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Another Voice: Responsibilities change with western New York’s economic renewal

By Jeremy Zellner

Politics, someone once observed, is a noble profession. At times, though, we all know it’s difficult to recognize nobility in its practice. Still, we all should believe in the ability of politics, and politicians, to be a force for good.

Never is that trust in politics’ potential to improve lives more important than during a transformational time like the one Western New York is experiencing. Our city and region have begun the long climb back to economic stability. As a result, leaders from every sector – business, academic, spiritual and yes, even a politico like me – must rethink the obligations our institutions have to guiding Western New York’s safe passage to a more successful future.

When I became a volunteer at the Erie County Democratic Committee 11 years ago, I never thought I would become its leader. But my various vantage points – from envelope stuffer to chairman – have given me ample opportunity to think through a political party’s proper role in a community.

Business creates capital. Educators prepare young people to oversee it. Cultural institutions remind us that a truly enriching life includes more than material goods. And spiritual leaders help us aspire to something larger than ourselves.

Political parties, like the Erie County Democratic Committee, live at the intersection of politics and policy. And party leaders, like me, should make sure that as political moves blend with policy making, principle is not forgotten. For without principles, partisan debate becomes what we all abhor: empty, noisy political bickering.

Democrats’ core principle is simple: In America’s capitalist democracy, working people need a strong voice to match the influence of wealthy individuals. We seek to be that voice. We respect our Republican counterparts’ role and we welcome the contest of our two sets of ideas, confident that from that clash emerge informed voters.

Politics is the effort to affect decision-making. We Democrats best serve our community by offering the most talented candidates we can find, who possess the most progressive ideas to improve the life of every citizen. In the course of discharging that duty, I admit that my job includes pressures to mind patronage over principle. In trying to balance those interests, though, I think of Benjamin Franklin’s belief that some private interest is sometimes served in any political decision. The challenge, Franklin insisted, is to make sure that the public interest always is.

With spring, and the circulation of candidate petitions, another political season is about to begin. But this one is different. For the first time in decades, we must choose leaders not to oversee a declining community, but to propel a growing one. As a result, we all face new responsibilities to our changing community.

Jeremy Zellner is chairman of the Erie County Democratic Committee.