Shut Up And Vote

My family moved to the United States from Canada when I was 4 years old. Growing up, I can vividly recall a small plaque with the Pledge of Allegiance on the wall of my father’s office. Every day for months before my 10th birthday, I read it aloud and tried to memorize it. Finally the day came when I would speak these words aloud to someone other than my parents.

My parents, my brother and I shuffled into a busy courtroom filled with faces from all over the globe. I can remember straining to hear all of the different languages being spoken around me and staring at the solemn, stoic faces so different from my own. My family was here to seize the American Dream but whenever I think of that day I wonder how many of the people there were seeking refuge from persecution and tyranny. Did the “mighty woman with a torch” light their way as she did ours? Coming from a stable, progressive country like Canada will never compare to the journey most immigrants take; even still it stands as one of the most significant days in my life.

When it was our turn to stand and speak, I pledged my allegiance to the American flag in the loudest voice I could muster, as though any reticence would thwart my chances at citizenship. As an American I continue to speak loudly through this column and with my vote, and I was as thrilled on Tuesday to participate in our local elections as I was to be in that courtroom 26 years ago.

Unfortunately for Long Island, this past Tuesday, less than a third of us cared enough to weigh in.

Low voter turnout was no surprise and all parties recognized this as a benefit to the Republicans. Election results were upside-down from North Hempstead to East Hampton and everywhere in between. Perhaps the biggest surprise is the Nassau County Conservative Party, whose members were clearly ill informed about county executive candidate and potential spoiler Steve Hansen. The ones who bothered to show up moved steadily down the row without realizing that Hansen and Nassau County Conservative Chairman Roger Bogsted work directly for Suozzi’s administration, the one person who knew better than anyone just how close this race would be. Now, less than 300 votes separate Tom Suozzi and Ed Mangano for Nassau County Executive.

Armchair pundits all over Nassau County are wide-eyed, already retiring Suozzi’s jersey and raising it to the rafters. Win or lose, they consider him the Democratic reincarnation of Tom Gulotta. Either way, Suozzi’s undoing in this election was in pushing through the energy tax instead of simply raising property taxes. The electorate clearly felt “back doored” on this levy and the Republicans used it as the primary wedge in the campaign. The only thing more egregious to voters than high taxes is trying to hide them. When every dollar counts in a household, there is no hiding additional taxes and fees, particularly when there is no offsetting service being provided.

There were several lessons learned—or at least reinforced—on election night. Linda Kabot illustrated that while the President of the United States can be caught with his pants down, you can’t (allegedly) drive drunk on the roads you’re in charge of. Character matters more when it’s close to home. John Jay LaValle proved that timing is everything. He timed his departure and return impeccably. And we were reminded that by nature Democrats and Republicans are fire and ice, respectively. Democrats need a fire lit beneath them to get out the vote, whereas Republicans and Conservatives are predictably obsequious.

The most unfortunate lesson is that neither fire nor ice was enough to motivate nearly 72 percent of the eligible voters on Long Island. My guess is that those who stood with the 10-year-old boy, 26 years ago, and the thousands who stood there before and after that day, exercised their right.