The black and white around the politics of gray
I was thinking of one of my favorite movies about politics last week, while interviewing local politicians about the new turf field deal between the town and SJA Turf Sports LLC.
The movie, City Hall, came out in 1996, one year before The Gazette hit the streets. It featured Al Pacino as New York City Mayor John Pappas and John Cusack as Kevin Calhoun, his Deputy Mayor.
Toward the end of the movie, there is a moment between the two characters I’ve always remembered. The deputy mayor confronts the mayor and says he’s “looking for an answer.”
“You want an answer? Okay, pappy, think of it as colors. There’s black, and there’s white, and in between is mostly gray. That’s us. Now gray is a tough color, because it’s not as simple as black and white —and for the media, certainly not as interesting. But ... it’s what we are,” Pacino, as Mayor John Pappas, said in the movie.
I’ve covered enough politicians, sat in school board meetings, council meetings, planning board meetings and interviewed hundreds of local elected officials, appointed officials and candidates during the last 24-plus years to know that the color gray certainly does exist on every level of politics.
We ran an editorial in the October 20 edition about the turf field deal. It was entitled “Process matters.” Here at this black and white newspaper, we still see political matters in black and white, and not gray (although we are acutely aware that gray is the color of the world the politicians we cover live in each day). The Gazette made it clear in last week’s editorial that the process was largely conducted behind closed doors, even though it involved $500,000 in public funds and a long-term lease of public land.
It should have been more transparent, but it wasn’t. It is up to the mayor and council to tell us why it wasn’t.
You can rest assured we will continue to ask questions about the project as it moves forward. It’s one of many stories we will continue to write about long after the election is a memory.
It’s our job to keep you informed.
There have been many examples of elected and appointed officials attempting to stop us from keeping you informed during the last quarter-century. I won’t bore you with the long list of attempts by people you know to silence The Gazette. Longtime readers of this newspaper know those names by now.
We have continued to do this, at times against my better judgment, because we have always placed the needs of the public ahead of our own needs. Why? Because we think Hammontonians—and all readers of The Gazette—deserve to know the black and white of the issues that face our community, as well as the gray operating in between the black and white in the form of the decisions the local elected and appointed officials make.
Those decisions impact everything from whether or not the tax ratable base grows or shrinks, how high your taxes are raised, the value of your home, what is taught in your classrooms, the salaries of municipal and school employees, the level of municipal and school services residents receive and yes, whether or not a turf field is built on Boyer Avenue or a solar array is built on the front lawn of Hammonton High School.
Is it too much to ask that our elected officials serve the public ahead of themselves?
My theory about why these elected officials always try to push for deals or slide things past the public eye has been a simple one. It’s not about money, or even power—although I have had politicians tell me right to my face how much they enjoy pulling strings.
No, it’s about adrenaline.
They like feeling like they got away with something.
Remember, this is Hammonton. And in Hammonton, every 10 years or so, a con artist of some kind comes along and separates people from their money.
Why? It’s about adrenaline. There’s a rush that comes with it.
I would remind all appointed and elected officials, or candidates for office, that at The Gazette, our adrenaline rush will always come from making sure the public is informed enough that they won’t get fooled again.
Happy Election Day.
Gabe Donio is the publisher of The Hammonton Gazette.