Daniel Pipes' measured analysis of the upheaval rocking the foundation of governance in Egypt is worthy of reflection as to how it may be used as a yardstick in scrutinizing our own. [Reference: Why Egypt Will Not Soon Become Democratic By Daniel Pipes...see page 16.] At issue before us in Westchester County today, and specifically here in Yonkers is whether the institutions of democracy, written by our forefathers, and the envy of the world, continuing its present evolutionary path, conforms to what we surmise those documents espoused and emphatically stated.
“…democracy is more than holding elections; it requires the development of civil society, meaning such complex and counterintuitive institutions as the rule of law, an independent judiciary, multiple political parties, minority rights, voluntary associations, freedom of expression, movement, and assembly,” writes Middle East Forum Director Daniel Pipes."Democracy is a learned habit, not an instinctive one, that requires deep attitudinal changes such as a culture of restraint, a commonality of values, a respect for differences of view, the concept of loyal opposition, and a sense of civic responsibility.”
For us locally, therein lies the rub. Yonkersites have suffered the non-benevolent idiosyncracies and wrath of leaders who have blamed The People its failures by their lack of vision and lack of planning; not ours. For every cycle of economic development possibility Yonkers has negotiated paltry return on the taxpayer’s investment. When Yonkers Mayor Phil Amicone presents the State of the City later this month, on February 23, 2011 we understand, he will wax eloquently over all the pipe dream accomplishments which have not materialized under his watch. He will claim success despite Yonkers having been left with nothing to show for his ineptitude in governance over 15 years at the helm except for a decaying infrastructure, poor relations with the union membership, rising taxation, a media castrated by his hand, no reasonable and accomplishable vision, while he shuns critics of his failures and deficient imprint on the Yonkers landscape and political arena.
Pipes continues by writing, “Further, elections need to be practiced to be made perfect. Ideally, a country starts electing at the municipal level and moves to the national, it begins with the legislative branch and moves to the executive.”
Juxtaposed to the way it should be both county wide and city wide, the idealism infused in our minds have been commandeered by so-called disparate political parties with the acquiescence and support of those elected in what has become known as the “non-aggression pacts” wherein the so-called ruling elite dice and slice the wealth inherent in patronage through a “family and friends network” thereby succeeding in perpetuating the diminution of democracy as it was taught to us from K-12, and beyond.
Pipes postulates “Simultaneously, the press needs to acquire full freedoms,” which locally we have caused to atrophy by permitting what should be public access television to what it has become; an organ of government, eviscerating the essence of critical reporting to the monotonous repetition of “propaganda” because it is proven not balanced in its disbursement of facts. This procession of arrogance has escalated to the point where Mayor Amicone ordered the stealing of newspaper stands owned and filled with The Westchester Guardian newspaper which led to a court decision holding the mayor personally liable for his transgression beyond the duties and responsibilities drawn by the Charter of the City of Yonkers and the U.S. Constitution that prohibits his action. To that end, he is liable an $8 million judgment. Further, under his watch and direction, the Yonkers Tribune Web site has for over six years been excluded from access within Yonkers City Hall and the Yonkers Board of Education claiming the Web site would entice City Hall employees to squander their time on the Web site, all the while City Hall permits access to Web sites that permit shopping online and even porn sites to be accessible. The temerity of government continues to this day without a word from media who profess freedom of the Fourth Estate yet who yearn the advertising dollar more than divulging the news as it is rather than as formulated by the spinmeisters of Yonkers City Hall, Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, Tarrytown, Sleepy Hollow, Port Chester, Eastchester, Yorktown, among others. Were media to conduct itself by the dictates of an ethical compass, giving credence and voice to all silenced the ability to vocalize their issues and concerns within proportions judged, as well as responsive to criticism openly and honestly, the evolution to which others beyond our borders ascribe and dream of may take hold sooner within our borders.
