Saturday, April 21, 2007

THE CITY DESK by Rory Riddler

I would like to thank the residents of Ward 9 for granting me the opportunity and privilege to serve as your councilman for three years.

I am proud of the progress we made for our ward including several new, large investments along West Clay. I hope these new residential and retail developments truly come to fruition. This is my hometown and I want only the best for our community. I have served as your councilman without giving in to special interest money although the opposite path would have been much less difficult. One fight in particular that I am proud of is my stance against special legislation that forced our town to give away its sewer service to T.R. Hughes’ St. Andrew development while the development did not have to annex into our community. So much did I find this special law an affront to our town, that it compelled me to run for state office with the hope that I could make certain that such one-sided legislation couldn’t be passed in the future to the further detriment of our community. My stance solidly on the side of my hometown, in opposition to special interests made me the target of T.R. Hughes who put $58k into unseating those whom he considered his enemies. Imagine the amount of money for a council seat! My audacity to run for state office against the local political apparatus made me the target of “Buddy” Hardin, whom I have never met. You see, it is their belief that 1) you should never oppose their will and their interests and 2) you should never run as a Democrat in this town. I believe that mixed government compliments the process while they believe it threatens to dilute their influence. Monolithic political machines benefit certain individuals but general participation in local government benefit the whole community. While I see the process as competition, they see it as warfare.

I am not here to cry sour grapes but rather I am here to warn the citizens of St. Charles to guard their vote and their government against wholesale purchase by the highest bidder lest we end up with the best democracy money can buy. Had the newspapers let the public know before the election that a developer was sinking thousands and thousands of dollars into council races, I think the public would have had a much different take on the matter.

I ran my race by stating my vision for ward 9, never attacking my opponent. In return, I spoke with my opponent and we agreed to run a fair race. Unfortunately, this pledge was one-sided. My record was twisted until it was metamorphosed into something that no longer represented anything close to the truth.

This local election cycle was by far the most caustic our town has ever experienced. This election is indicative of why there is such disdain for the process and why good people do not dare partake in local democracy.

In a race where usually a thousand or so dollars is raised and spent, twenty-five thousand dollars was pumped into a simple council race. I want to state for the record that I have no ties to the pornography industry, as was claimed. It was also stated that I am an activist for a pro-abortion group. This was a wholesale lie sent out a day before the election to guarantee that no defensive response could be sent out.

It was stated that I spent taxpayer’s money to go to Vegas and Germany; this was true – I went to Vegas with, nearly, the entire council and mayor to a retailers’ convention. I went to Germany along with the mayor and half of the council as a delegate for the recognition of our sister-city’s tenth anniversary.

To clarify another intentionally misrepresented fact – I did not vote to exclude seniors from a tax rebate – I voted to make certain that limited tax resources were provided for our town’s most needy seniors by placing an income cap on those who qualify for this tax rebate. Finally, I missed a vote on a particular issue regarding sex offenders because of automobile troubles and in no way was this ordinance in jeopardy of not passing due to my absence.

For about two years I have written a simple column in the local paper. My articles have been mostly about federal and state politics and some have addressed city matters, however, I have never written lies nor have I attacked anyone’s personal life.

I considered my opponent a family friend and someone of honor; however, words spoken in confidence exclusively to him were then contorted from something positive to something sinister. It had been erroneously claimed that I had an investment by a local developer in my brewery business. I stated to my opponent that this wasn’t true, but I would welcome any investment and would consider stepping down from my position on council if my interests were in conflict due to an investment. This would be the right thing to do. My opponent claimed not to know who was in control of Voters for Good Government or have anything to do with the smear-campaign against me; however, this twisting of information could have only originated from him and was sent out in a mailer against me. I was upset most of all by the breach of trust and manipulation of the facts by someone I had considered a family friend. Those in government must be trustworthy in order for us to trust the entire system.

In conclusion, I want to again thank the residents of ward 9 for their vote three years ago and for their votes this year that resulted in a virtual tie. To those who have written lies, I am compelled by my faith to forgive you. If winning at local politics means crawling into the gutter with wealthy developers and political pundits or intentionally twisting my opponents voting record beyond recognition of any original intent to win votes, I would rather take a different path. For now, we can only await a recount and perhaps a new election due to voter irregularities in our election; however, this is for the judge to decide. It does concern me when the county petitions the courts for a new election due to voting outside of the ward. It calls into question the election process when voters are given the wrong ballots, reportedly, until one o’clock in the afternoon.

Clearly, money can influence an election’s outcome enough on its own accord; we need to protect the validity of our elections by guaranteeing that voters are not disenfranchised either deliberately or by accident.
Once again for the record, the make up of the council was certain to change due to the fact that at least two council members wouldn’t be running for their seats again, however, some papers have erroneously claimed that the factionalism came to an end on election night – the truth is, our in-fighting came to an end more than a year ago once hired guns left the picture. We knew they weren’t gone forever (they stand to make too much money). What some newspapers got quite wrong, however, was the reason for the election outcome. The results have less to do with sides and more to do with who can buy and frame the message. Give anyone $25,000 to run a council race and allow a third party to print attack pieces the last four days of the election and they too could work wonders.

I do hope that things will continue to improve in St. Charles, and I’m sure that the council will continue to work together on more than 90% of all of its business as it did in the past. What I certainly do not hope for is a council of yes-men who do not have the backbone to stand up to big money and flatly state when something is bad for St. Charles regardless of the pockets that stand to be lined...