I was bewildered on Saturday when, after co-hosting an Early Voting Kickoff party with Veronica Pillar, she asked about the mailing she’d received that morning in support of my campaign.
Veronica is running for Tompkins County Legislature in District 2, and I’m running for Common Council in Ward 5. We both support a progressive social justice platform, and we’ve co-hosted two campaign events. She described what she’d received: a blue and white half-sheet with my photo and a few bullet points, and the following caption: “Paid for by the New York State Public Safety Foundation. This communication was not expressly authorized or requested by any candidate or by any candidate’s political committees or by any of its agents.”
Why was an organization I’d never heard of spending money to promote my campaign?
Veronica told me she hadn’t been able to find them online. I made a guess almost immediately, but it wasn’t until later that night that a friend and I traced the return address, and confirmed a connection with the New York State Union of Police Associations.
Several weeks ago Tom Condzella, head of the Ithaca Police Benevolent Association, asked to meet with me to discuss my platform and priorities. He also met with my competitor. What I was told at the end of that meeting is that he knows there are things we don’t agree on, but “you are listening.”
When he invited me to apply for an endorsement I declined, and when I contacted a colleague of his on Monday I was told that the local organization did not request the mailing. So the question of why is still unanswered.
This puts me in an unexpected and unwanted situation: campaigning on a thorny and emotional issue, with social ties to activists and a strong commitment to deep reforms, and yet somehow receiving unasked-for support from a state police organization, one that I’ve not to my knowledge had any contact with. No one is under any illusions about where I stand. My decision to listen derives from my experience with negotiation and consensus, and my commitment as a Unitarian Universalist to honor “the inherent worth and dignity of every person” – a principle that applies to everyone, not just people I agree with.
Here is a passage from the speech I gave at Saturday’s party, shortly before I learned about the mailer:
“We have an ambitious new plan for public safety reform, and we have a commitment to our current department that their job security will be protected. We’re starting to develop a transition plan that will change the department’s name and organizational structure, recruitment and training policies, processes for monitoring and accountability, and relationships with mental health agencies and other community services.
“But there’s a sense in which the institutional change is the easy part of this transition. In order for our experience of policing to change, human behavior also has to change. We have to change the relationship between our public safety officers and the public. And a human problem requires a human solution. When I say, “we have to start by listening,” what I mean is that listening – and understanding, and connecting – is the key to unlocking behavior change. And without behavior change, the institutional changes we make will be shallow and incomplete.”
At this point my campaign is swirling in controversy, and yet I’m oddly calm. I feel right within myself, and at the moment that seems to be enough.