Tip O’Neill once famously said that “All politics is local.” After doing this project, I agree with him. When we think about how policy will affect us, we always turn to the media news cycle on the
presidency. Every four years, politicians and pundits alike say, “This is the most important election of our lifetime.” However, we often do not realize that some of the most important elections take place right in our backyards. I realized that during my project with Westfield Town Councilman Mark LoGrippo.
As I worked with and shadowed Councilman LoGrippo, I thought to myself, “How would his policies and those of city hall effect me if I lived in Westfield?” As a commuter, I would definitely feel better as a result of the Councilman’s efforts, given that he helped get direct train access to New York from Westfield. As a property owner in Westfield, I would feel more financially secure, given that Councilman LoGrippo (and the local government’s) policies helped contribute to rising property values. Furthermore, when I attended town council meetings, I saw that quite a few citizens were there. They too were concerned about local issues, and had the ability to speak directly to their local elected officials about them.
In other words, as a resident of Westfield, I would be much more directly affected by local legislation that set out to fix policy as opposed to national legislation that gave tax breaks to wind farms. However, we often overlook such facts. Often, the media frames relatively minor issues as truly important to get ratings. Local politics are truly important, but potholes do not get ratings. In short, this project helped teach me what is overrated and what is underrated in politics.
Local politics is also important because it teaches the value of the relationship between the voter and the elected official. I often saw Councilman LoGrippo talk about issues of concern with voters. For example, he offered to help a woman take down a dead tree in her front yard by contacting public works. You don’t see this sort of thing on a national or even state scale of politics. It is often very difficult to contact a state or federal political representative, and even more difficult to get a substantive response. There is a certain power in interacting with your local public servant that many fail to realize.
Furthermore, this project was interesting in terms of seeing the balance between Mr. LoGrippo’s full-time day job and his political job play out. When I went to the Councilman’s house, I often saw him balancing time between his job at Verizon and his service to the residents of Westfield. Something tells me, this is how politics is meant to be. Councilman LoGrippo is in touch with “the real world.” He understands what life is like for those who work to put food on the table. In contrast, most national politicians go to Washington, DC for a long part of the year, insulated from public opinion/concerns, to debate with their colleagues, do backroom wheeling and dealing, and get wined and dined by lobbyists in fancy restaurants. Then they go on recess which is meant to be a time to interact with their constituents in order to either campaign or go on vacation. The local politician does live a less romanticized life than the national politician and he has less power, but the local politician understands what his constituents go through. In Councilman LoGrippo’s case, for example, he helped bring direct rail service between Westfield and New York, because as a commuter he felt the importance of the issue. In this case, being in touch with constituents yields positive results.
In short, this project helped me see the value of local politics and what our politicians should be in contrast to the world of politics that we have seen on our TV and grown increasingly pessimistic about. . Perhaps, I saw that “new kind of politics” in action with my senior project.
Local politics is not perfect, however, in a place like Westfield, we see beneficial politics put into action. We only need to look to our backyard to see where impactful decisions are made, and we can look to our backyard with optimism in a place like Westfield.