People get the government they think they deserve
I’ve always believed that to be true.
Which leads me to this week’s big question, the question you will only read in one place, in this column.
I believe this year’s election will be a referendum on this question.
What is it?
The question is: How much power is this town going to give my extended family?
Catch your breath and read the question again.
It’s up to you to decide if my family members will continue to increase their hold on local power at both the municipal and school governments.
If you don’t know who some of those extended family members are, I’ll remind you: My mother is the chair of the town’s Historic Preservation Commission. My brother Jim Donio is something called the “town advocate” which is appointed by Mayor Stephen DiDonato. My first cousin William Donio is the appointed board of education solicitor. Hammonton Board of Education Vice President Michael “Mickey” Pullia and I are second cousins; our maternal grandmothers were sisters.
Some of my family members are more closely related to me than others.
Pullia is running for school board in the same election as my sister-in-law Kelly Donio, who is my brother Jim Donio’s wife.
There are many more of my relatives in positions of power, both within the borders of Hammonton and beyond them.
Owning and operating a newspaper in Hammonton always means that you will have to deal with writing about family members—I’ve even put myself on the front page on occasion—but as the sole owner and shareholder of this newspaper, and with no ties to any familial business dealings, I have no conflicts.
Luckily, if there was a conflict I could use the school board’s excuse, given to them by William Donio. I could invoke the “Doctrine of Necessity.”
Conflicts begin to gum up the works of government on the local—or any—level when too many family members are involved, in my opinion. It’s too much “I know you, you know me” for my liking.
I have owned and operated The Gazette and covered the town and school governments for nearly 25 years. I have known my family for 48 years—and I know them better than nearly all other voters. I used to be in business with my brothers. I learned some of what I know about government when I worked for the United States Congress.
My point is, I am qualified to ask the question: How much power is this town going to give my extended family?
Only my three brothers and I are related to both the Donio side and the Falciani/Ruberton families. It’s a unique situation when you’re writing about people and families who have been around power for around a century locally. The purpose of my question isn’t to pass judgment on the people who are involved in town and school government in one way or another and happen to be related to me. I’m just trying to figure out if this town is willing to keep giving my extended family more and more power.
They are my family, and they have all accomplished a great deal. But shouldn’t there be limits, or checks and balances, about how much power one group of interrelated people have in a community? America is a democracy, not a monarchy or an oligarchy.
Thousands of people live here, but it seems like the same names keep popping up in positions of power. The DiDonatos (no relation to me) have had two separate mayors—John DiDonato followed by Stephen DiDonato who have served the town during the last 16 years.
That’s a lot of power to give one family, whether I am related to them or not.
Power is the engine that moves the community. When there are more people from diverse backgrounds pulling the levers of power, then the town is better served.
I hope my question stays with you long after you read this column, up to the moment you vote in this year’s election.
The most difficult part of this job is writing and speaking truth to power. It’s even harder to speak truth to power when they are your friends. It’s harder still to speak truth to power to your family.
When you love a community, as I love Hammonton, these are the moments when the truth must be spoken, even when sacrifices must be made.
Who and what we honor is who and what we are.
People get the government they think they deserve.
The voters will have to decide what—and who—they think that is.
Gabe Donio is the publisher of The Hammonton Gazette.