They’re pretty impressive, the old photographs lining the hallways of city government.
Row upon row of stern, unsmiling men, city mayors and civic leaders from years past.
These were undoubtedly the kind of men your own great-grandfather would have called “sir.”
They line the entryways to both council meeting halls in Lewiston and Auburn. Lewiston began putting them up a few years ago and Auburn followed suit this past summer. They’re a reminder of the type of folk responsible for the Twin Cities at their birth.
But lately, I’m starting to wonder if they do more harm than good.
It’s easy to look at the simple black and white photographs, solemn, serious and respectful, and then compare them to the hijinks going on council chambers today.
But it’s more difficult to see beyond the photographs, to look up the old stories of the council hijinks that went on right about the time the solemn folk were sitting for their portraits. They fought and called each other names all over things like milk concessions.
The point is that citizen government is just citizens. Want to know who’s qualified to run for City Council? It’s the guy in the car next to you, cutting you off or getting impatient because the lights are not changing fast enough. It’s the woman with 12 items in the 10 item lane at Hannaford, the one who’s only son is out throwing snowballs at passing cars. I bet if you take their picture and hold on to it for a century or so, they’ll look mighty impressive, too.
You are government. I am, too. And the fact is, we’re not that great citizens to begin with. We’re petty, impatient and annoying. So it’s no surprise when our local leaders act the same way. How can we honestly expect more? Our leaders get elected because a majority of voters liked them — or more likely, recognized their name — more than someone else at a particular moment in time. There’s no magic transubstantiation from average person to elected official, and no school teaching them to ignore their baser human instincts.
In my mind, this is true for every elected official, right on up the line. Feel free to extrapolate what this means for state or national leaders, too.