What do you expect?
We live in a representative democracy. That means we don’t vote directly on policy issues. Instead we vote to elect folks to represent us in the halls of power to make policy decisions.
Once in office, they work for us. But they don’t work for you, or for me. They work for that amorphous, diverse gaggle of goobers called “we the people.”
Who do you expect them to be?
Another day older, deeper in debt
Remember the mayoral race in twenty oh nine. Mayoral candidate and County Auditor Anita Lopez was excoriated for having mountains of debt. Fast forward to twenty eighteen. Then-City Council member Lindsay Webb nearly resigned her appointment to be County Treasurer because of a low credit score caused by mountains of debt.
Both women grew up in working class households in Toledo. No silver spoons for either one. They both attended college, then law school, racking up massive student loans. They have both struggled through difficult personal times, but have emerged as hard-working, respected public servants.
Aren’t these true Toledo stories? Can’t Lopez and Webb better represent us, because they know what we’re going through?
Or would we prefer to be represented by folks who grew up without struggle, without hardship, without financial difficulties?
The good fight
Back in twenty seventeen, Larry Sykes was a candidate for re-election to his seat on Toledo City Council. A self-described “activist” decided it was his role to pester, harass, and generally provoke Sykes on his way into a candidate forum.
Sykes grew up on the mean streets of Toledo, a proud Bulldog from Scott HS. He was a successful boxer as a youth, then went on to a long career in banking. A Toledo success story that could have turned out, like the stories of too many other African-American males, much differently. Sykes has also spent decades in public service, on community boards and as an elected official, giving back to the community that has given him so much.
But that night last year, Sykes had enough of the verbal attack. He told the “activist” so, and, when the young man wouldn’t stop and instead grabbed Sykes by the shoulder, Sykes physically restrained him.
What would you do if someone wouldn’t leave you alone when you told them to? Sykes is human, like you and me. He snapped. The “activist” is lucky he didn’t get it worse.
Do we expect elected representatives to be punching bags, who should just accept verbal and physical harassment? Do we want robots without emotions, or real live human beings?
Back to human
Then this month, Councilman Tyrone Riley left a restaurant after a meeting with campaign volunteers and didn’t pay his tab. He says he intended to pay later, and the former owner of the restaurant often let him do so.
Riley comes from a large family with deep Toledo roots. He fights hard for a fair share of City resources for his district. He has steadily improved Smith Park, where he played as a young Toledoan.
Did he dine and dash? Or did he have an arrangement to pay for campaign meetings in a particular way, and didn’t know the ownership of the establishment had changed?
Riley was allegedly harassed for driving a Cadillac as a public servant. Is there some standard automobile elected representatives are supposed to drive? Should they be hassled for every personal decision they make?
The strength of the United States of America is our diversity. If we standardize our expectations for elected officials, making them cookie cutters of each other, the robust debate necessary to a thriving democracy would be lost. We need diverse voices to get the people’s work accomplished.
Lopez, Webb, Sykes, and Riley are not perfect. They’re human. Dedicated to public service, but with human imperfections, striving to do their best. Same goes for Wade, and Yvonne Harper, and Matt Cherry, and Rob Ludeman, and Tom Waniewski, and Sandy Spang, and, well, you get the picture.
Isn’t that what we should expect in those who represent us? Humanity?