Election 2011: the move to the middle?

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Can moderation be the winner in this year’s school board election?

By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com
So what lessons are we to draw from this past week’s elections?

Does this represent some sort of mandate to raise taxes, spend lots of money and basically go nuts when it comes to the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District?

In a word (a really short one): no.

No more than 2009’s election was a mandate to ignore long-held local beliefs about funding education and inspire some slash-and-burn economics, but rather:

“Slow down. Be careful. Talk to us. Listen to us.”

Likewise, Tuesday’s vote isn’t a mandate to go forward and build a new middle school and in general, throw cash around like it came from a Monopoly set. Guess what the message from the voters was, again:

“Slow down. Be careful. Talk to us. Listen to us.”

I think, in both elections, the voters were signaling a desire for a conservative approach. That’s not to be confused with a Conservative ™, Fox News, deny global warming, blame the liberal media for it all (hi!) approach, but rather the way it might have been defined a generation ago.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” — George Santayana

“Those who repeat it and still don’t get it are really asking for trouble.” — Mike McGann’s corollary.

Slow, careful, cautious, even methodical — you know, like bankers used to be before they decided it would be more fun to trash the economy and get giant bonuses. Now, I suppose that would be moderate in an era where the extreme elements of one side wants to ban steaks, cupcakes and anything else remotely fun or interesting (to save you from yourself), while the other wants to abolish government (to save you from yourself).

But I’m sensing that’s what people want: a calm, middle-of-the-road approach that neither thrills nor terrifies, but rather rolls up its collective sleeves and works to find solutions to the very real challenges this district and community face in the coming years.

There’s a great chance for this new board to seek the common ground, sensibly balance the needs of students and taxpayers and maybe find a way to calm the rifts that have divided this community for a number of years.

Let’s hope they seize that opportunity — and the early indications suggest they will try — and let’s hope the community as a whole allows them the room to do so.

* * *

Some are crying foul about Tuesday’s board elections because, get this: the Democrats, Kathy Do and Gregg Lindner, killed in one precinct and lost the other five.

That’s patently silly. That’s a bit like complaining that the Phillies hit a ton of home runs at Citizen Bank Park because they have hitters like Ryan Howard. Surely, that’s not fair! If the Phillies didn’t hit all those home runs to the short porch in right, they wouldn’t have won the National League East.

Or…maybe they looked at the park and built a team to match it — and, well, it’s worked out pretty well. And that’s exactly what Do and Lindner did, sort of — and it worked, despite a roughly 2-1 Republican to Democratic voter registration edge in Region C.

I spoke to Do about it a bit — and having run and managed races in both Chadds Ford and Pennsbury, I was pretty interested in their approach.

With a relatively small budget (about $3,000), Do said they were a bit limited in what they could do in terms of traditional campaign expenditures — lots of lawn signs, pricey mailings and other paid media were pretty much off the table. Sure, they bought some signs, did a small mailing and bought one Internet news site ad (yes, here, and for the record, we would have happily taken an ad from anyone — we’re equal-opportunity capitalists — but no one else sought one, which is a shame because our eyeballs to dollars ratio puts every other media outlet in the county to shame — sorry for the self-promotion, but hey…).

Do and Lindner mixed old-school “get out the vote” (GOTV) with some newer approaches, largely outside of the party structure. While the local Democrats supported the effort — typically that support amounted to very minor fiscal help, a handful of phone calls and poll greeters (which, by the way, are about 1/100th as valuable as a good four-day, pre-election GOTV effort). As recent elections have shown (including elsewhere on the Democratic slate, Tuesday), that probably wouldn’t have cut it — or even come close.

Instead, Do and Lindner did some old-school campaigning, knocking on doors, holding “meet the candidate coffees” at various people’s homes — all fairly traditional ways of getting voters to know you in local campaigns. But the modern twist was two (and maybe three) fold:

Social media. The duo made use of a Facebook group to grow support, get their message out and spread the word, mostly among Unionville-Chadds Ford parents. They also opted to use a dynamic Web site — with a content management system — to allow rapid and constant updates to their site, something that not only gives supporters more items to share with friends and neighbors, but (if implemented right) vastly improves how the site searches, bringing would-be voters and those interested in Unionville school issues to their site.

They also made use of email — asking supporters to share emails with friends and neighbors. This mail list grew organically over the summer, growing supporters and creating a passionate grass-roots network.

Clearly, not only is this a template for local campaigns, but I think it offers lessons on better methods for local groups, townships and even the school district in terms of improving communication with area residents.

* * *

If it’s Saturday and you’re reading this: why aren’t you at the Unionville Art Gala? It’s at the High School and features dozens of local artists, not to mention the works of students. It is one of the signature events of the area and not to be missed.

Go. Now.

* * *

You have to be impressed by the work on the Route 52/Route 926 intersection — for the most part it’s gone off without a hitch and met schedules. And wow, it really looks like it should improve traffic flow and safety.

It gives me some hope that when PennDOT finally gets around to tackling the 926 bridge over the Brandywine, the resulting work will be done well.

* * *

Congratulations to Unionville’s own Steve Shinn, who won election as a West Chester Borough Council member this week. Shinn, a Unionville High School graduate, who works as a manager at Sovana Bistro in the heart of Unionville, won a seat in the borough’s Sixth Ward.

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