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October 31, 2013

Plattsburgh's Political Statement

In these vitriolic political times a certain city in Northeastern NY, Plattsburgh, is on its best behavior. A dozen years ago Plattsburgh could boasts it had not only a Black university president, but also a Gay Republican Mayor, and a Woman as leader of the SUNY Plattsburgh University Police. If we consider diversity in significant leadership positions it doesn't get too much better than that, right? While in all three previous scenarios it wasn't about their identity, politically, their political identities greatly influenced their environments.

The current mayoral election appears to have something similar occurring. Plattsburgh has three very different candidates in terms of their identities and perspectives, seeing the world through lens cultivated from their unique experiences that now influence their choices/decisions. All are graduates of SUNY Plattsburgh, only from different decades. One candidate has experience as not just a City Councilor, but also as Mayor Pro-tem. He is a White male at a time in our country where white maleness is not just more noticeable, but a hot topic. He is also an older person and with age often comes wisdom and compassion towards those who have not, or have less. I am sure if he is lacking either one of those qualities the voters will discover that and respond accordingly. However, he probably symbolizes more than the other two at least a modicum of political stability in contrast to whatever changes may be deemed necessary.

We have a candidate who originates from Nicaragua, though reared locally who appears to be Latino, younger than the other candidates by approximately a decade, who also has experience as a City Councilor. A Plattsburgh High School alum, he symbolizes the internal change that often occurs only from someone within the organizational structure whose perspective is different enough to imagine an alternate yet nonetheless productive route from the norm.

The third candidate, the one who appears to be bi-racial, but may be seen by most as Black, is the only one without political experience in Plattsburgh, is somewhere in-between the other two in age, was born in New York, graduated from not just one, but both Plattsburgh colleges and Plattsburgh High School, has an intriguing professional history outside of this region to draw from, and has recently returned to throw his well traveled hat into the fray. He symbolizes the radical change a community often needs that only a political outsider can bring.

While I can imagine all three candidates are capable of leading Plattsburgh in positive directions, they do offer quite a bit of contrast, arguably more diversity than any prior mayoral race. The differences in age aside, their diverse professional experiences, diversity in cultural upbringing, and ability to relate to a diverse (with the definition of diversity extended beyond just race) constituency with ever growing/changing needs are becoming even more important on today's political landscape.

Ultimately the reasons people seek, and/or embrace diversity often vary. So do the reasons that people resist it. While this election is about who can best lead Plattsburgh into a productive future, don't fool yourself into thinking the election is only just about who can do that in terms of the quantifiable criteria that traditional elections usually represent. This election will make quite an enormous statement about Plattsburgh's vision and values, and rightfully so.

I live in Peru, can't vote in this election, and so, on some level, I don't have a vested interest in this election from a traditional standpoint. However, as the director of the Center for Diversity, Pluralism, & Inclusion) (CDPI) at SUNY Plattsburgh I do know that a different perspective from a hard working, fully engaged leader/servant of the people usually has an effect on the entire community. This type of leadership can come from a more seasoned servant of the people who genuinely cares about all of his constituents and inclusively reflects that through his policies & procedures; a younger servant of the people armed with vitality and a unique approach who adequately understands what the community needs and how to provide it; or an outsider who is familiar with what's on the inside, but can see outside of it enough to creatively engage it. From my perspective, local political elections don't get any better than this!