Thursday, November 10, 2011

So Long, Chris Collins

Well, I didn’t vote on Tuesday, but between then and now I’ve actually managed to gather enough information on the former and incoming Erie County executives to know that I should probably feel pretty good about the result. Even though I’ve still seen no evidence that Poloncarz has an actionable vision for improving Erie County, I can at least be confident that the candidate who was personally less deserving lost the seat.

I’ve gotten a clearer sense of Mr. Collins’ evident contempt for the poor, and I’ve heard valid criticisms of his duplicity in cutting government amidst pronouncements of urgency while also giving raises to his own staff. I’ve recently been reminded that he described New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver as the third anti-Christ after Napoleon and Hitler – comments which I find disturbing because they ideologically link him to a peculiar blend of evangelism and the New Age movement.

Since the election results came in, I’ve also gotten the definite impression that Chris Collins is a somewhat less than magnanimous human being. Now, I would never vote purely on the basis of personality, but I’m not above cheering somebody’s loss on that basis.

“The public has spoken,” Collins said in his concession speech on Tuesday night. “I don’t quite know what to make of that, but they did. So we accept that.”

He doesn’t quite know what to make of it? How many different ways are there to interpret the fact that he lost? I think what’s to be made of it is probably either that the people of Erie County didn’t like the job that Chris Collins was doing, or they liked the other guy better. “I don’t know what to make of this but I accept it” is the sort of statement a person makes when trying to deny personal responsibility for an outcome. In this case, that outcome belonged in equal measure to the Collins and Poloncarz campaigns, and to nobody else if you don’t conceive of the electorate as a separate part of the equation.

“We accept that” in this context doesn’t really sound like “I concede.” It sounds more like he’s implying that he acknowledges what the results claim, but has doubts about why he lost. Specifically, it sounds like his talking down to the electorate, and suggesting that they made an illogical, unintelligible choice. Such a concession speech is indicative of one hell of an ego.

I suppose his comment could have meant “I don’t know what I did wrong, but I know it was something, and I’m curious to figure it out.” But there’s something in his tone and in the personality that he put on display elsewhere that suggests that he simply doesn’t understand why Erie County doesn’t understand how great he is.

What really floored me, though, was his appearance before the cameras of WGRZ-TV. In covering the outcome of the election, the evening news says:

"I do wish him well, if he needs help in a transition I'd be more than happy to offer that," Collins said moments after conceding the race.

However, Collins also conceded, that at that point he'd yet to formally offer an olive branch to his foe.

"No, Mr. Poloncarz and I have not spoken really in four years...I see no reason to do that tonight either," Collins said.

They haven’t spoken? Have they literally just never run across each other’s paths in four years, or did one of them always duck into an open room when they were about to pass each other in the hall? Four years, incidentally, was the length of Mr. Collins’ term, so I can’t help but wonder whether he actually made a deliberate effort to sever ties with Mr. Poloncarz once he was elected to office. Did he feel that he suddenly outclassed Poloncarz afterwards and that to be seen talking to him would hurt his reputation? Was it pure pettiness?

Even if they started running with vividly incompatible crowds after Collins was sworn in, it can’t have come as a surprise when Poloncarz became his challenger. Wouldn’t speaking to the opposition have been not only civil but politically expedient to get a direct impression of what one is up against? What reason could there have been for not calling and having a word with the man in the run-up to election season? But now that the whole thing is over, does Collins really not see any reason to begin talking to Poloncarz? How about to determine whether there’s common ground shared by the two men’s policies, and thus to see how you can help to set the stage for those initiatives you agree with? How about for the sake of guaranteeing a smooth and beneficial transition, for the sake of the county you apparently just spent four years serving? Or how about just to be a civil human being?

But then, Poloncarz is the guy who made the good people of Erie County foolishly turn against an incumbent who totally had done everything right, he swears. Yeah, fuck that guy.

I recognize that both men are at fault if they have truly not spoken for the past four years, but it’s the self-righteous commitment to seeing that the streak is not broken that makes Collins especially despicable. So on that basis alone I’m glad that he’s out, but ultimately his comments remind me of what I find so frustrating about modern politics overall. It’s why I still don’t know what fifty-four percent of the county voted for, other than a Democrat.

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