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Same As It Ever Was
Friday, December 12, 2008
Politicians are risk averse. They don't like to answer questions. Dan Smith was willing to leave a comment here explaining why he looks like a ski bum in a picture I posted, but not willing to follow up by answering serious questions in writing. His campaign manager wrote to me privately and said Dan would talk to me in person instead. Hopefully I will get around to meeting with Dan and the other three announced candidates, especially if I get a tape recorder for Christmas- but there is a larger issue here.

We're in the middle of a paradigm shift in communications and in politics. Obama was able to defeat Clinton and McCain, two powerful establishment pols largely through a more dexterous use his website, YouTube and blogs. The internet is revolutionizing politics and not just on the national level. Here in Burlington, BurlingtonPol and others have been revolutionizing politics too. This blog does have influence, and so does She's Right, Blurt and Local Action Works.

Local pols cannot ignore the local blogosphere. My thesis is that, as powerful as blogs have become in our national discourse, local political blogs have the potential for even greater proportional influence on local discourse. Many of you reading this now know me or have met me personally. In itself that lends to a kind of credibility that's impossible on a national scale. I know my Google rankings are high for many local political names. I know darn well many local politicians are reading this right now. You cannot escape it and you ignore it at your political peril.

Almost a month ago Andy Montroll promised Owen at Local Action Works by email that he would answer their mayoral questionnaire "in the next couple of days" yet he still hasn't...
From: andy montroll (
Date: Mon, Nov 17, 2008 at 12:19 AM
Subject: Re: Mayoral questionnaire for Burlington Democrats caucus
To: Owen Mulligan (


Thanks for sending me this questionnaire. I hope to get to finish up my responses in the next couple of days and then I'll get it back to you.

Unfortunately that's not acceptable. The questions on this particular questionnaire aren't even that difficult...
1. Why are you running for Mayor?
2. How will your administration differ from the Kiss administration?
3. What is your vision for Burlington?
4. What are the three biggest challenges facing Burlington?
A blogger would have replied with the answers in about three seconds. That's the way blogging works. It's interactive and it's instant. And the politicians who don't catch up to this reality will be left behind. There is absolutely no reason all four candidates could not jump into this post's comment thread and respond to these questions in writing right now. Whoever does first will force the hand of the others.

As I mentioned, I posted a series of questions for Dan Smith in a recent post. I've also sent a similar set of questions to Democratic Ward 7 city council nominee Eli Lessor-Goldsmith. Just as Andy promised Owen forthcoming answers, Eli also promised he'd work on (but not necessarily answer) my questions...

sorry for the delay on this email.
I am finally recovering from Thanksgiving.. it was long at work and then lots of eating yesterday.
Let me work on the answers to your questions.
Happy holidays.

In Dan and Eli's defense, I asked more and perhaps tougher questions than Owen, but they shouldn't be too tough for local office seekers to address...
*How would you move city employees from pensions to private retirement accounts? By attrition or in one fell swoop?

*Are you in favor the Public Works department absorbing the Parks Department and firing Wayne Gross?

*Are you in favor of Burlington Telecom offering a remote control with a pager in it so you can hear it beeping from under the couch cushions?

*Are you in favor of Burlington Telecom selling its bandwidth capacity to other municipalities?

*In light of mistakes made in all three elections run by Ben Pacy so far, what would you do as mayor to ensure election integrity?

*Can paperless electronic voting devices ever truly be audited? (hint: no.)

*Are you in favor of the Moran redevelopment as it's proceeding?

*Would you have put that huge school bond on the ballot?

*Whom did you vote for for president?

*Would you like to see stairs leading from Battery Park to the waterfront?

*If the candidates for mayor were Dan Smith, Bob Kiss, Kurt Wright and Andy Montroll, who would be your 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th choices?
I want the answers to these questions and my readers do too. I want them in writing and I want them in an interactive, dynamic discourse with local pols on the internet. We the people are sick of meaningless platitudes and slogans from politicians. Don't assume big signs and slick mailings that don't say anything are going to carry to you anymore. Elevate your discourse. Get specific. Learn to write and stand behind your thoughts like bloggers do.

And if institutional lag renders our local pols kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century, be aware that traditional media types like John Briggs at the Burlington Free Press and Shay Totten at Seven Days are probably reading this too. I expect them to pick up on the questions here and press the pols to answer them. You are reading this and your opponent probably is too. This town isn't that big. Don't hide behind platitudes and promises to answer later.

Elevate the discourse local politicians. I'm warning you.

