Friday, May 18, 2007

'Tis the season to be silly

To normal people living normal lives, spring has arrived. Trees are flowering, peonies are budding, bulbs are blooming. The air is sweet and warm, infused with the optimism of new life.

But there's a dark underbelly to this season. Beware.

Aroused perhaps by the spring peepers that fill the night with song, sleeping creatures awaken in a netherworld existing parallel to the universe normal humans occupy. It's a dangerous place, this netherworld. The streets run with mud (for slinging) and blood (for letting). Citizens of this netherworld come to life right about now, in the heart of this glorious time called spring by the innocent masses.

We ink-stained wretches of the fourth estate know this season for what it is. We have a better name for it.

Silly season.

Silly season is the dark underbelly of spring, especially in odd-numbered years, which herald local elections. It's that unglorious time of year when the netherworld begins seething with life. The office fax machine begins spitting out daily (or more frequent) messages from political strategists, political party committees, campaign headquarters and politicians. E-mail inboxes are stuffed with an assortment of "news" announcements by elected officials, clamoring for ink and a photo op. And sooner or later — sooner and sooner in silly seasons of late, it seems — the mud begins to fly and blood begins to flow.

Silly season is a time when leading citizens of the netherworld do and say peculiar things, often orchestrated by self-styled strategists in dark, ill-fitting suits, who are obsessed with making "the other side" look bad. These creatures, living in the shadowy netherworld, are the enemies of good government. And they're damn proud of it. For them, it's all about the game. It's all about winning. It isn't how you play the game, but whether you win or lose, you know.

Silly season is well under way in Brookhaven. And it's as compelling an argument for four-year council and supervisor terms as you can make.

Case in point: this week's press conference by Republican council members to announce a bill that would prohibit elected officials, town employees and candidates for public office from appearing in "taxpayer-financed advertisements, promotional, educational or informational materials."

In other words, now that Democrats are in control at Town Hall, the Republicans are indignant that town taxpayers are paying for printed materials that might benefit the re-election prospects of elected officials (read: Democratic elected officials) because the names and photos of said officials appear therein.

Gimme a break.

Don't get me wrong. It's not that I enjoy reading the self-promoting "newsletters" from various elected officials that arrive in my mailbox — at frequent intervals during silly season. Though these mailings are sometimes unintentionally humorous, they are, I agree, a waste of taxpayer dollars. Their purpose is to promote the politician much more than to inform the public about important issues, as is their guise.

But this week's campaign stunt — and that's all it was — by board Republicans reeks of such hypocrisy, it's hard to believe they could assemble at that press conference and announce their new "ethics" resolution without breaking into loud guffaws. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

It's especially ironic that the offending mailer with which the Republicans took umbrage is the town's "Green Gazette," a newsletter with a legitimate purpose — informing residents about waste reduction and recycling — that actually contained useful information whose dissemination is totally appropriate for the expenditure of public funds. That this four-pager had pictures of the supervisor in it didn't make it "political." GOP strategists hope voters to forget this publication actually predates the current administration. Under prior (Republican) administrations, it used to be called "Trash Talk." Hilariously apropos, if you ask me, all things considered. And you can bet your sweet bippy it had pictures of Republican supervisors and council members in it. Not unlike the oversized magnet stuck on my refrigerator door at home, with the name and picture of a certain Brookhaven Republican councilman prominently splayed across the top, above a "service directory" listing various town departments and phone numbers.

The Republicans this week were dancing to a number choreographed by campaign strategists, a political consulting firm called The Roosevelt Strategy Group, which advised the recent campaigns of Republican candidates Jeanine Pirro (for state attorney general), Judith Pascale for county clerk, Jay Schneiderman for county legislator, and Conservative Vincent DeMarco for sheriff. News of the Walsh-Mazzei-McCarrick — ahem — initiative came in a press release issued by the Roosevelt group — presumably hired by the town Republican Party, and not paid for with tax dollars.

These are the kinds of people who put the "silly" in the season. And this is something we can expect more of as the season unfolds. For those of us hoping to engage people seeking elective office in a meaningful discussion of important local issues, it's a disappointment but no surprise. That is, after all, how this season got its name.

Ms. Civiletti invites you to join a discussion of this topic at Her e-mail address is