Hamilton: When civility becomes hit or miss

Ken Hamilton

Why does the Canadian-side of Niagara Falls develop so much better than the American-side?

The county legislator campaign manager stood the parking lot of the Niagara County Social Services building on 10th and Falls streets, maintaining a 100 legal feet away from the inside the building. We stood together, less than a mile away from the Canadian border, as she shouted to the mostly older and loyal voters of that district who were entering to vote. “Vote for the Democrats,” she shouted. “The Republicans want to take your Social Security away.”

The year was 1995, and like the odd-year elections taking place this year, the race consisted of the usual judges, city council persons, county legislators and such. Stunned by the inaccuracy of her words, I looked down into the face of my opponent’s county legislator campaign manager and said, “... no one is running in this election that has anything to do with Social Security.” The crafty campaign manager looked up at me, grinned and said, “I know that. But they don’t.”

Suddenly, even though neither one of us had made a single step, we both had found ourselves instead of a simple mile away from the Canadian border, we were now may have well been out on the Mexican desert, so far away from yet another reason why the Canadian side looks like it looks in development, and why the American side is little more than the butt of a bad joke.

People often wonder why the Canadian-side can develop itself in the way that it has done so, and why our side is in such despair and blight. There are many reasons for it all, and it isn’t simply that pat reason often given by some local officials of we Americans leaning on industry while the Canadians were looking toward tourism; but I won’t address them all here.

I will expound upon one of the reasons though; and it resonates, not just from the words of the campaign manager 22 years ago, but from a tendency that we Yanks have developed from almost the founding of our Constitution. Here it is: on the Canadian-side, no one runs for an office under a party banner unless that office is at the provincial (state) level or higher. Sadly, on this side of the border, it would be hard to find a Republican on even the nine-member school board.

As a result, there is only one way of thinking about the issues that our city faces and has faced. If we shopped for computers to solve our civic problems in the same way that we select candidates to do so, then we would simply look at the label under which the computer is sold, selecting the same D-brand or R-brand that we have always bought, never improving the hardware portions of RAM, ROM, size of hard drive or the clock speeds. As a consequence, we keep trying to find the slot where the floppy disk programs go that got us and keeps us where we are, instead of upgrading both the hardware and the software that will move us forward.

I am beginning to wonder why we should even bother. People select and vote for people who are just like themselves; they ask the same questions of them as they have always asked, and they get the same results that they always got. And then in the next election cycle, they do it again.

But political operatives, like that campaign manager, know the answer why people do so. Like the aforementioned computer programs, they are simply programmed to do so. Sadly, they are also programmed to accept the failures of their elected officials and the consequences of their votes, because they are one and the same – yet all the while wondering why the Canadian-side develops so much better than the American-side.

Kudos to those candidates who are smart and brave enough to step from under the rusting armor of D and R, and to actually think about solving the problems that face us, instead of continually being the problem itself.


Contact Ken Hamilton at kenhamilton930@aol.com.

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