City politics haven't changed much since the last couple of council elections. For each of the three seats open, we have one candidate each from what I call the Establishment party and the Insurgent party. They all faced off at a candidates' forum last night. The two incumbents running are both Establishment, which usually wins: the current Council is 6-1.
The principal issue is development. The Establishment seems more interested in building offices than housing, and even the housing they do approve is insufficiently backed by measures to alleviate increased traffic. The Insurgents want to slow things down and concentrate more on mitigating housing costs, though their visions of the ideal don't differ that much from the Establishment's. (Housing complexes on top of ground-floor retail at transit centers and along business corridors are the next thing, and have already been built in some neighboring towns.)
The itching point is the campaign contributions the Establishment gets from realtor groups and other PACs. The Insurgents all abjure such funding, which is part of why they're underfunded and usually lose. They don't accuse the Establishment of being personally corrupt, and one of them specifically denied this, but the Establishment all insist they're independent-minded and not influenced by the PACs. Yet there's too many policies that suggest it wouldn't be much different if they were.
The local paper has endorsed the Establishment slate because they're pro-development. That's at least refreshingly honest; in earlier elections, they hid behind the problem that some of the Insurgents were flaky or otherwise not ready for prime time, and that even those who were reputable were allied with ones who weren't.
But they can't say that this time, because the Insurgents have gotten their act together. All the non-incumbents are members of city commissions or boards, and show that experience; all the candidates were intelligent, coherent, and at least reasonably well-briefed. In fact, the one Insurgent who's run before, whom I voted for last time because he was by far the best of the bunch, was this time the poorest, and I'm considering voting for the non-incumbent Establishmentarian opposing him, who actually takes some Insurgent-like positions. For though I generally prefer to vote for Insurgents if they look competent, if they all win this time - which, remembering past races that Insurgents have won, they possibly might - they'll take over the Council. I'm not entirely sure I want them to do that. I just want their voices to be heard, more strongly than they currently are. Maybe this guy could be the swing vote.
In another seat, I found the Insurgent frustratingly vague - he knew what policies he disliked, but would only say we need better ones without suggesting what they were or where he would find them - but the incumbent was also surprisingly weak in his considerations of issues. So, albeit with misgivings, I think I can vote for the Insurgent here.
The third seat has the strongest candidates. The incumbent is the current mayor, and like past mayors running for re-election, makes the most of it. He's solid and confident, a good candidate regardless of his positions. The Insurgent is an aggressive attorney, though nothing like the toxic lawyer who once won a freak election and proceeded to corrode his way through any sense of civility for an entire term. This year's Insurgent is much more flexible in argument, for one thing. He had some sharp words about policies others didn't discuss in depth, and he won my vote with one of these issues, city employees' pensions.
The incumbents were very pleased with how Council has handled pension costs. They've allowed current employees to keep their pension levels, thus avoiding strikes or protests, while shafting new employees: as the cuts were already made before they arrived, they're less likely to complain. Pension costs will keep going up for another decade, but all we have to do is hold our breath that long and they'll start to go down. What the Insurgent said is that he looks at pensions as an employee right and not created for the purpose of being a burden on taxpayers. He wants to fund them through business taxes. A certain large search-engine firm, having already taken over the city next door, is starting to move in on us, and they should pay for the burden they're placing on city services.
I emphatically agree with that, and so I have my votes.