Sunday, September 20, 2009

Horse Sense Sunday Special: The Art of "Abstain"


One of the more questionable practices in elected office is the artful practice of voting present or in similar parlance: to abstain.  Not too long ago, the Acting Mayor Dawn Zimmer felt compelled to do so in a budget vote indicating insufficient information on the matter to make a qualified vote.  It proved to be both a contentious and controversial choice.  


Elected representatives being who they are, can sometimes forget the chief purpose of their presence in an elected body: representation.  Almost always, a vote of abstention requires an explanation, either in the political body where cast but certainly to the public at large.


When someone chooses to vote present or abstains on a vote, they alienate all the other voting participants of a body and their own supporters, not to mention the entirety of their constituents in one fell swoop.  Which brings us to the present matter at hand.  How do we even begin to describe the most recent abstention by Councilwoman Beth Mason in the last City Council meeting?  We've been thinking about this one for a few days and it still doesn't make any sense.  


We're of course talking about the Russo Clan resolution to force an illegal vote to rename the acting portion of Acting Mayor with the replacement adjective of Interim.  A victory for the old guard would push the Acting Mayor out of the Council Chambers but that was certainly unlikely to occur if the matter was brought to a vote. On the issue of tabling (removing) this designated illegal resolution from further discussion, Councilwoman Beth Mason, clearly uncertain how to cast the vote based on the clear direction of the Hoboken counsel several times over two meetings choose the fine art of "abstain."


The humor of this choice is multiple. Her former political allies and the old guard as a whole are united in their desire to stop any operational governance in not keeping with the old, dark ways.  At the same time, Beth Mason has positioned herself over some years as being for transparency and has launched both an online petition sharply critical of the Acting Mayor and is about to spend quite a few dollars to air equally critical ads on the matter.


How does one spend thousands of dollars to highlight an issue to the public and yet refuse to bring the same matter before the City Council when it's offered to them?  We're waiting for someone to question either Beth Mason or Paul Swibinski for an interesting explanation of vote. We can only guess she choose not to go on the record in a losing effort.  Instead she'll throw tons of money to highlight the very same issue to the Hoboken voters at large, which speaks volumes on the level of cynicism on the matter.


(Graphic: the universally recognized symbol for abstain.)