Supporting Democracy by supporting Issue 26
Of late I’ve been re-reading The Federalist Papers, the essays written in 1787 and 1788 by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay “to decide the important question, whether societies of men [sic] are really capable or not, of establishing good government from reflection and choice.” I wanted to understand more deeply how our founders discussed the exercise in democracy they were launching—what they thought of its scope, its limitations, its benefits, its challenges.
We’re going through something like that original debate right now in Cleveland Heights. It’s not nearly as consequential as The Federalist Papers disputes, but our debate has been similarly passionate, widespread and fundamental. We can be grateful for that—we live in a city where people care deeply about how we should govern our community, and why.
I’ve long been a supporter of a directly elected, full-time mayor. I was shocked when I learned that in our current system we actually abdicate that power to seven members of city council. It seemed incongruous with the civic nature of the Cleveland Heights citizenry that I had so come to value.
I still feel that way, even after hearing the opposing arguments.
An elected mayor will lead to political corruption? That claim could apply to any elected official, including our city council, so it seems rather disingenuous (and the argument has no real basis in evidence).
The current system is more efficient? Hardly; again, there is no research to support that claim.
The current system is more accountable? That doesn’t even make sense on the face of it. Accountability is now diffuse, opaque; how could it be worse?
The current system guarantees professionalism? Again, that makes no sense: professional city administrators can be hired by either a directly elected mayor—as specified in Issue 26—or by a council.
Issue 26 is a referendum on the city manager or council? Maybe for a few, but I generally believe that the current city manager is doing a decent job, and so are most members of council.
We’ve had the same system for 100 years—if it’s not broke, why fix it? I find that one of the weakest arguments: why, after all, would we even hesitate to make any system of government better, if it’s in our power to do so?
There are many reasons I support Issue 26—accountability, professionalism, checks and balances, efficiency, momentum, growth—but one reason rises above all others: the mayor of Cleveland Heights will be the highest elected official of our city, and I want to help choose, directly, that person. I want you to have that right, too.
As wiser people have said: the answer to the problems of democracy is more democracy, not less.
The reply to the Federalist question—whether we are “capable or not, of establishing good government from reflection and choice”—has been proven, in the long arc of history, to be Yes. We are utterly capable, all of us, together. But first comes the simple right to choose. Choose Yes on Issue 26.
Earl Pike is director of a nonprofit and a 25-year resident of Cleveland Heights.