Mr Pipes asserts “political parties should mature…" The skullduggery, the trickery, the obfuscation within each respective party among us has shown that the allegiance of political parties is to agenda born only out of patronage. To that end, each party concurs. They switch sides walking the halls of power to the exclusion of The People and too often to their own aggrandizement, without explanation and residual after affects of their conduct, dismissing The People’s right to know. This is accomplished by riding rough shod over those who would enter the political process. Instead, the parties have committed infanticide among those who have joined their respective folds. Today, each party is devoid of talent worthy of the offices they may stand a candidate. The parties have stagnated under their own devices and believe they have “won” by excluding our young from advancement. This must change. The freshness of youth must be nurtured yet balanced by the maturity of experience and age without repression of the vitality and respect for the legitimate perspective of young people.
Pipes delineates “parliament should gain authority at the expense of the executive.” In Yonkers, Yonkers City Council President Chuck Lesnick has chosen to enable and facilitate the often inept propositions promoted by the Executive branch of office, that is, of Mayor Phil Amicone, to the exclusion of his role which is to represent The People rather than the Mayor of Yonkers. Mr Lesnick is incapable of learning his role. His interest is strictly to catapult himself to higher office, The People be damned. After all, it is all about Chuck. Say “cheese,” Chuck. Click.
Mr Pipes further notes, “and judges should adjudicate between them.” In Yonkers, Inspector General Dan Schorr, a political operative has no interest in doing the right thing. He sloughs off his responsibility of the theft of services of the Yonkers Parking Authority by Yonkers City Council Majority Leader Patricia McDow onto the volunteer Yonkers Board of Ethics over which Mayor Amicone has appointed each board member, some who are in the City of Yonkers’ employ and others are still paying off their debt for the gains they earned as part of the “Family and Friends Network.” There will unlikely be an open and transparent deduction of thought over the theft of services first divulged in the Yonkers Tribune by the Yonkers Board of Ethics as they tend to close their meetings to media by conducting “executive sessions.” So much for transparency. and open government.
A transformation of society in Egypt will take place within months or even years. Mr Pipes notes“the historical record shows that it takes decades fully to implement. It is out of the question that an Egypt with minor experience in democracy can put together enough of these components in twelve months to establish a fully democratic order.”
As gut wrenching as it is to write, much less inculcate into ones own mind, the so-called democracy under whose aegis Yonkers has kowtowed is in reality an autocratic rule of paternalistic fervor which rests on the tenet of “my way or the highway" protocol to which fear and retibution of loss of employment has caused Yonkers to submit.
The telling of the theft of salt by a Yonkers employee exposed a theft endorsed with full knowledge of City Hall. The flap over its telling, Yonkers Tribune has been told, was the culprit allegedly losing his pension. The acid-tongued blogger who told us of the “crime” broke the silence despite the “silence of fear” imposed on our entire populace. The fear of retribution by the finger pointing Mayor Amicone is such to preserve a legacy of dysfunction that by its very silence has become the myth that shrouds the City of Gracious Living in disfavor even among Yonkersites.
Has Yonkers only been a transient point between The Bronx and Yorktown and Mahopac? Have Yonkersites created a homogeneity among its new domiciles about which the ills of Yonkers have been resurrected with no one left to blame by the silence about us? How often do those that depart delete their time in Yonkers to ascribe themselves to The Bronx diaspora and not of Yonkers? Pity there is much to be proud of The People of Yonkers.
These are the issues Yonkers and much of Westchester County must grapple with in order to achieve the tenets of democracy for which The People crave. At this moment in time, democracy within the City of Yonkers is not in the offing. Yonkersites are shunned, dismissed, ridiculed, and marginalized by the people we elect to office. How strange is that?
As Yonkers prepares to choose a leader this November, the prospects are shallow from every political perspective. The tragedy in Yonkers is that a candidate worthy of office, whether that for mayor, council member, or county legislator cleaves to the tenets of party with little or no connection to the city and/or the constituents they are meant to represent. Sad, but true. Second, whichever scenario one plays out, democracy is not in the offing.
As regards Egypt, Mr Pipes writes, “However looked at – abstractly or specifically – Egyptians are in for a rough ride ahead, without imminent prospect of choosing their leaders."
Perhaps the wake up call first ignited in Tunisia, now engulfing Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, Lebanon, and potentially others within the Arab world, will be heeded in Yonkers so as to return the principles of democracy among Yonkersites.
Mr. Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. He has lived for three years in Egypt.
Hezi Aris is the Publisher / Editor of the Yonkers Tribune and the Editor of The Westchester Guardian.