Thursday, July 16, 2009

Politician versus Statesman

My first political memory is both vague and vivid: when Adlai Stevenson lost the presidential election to Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, my mom cried-- and I, of course, being five years old and completely in sync with my mother's emotions, cried also. Thus I was imprinted early with the importance of politics.

When I was a kid my dad always made a great deal about the distinction between a politician and a statesman, and I was thinking a lot about those distinctions yesterday. I just looked up the definitions to refresh my mind.

  • Statesman: a person who exhibits great wisdom and ability in directing the affairs of a government or in dealing with important public issues.
  • Politician: a seeker or holder of public office, who is more concerned about winning favor or retaining power than about maintaining principles.

Yesterday Springfield City Councilor Bill Foley announced that after 28 years, he will not be seeking re-election this year.
Bill is an affable guy. I cannot remember him taking a controversial position on anything, ever. I do remember that he has always been a foe of ward representation. However, according to a Republican article yesterday, the fact that this year will be the first year in 50 years that we will be electing city councilors from each ward as well as at large has nothing to do with his not running. In a direct sense, this is probably true-- Bill's always been a top vote getter. But he joins four other incumbents who seem to show no interest in serving on city council under the new system.

Yesterday was also the day that I and two others met with State Senator Stephen Buoniconti to talk about a bill he submitted to the Legislature, An Act to promote responsible and effective transitional assistance. I will have a lot more to say about this meeting, and this legislation, in a later post.

Statesman or politician? Intent has everything to do with this distinction.

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