Politics is becoming less about the issues at every level of government. This past presidential election and recent administrations has United States voters up in arms over who implemented what policy and which party is better at leading. Listening to the arguments, it sounds like voters today care more about the person in charge and the party they align with more than the actual issues at hand. It is one of the many issues discussed when analyzing democratic erosion in the United States.
In recent weeks, President Biden has faced backlash from both sides of the aisle for the way his administration is handling immigration issues. The right side of the aisle is bothered that Biden isn’t doing enough and that his policies aren’t working. The left side of the aisle is bothered that Biden is taking steps backwards by reinforcing Trump era immigration policies rather than implementing new, progressive ones. Overall, it seems like everyone disagrees with the current immigration policies but instead of asking why, they are trying to decide who to point fingers at.
This is a common occurrence that was seen during the 2020 Presidential debates. The issues at hand were secondary to the name dropping, complaints, press, and self advocacy. A platform that was meant to discuss issues and inform voters had become an over-glorified press conference and entertainment at dinner time. Even when candidates would agree with one another, personal attacks were highlighted more than the actual policies being discussed. Federal politics, hyperpartisanship, and biased media have become the simple explanation for this phenomenon, but then why is this also happening at the local level?
The Boston Mayoral election has boiled down to two candidates, Michelle Wu and Annissa Essaibi-George. The two are both well known, and accomplished City Councillors for the City of Boston. Wu and Essaibi-George have spent their time on the City Council in an At-Large seat, representing the entire city. They are both Democrats and also Boston community members, mothers to children in the Boston Public Schools system, daughters of immigrants, small business owners, and candidates to be the first elected woman to be Mayor of Boston.
The community ties and life experiences of these two candidates show that the issues at hand in this election are more than just policies on paper. They are life changing living conditions. In an election where major policy changes are on the table for such a small community, the issues should be the priority. However, that is not what I experienced after attending the Boston Mayoral Debate on October 13th. In an one hour televised debate, there was a clear reflection of the concerns I have with the Federal government. Instead of raising awareness for their concerns for Boston and discussing plans and solutions, candidates spent time making attacks to bring down the other candidate.
In an effort to increase transparency, the debate moderator asked Essaibi-George about a potential conflict of interest she was involved with. Essiabi-George’s office had been involved in blocking a development that would interfere with her husband’s million dollar properties. She failed to include the lawsuit that transpired from this occurrence and brushed it off to be “clarified” with the state ethics committee. Instead, Essaibi-George chose to bring up the fact that Wu’s campaign has accepted $2,500 from Terry Considine, a Republican who made racist remarks during an unsuccessful Senate bid in 1986. Considine is the father of Wu’s college roommate and longtime friend.
Mental health 911 calls has been a key issue among voters. When the topic came up during the debate, there was not much discussion around the issue itself. Wu claimed she has “led the way on the council” on this issue while Essaibi-George claims Wu has “taken credit for something [she has] done”. After this quarrel, there was minimal discussion about why this is a key issue or how candidates want to address this issue.
Why are local campaigns and local races following the same path that Federal ones are? It is disengaging voters and ignoring the reason why community members are giving candidates a platform in the first place. Right now, it seems impossible to keep politics strictly about the issues at hand. It seems that the the polarization created at the Federal level has influenced our local elections as well. Fortunately, local politics doesn’t have the same amount of financial and media influence as Federal elections, but how far will this go?