Labels: ,

posted by Haik Bedrosian @ 8:45 AM  
  • At December 12, 2008 12:04 PM, Blogger JayV said…

    Thanks for reminding us, Haik. Spot on post, also at Local Action Works. And a timely response is important, too. As an officer of Local Action Works, I left two polite messages on Mr Montroll's phone, and received no call back. I can't read the guy's mind, maybe his non-responsiveness was because Adrian had bowed out as a Dem candidate, but I'll tell you, when I called Ed, he assured me he would fill out the questionnaire. Moot point since he decided not to run? Nah, he would have done it and recognised it's important constituent service, too.

  • At December 12, 2008 2:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Good post, I think there's too much risk involved for a candidate to have an actual exchange on a blog. What the Pols are doing now is working fine (for them).

    Dan Smith can't afford to have anyone figure out he's a right-winger this early. He has been using the internet very actively, in fact his campaign kick-off speech popped up in my facebook "feed".

    When I commented on the video, something snarky like, "I bet he wins, turns out to be a right-winger" the friend directed me to his website as evidence that he's not a right-winger, I responded that I couldn't find anything very progressive, and "what's progressive about finishing the southern connector instead of fixing existing roads?" In retrospect, I probably should have just asked why she was supporting him. The video and the whole exchange were deleted a couple days later. As it turns out, she works for the Smith campaign.

    That's called 'controlling the message.' It's important and hard to do on the internet.

  • At December 12, 2008 2:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Campaigns don't want to actually talk about ideas, not more than they have to. The candidate who positively engages the most people will win, and they can do that one-on-one and door-to-door much more safely and effectively than in print.

    Also, where it would be unacceptable to ignore the question and repeat a talking point to most bloggers, many print journalists expect it and appreciate it.

    You're right about the influence blogs can have, especially in a small town but the flip-side is that a candidate can get into office just by generating a buzz.

    In Burlington, you can talk to almost every voter; personally. For better or worst, most people will vote for the person their gut tells them to. Especially if they hear a neighbor or friend say they're going for the same person.

    Voters that aren't reading this blog don't pour through candidate interviews and campaign lit comparing and contrasting to draw their own conclusions.

    Hell, one can run a campaign without issues at all. The outcome of District 3-4 might be a good example. All candidates were the same on the issues. Well, except the candidate who's position was that he didn't want the seat he was running for and got more votes than his running-mates' margin of victory, who happens to be... I digress.

  • At December 12, 2008 3:55 PM, Blogger JayV said…

    Good comments all.

    I know nothing of Dan Smith really, except having sat next to him in the city council meeting last spring when he applied for a spot on the planning board. He had Kurt Wright's endorsement - "we need more Republicans" on the commission, said Kurt. Dan Smith is philosophically a Repbublican, but in this town rarely does a mayoral candidate with an "R" next to his name get elected. So, as city council candidate Karen Paul did last March, he's running an an Independent. She received help from Progressives. So is Dan Smith; his treasurer is Eric Hoekstra!

    Door-to-door and personal contact with the voters is key, as Ivan Jacobs writes.

  • At December 12, 2008 4:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    While it could be argued that there are, and will continue to be, significant changes in the way we all communicate, I'd hold off in declaring that we're in the middle of a paradigm shift in politics. Hard core political junkies have found a home on the internet. Is there grass roots momentum generated from local blogs? Absolutely, but you may be overstating its influence. If a candidate neglects to answer questions from Haik, Owen or Odum, I bet that roughly 40,000 people in the city of Burlington won't know or care. It's not the medium that causes the relevance. The number of people who vote in the next mayoral election in Burlington will likely be a small percentage of those who are eligible to vote regardless of any additional newspaper or internet coverage.

    Also, it's a bit too Bill O'Reilly for you to state that "I want the answer to these questions and my readers do too". What next? Threats of boycotts? Come on. I think your list of questions are relevant but I have questions of my own I'd like answered. I know that by March I'll be able to ask my questions of these candidates even if you can't get them to do it here. We live in a community that allows for that. We all have the power and responsibility to get answers to the questions we seek from our politicians before we vote.

    "Learn to write and stand behing your thoughts like bloggers do" is a bit of a strech too. Blog owners have the power to manipulate their message (and ours) on any given day. Put up, take down, edit content as they please. Blog readers and responders don't have that luxury. Typing answers to questions can be daunting and requires a level of trust that your words won't be misconstrued, manipulated or misread. It is very difficult to convey emotion in type. I don't want to elect the person who can type the best answers to your questions. I want a bit more.

    As always, thanks for having this space as a forum for conversation. I value your opinion and stop by often to read your take on what's happening in Burlington.

  • At December 12, 2008 4:22 PM, Blogger Haik Bedrosian said…

    Good discussion people! Great points!

    If any of the candidates for mayor or council who are reading right now want to jump into the discussion, please do! We know you're reading. You're not fooling anybody!

  • At December 12, 2008 4:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    you're sexy!

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