This is an opinion piece written by Leslie Danks Burke, a candidate for New York State Senate District 53. It was not written by the Ithaca Voice. To submit opinion pieces or letters to the editor, please send them to Matt Butler at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Villages across New York State will hold Election Day next Tuesday, March 15. Most eligible voters won’t vote, but those who do are defending American democracy from the ground up.
How so? Over the past year, we saw former President Trump encourage insurrectionists’ violent attempt to overturn the 2020 Presidential election, against the will of the voters. We saw former Governor Cuomo resign in disgrace, forced to return the millions he made by exploiting state resources and taxpayer money to write his self-laudatory book.
But even more, we saw that following Trump’s lie that he won the 2020 election, one local level election commissioner after another, from both parties, reported truthful results. Later in 2021, county officials across New York State, again from both parties, quietly yet firmly resisted pressure from Cuomo’s office that they remain loyal to the governor in order to get vaccine distributions.
In short, last year we saw that local leaders preserve democracy. And local leaders are selected by local voters. No one leader — not even a President — can flip a switch and take over American democracy, as long as we elect local officeholders willing to check abuses by those higher up.
It was my honor to dedicate five years of hard work to the project of building honest officeholders, serving as president of the board of the national, nonpartisan Trailblazers PAC. Trailblazers focused exclusively on local level candidates, demanding that they follow transparency standards that are higher than currently required by law.
Voters benefit when elected officials are honest, even — and perhaps especially — when the officials are from a different political party. So when a local-level candidate of any party agreed to 100% transparency of campaign finances and raised a significant threshold of their campaign funds from in-district voters, our board named that candidate a “Trailblazer.”
Trailblazer candidates were not presidents or governors, but city councilors, village mayors, county legislators — in fact, the sort of local leaders who made sure 2020 election results were honestly reported despite President Trump’s pressure, and who first stood up to Governor Cuomo’s bullying.
As a nonpartisan organization, our focus was not on the candidates’ policy positions, but on their commitment to be transparent, so voters could have real information about where they stand. Sometimes, after a Trailblazer’s election, that honesty did not continue — in one case a former Trailblazer publicly encouraged stealing opposing candidates’ yard signs, and in another, a former Trailblazer declined to respect the 2020 election outcome — and when that happened, the Trailblazer title was rescinded. Over 5 years, working with nearly 300 candidates in 19 states, we saw real hope that leadership can be a noble calling, where honest, voter-centric behavior is possible, even if laws don’t require it.
Fast forward to last week, when Cuomo kicked off an expensive advertising campaign designed to pave his way back into public office.
Last week, Trump also said, “We have to do it,” about his plans to run for President again in 2024.
But next week, long before either Trump or Cuomo appear on any state or national ballot — voters in villages all over New York will have the chance to pick their local officials.
Vote on March 15. Because democracy depends on it.