More voters involved in local politics

Published 9:14 pm Monday, November 12, 2012

Judging by the numbers, it seems Suffolk voters are becoming more informed about their local politics.

Back in 2008, I wrote a column after crunching the numbers and finding out more than 4,000 people who arrived at the polls that year wound up not casting a ballot for mayor of Suffolk, the first time folks in the city were able to elect their mayor directly.

The reasons for that were probably as varied as the number of people who declined to vote for that seat. With all the hubbub surrounding the presidential race, a few people likely weren’t even aware the mayor’s race would be on the ballot. Some may have felt they didn’t know the six candidates well enough to choose, and some may have found all the choices disagreeable and didn’t care to hold up the line while writing in the name of a cartoon character.

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My point, at the time, was that the mayor affects the actual, day-to-day lives of Suffolk residents far more than the president is ever likely to do, no matter who sits in either seat at the time.

The mayor and the rest of the council set your property tax and water/sewer rates, fund your children’s schools, decide where warehouses can or cannot be built, dole out your tax money to a few nonprofit organizations serving the city and make all manner of other decisions that affect anything from how big of a house you can afford, to how closely you watch your water conservation, to what route you take to drive to work.

Meanwhile, the president is working hard in Washington, making decisions that affect the entire world. His is an important job, but will you ever skip a shower because the president set your water rate unbearably high? I doubt it.

There’s good news on this front in 2012 — even though more Suffolkians voted in the November elections, the discrepancy between the presidential and mayoral races dwindled to about 1,600. That shows more people getting involved and informed about local politics, which is always a good thing.

The reasons they’re more involved and informed may not be good things, however. From the anger over last year’s new trash and recycling fee to the turmoil that was this past year’s budget process where a few employees were slated to receive double-digit raises, it’s likely more people voted because more people were outraged.

The fact more people are paying attention should be cause for concern for those remaining on council. It remains to be seen whether the council members will take note.