County Legislator race with 5,001 votes; this year she received 10,000 votes!” Watson believes that “some of the increased volume reflects new registrants, many of whom are from New York City, but I suspect that the vast majority was the anti-Republican/ anti-Trump wave throughout Westchester, which took out three County Legislators, in addition to the County Executive.”
Former Councilman Matt Fahey finds it “funny how the pendulum swings back and forth every few years, with each party positioning itself as the answer to the problems facing the electorate. In reality, the best governments are those with a mix of views. Ideas truly get debated with each side championing their position.”
He added, “Although I was very discouraged by the Dems sweep in 2005, I ended up with a great deal of respect for George Pratt, Andy Ball, Mack Cunningham, and Steve Otis, and gained even more respect for the democratic process of elections every two years. I think the Council made some good decisions in those two years, though I didn’t always agree at the time.”
The reason why the Republican Party lost so heavily in this year’s election, Fahey remarked, is that “their candidates were not able to convince the voting public they understood the issues and were empathetic to residents’ concerns. A campaign must be more than a catchy slogan. Candidates must assure voters that a competent and trustworthy team will be judicious in wielding the power granted by the governed.
“This was a historic loss. At the very least, the GOP needs to re-examine their strategy and organization, and must have some frank discussions within the party ranks to formulate a set of principles in which it operates. New leadership is clearly needed to rebuild the infrastructure. Rye needs an active and informed debate for an effective local government, and if the local GOP doesn’t participate in the public dialogue, others can and should step into the breach to ensure the public gets the benefit of a healthy dialogue.”
Meg Cameron, chair of the Rye Democrats, is of the view that, “The Democrats ran a mixed-party slate and emphasized the importance of nonpartisan local government; the Republicans omitted any mention of party from their campaign literature. This allowed Rye residents to choose their local leaders on their qualifications and their positions on local issues. The huge margin (61%) by which the community chose Cohn, Goddard, Souza and Stacks is truly a mandate for change.”
Sometimes it’s just as simple as that.