The perfect political storm

Published 7:47 pm Saturday, November 15, 2014

By Dennis Edwards

One city official has called the results of this month’s Suffolk City Council elections a “sea change,” a change in effect brought on by overwhelming circumstances.

Shakespeare first put the phrase on the lips of a spirit called Ariel in his play “The Tempest.” Ariel actually uses it in a song about Prince Ferdinand’s father, who drowned. It symbolically describes how, over time and through trials, people transform into better versions of themselves.

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The perfect political storm can produce a similar result. In Suffolk, dissatisfied voters are the sea that forced this major change. But the word “change” is inadequate in some ways. “Transformation” is truer to Shakespeare’s intent and closer to the effect of this election.

In the end, the controversy over the city manager’s raise gained unexpected traction. School funding was an issue in the minds of some. But is it as much an issue as some want to think?

In one race, the result seemed less about the opponents’ ideas or vision and more about change at any cost. Perhaps there’s an additional lesson here. It’s always better to speak for yourself in every community than to rely on someone else.

The prior election saw a rise in the political power of communities like Hollywood and Saratoga. This one brought out middle and upper middle class voters in two key boroughs.

Leroy Bennett’s decisive victory in the Cypress Borough appears to be a kind of voter rebuke of politically clumsy efforts at redistricting. His core supporters don’t say much publicly. But they do respond to candidates who, they feel, are accessible.

Donnie Goldberg’s victory in the Suffolk Borough shows the power of another, more personal kind of discontent. It mirrors the national mood. At times there appeared to be an “anybody but” mindset. Unfortunately, Charles Parr’s enthusiasm, good intentions and hard work weren’t enough to overcome persistent perceptions.

It may be premature to assume Goldberg’s election is an endorsement of more funding for city schools. There is still a valid argument to be made for greater school board accountability. Perhaps the hope is a change will set the stage for a better relationship.

Is there a mandate in any of this? Maybe. The result is an indication that sore spots over raises for teachers, firefighters and police need to be healed.

Whatever the motivation, there’s a good chance a kind of relief is on the way. With 3.5-percent growth in the last quarter, the nation’s economy is beginning to take off. Unemployment is below 6 percent, and gasoline prices are dropping with no rise in sight. All these factors should produce more tax revenue. How the new council manages emerging better days will be key.

The election results raise some interesting questions. Could how the new council reacts in transition be a key to success? Do winners understand voters are not interested in political vendettas? Are they able to see that wisdom dictates a need to keep all assets in place? Will they embrace the fact that relationships are renegotiable, that political points have been powerfully made? Do they understand no one has been elected to be a one-trick pony?

Voters expect council members to represent constituent interests across the board. They also expect them to think for themselves.

Suffolk’s sea change could be a broad transformation, which by nature is better than mere change. Perhaps that’s what Suffolk voters are really looking for, a transformation into a more future-minded city with like-minded leaders.

Dennis Edwards is an Emmy Award-winning television news reporter and anchor. He is a 1974 graduate of Suffolk High School. Email him at