Voters revel in breaking up cliques

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, November 18, 2014

By Steve Stewart

The lingering lesson of this month’s Suffolk City Council elections is voters’ distaste for groupthink.

The ouster of three incumbent council members reminded us again of the irony of majority rule as a pillar of democracy. Elected officials exert much time and energy on building alliances to enact their agendas, only for voters to revolt and bust up the blocs.

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Examples litter the political landscape. Congressional Democrats are the latest anecdote, losing their majority in the U.S. Senate on the same day Suffolk voters shook up their City Council. Democrats spent untold millions electing candidates to gain control of the U.S. House and Senate, then spent that political capital on the most significant, and controversial, legislation in decades. Ramming through the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, without a single opposition vote was the beginning of the end for Democrats’ short-lived majority in Washington. Voters quickly gave the House back to Republicans and followed suit this month with the Senate.

It says to me that President Obama and his congressional allies were well-intentioned in reforming health care, but they made the fatal and oft-repeated mistake of wielding their power without building consensus.

Closer to home, the Suffolk clique of Linda Johnson, Selena Cuffee-Glenn, Charles Brown, Jeff Gardy and Charles Parr was equally well-intentioned. They were motivated not by party politics but by their remarkably consistent vision of Suffolk’s future and how city government should function. Big, new, fancy government buildings were priorities, even as children learned in portable classrooms and schoolteachers fled for neighboring divisions at least in part because of uncompetitive pay.

One always got the feeling with the current regime that, regardless of the issue at hand, the “deal was done.” They held public hearings on this issue or that because the law required it, but citizens at the podium might as well have been speaking to a brick wall. The clique loved Suffolk, knew what was best for their city, and weren’t about to be persuaded by alternative views.

As they’ve done throughout history when their elected leaders stop listening, voters broke up the regime.

Even as they bask in their landslide victories, councilmen-elect Leroy Bennett, Don Goldberg and Tim Johnson — who themselves formed an unofficial, and perhaps unintentional, alliance on Nov. 4 — should heed the lesson learned the hard way by the ousted incumbents. Be your own man. Keep an open mind. And never stop listening to the people.

Steve Stewart is publisher of the Suffolk News-Herald. His email address is