Updated: April 12, 2012 9:53AM
Despite my repeated vows to never repeat my error, I have to admit that I’ve been reading the letters to the editor again. But this time I’m glad I did because Bethany Johnson of Yorkville penned one of the best op-ed entries I’ve ever read.
To summarize, she posed the practical question, “What happened, Geneva? How did your classy little town disintegrate into a pack of politicians bent on destroying one man?”
Our letter writer was referring to the recent revelations that came as a result of campaign communications from Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns’ city e-mail account being made public. I’m sure you’re aware that Burns is facing State Sen. Chris Lauzen in the race for Kane County chairman.
Though Mayor Burns defended his e-mail misuse as “inadvertent,” it is an ethics violation that does need to be addressed. That said, the fact that a candidate used a publicly funded medium for campaign purposes hardly rises to the level of a jaywalking ticket.
When I learned those e-mails would be coming my way, the first thing I said to myself was, “Prepare to be underwhelmed!”
But I was wrong! As Ms. Johnson also eloquently put it, “After reading about the e-mails (sophomoric was a kind word to describe them) I felt my throat squeeze like something that was fresh and good was now spoiled like rotten meat in the fridge.”
So as a duly self-appointed representative of the city of Geneva, the municipality I’ve called home for the past 13 years, I will do my utmost to endeavor to adequately answer our reader’s excellent “what the heck has gotten into our city” question.
Sadly, Ms. Johnson, the answer to your inquiry is nothing! As David Byrne, one of my favorite musicians, once put it, it’s the “same as it ever was.” It’s just that, this time, someone got caught engaging in the kind of immature antics that are all too common among our elected officials.
And it starts with the postulate that politics generally tends to attract the kind of person who hasn’t mentally made it past their sophomore year. Craving attention, power and control, they seek public office as a means of redressing their perceived inadequacies.
But that dynamic is always a recipe for disaster because, as any recovering drug addict will attest, nothing external can ever fill an internal void.
It’s because the prospect of that power can be so intoxicating, these flawed folks often prevail. But once in office, they quickly realize it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and nothing ever happens without some sort of mangled consensus.
Since they lack the personal equilibrium it requires be a good leader, instead of governing wisely, they decide to divide and conquer. They turn to the dark side of deal making, faction building and attacking their perceived opponents at every turn.
They become so accustomed to demonizing their adversaries that it becomes as unconscious and regular a reflex as breathing. Thankfully, most are smart enough to save the worst vitriol for when they think only their cronies are listening.
But then something inevitable begins to happen. About the time they’re elected to a second term — and they almost always run again — a dangerous entitlement mentality starts to set in.
They begin to believe they’re owed the office and, thus, are justified in doing whatever it takes to get elected. And, as it is with all entitlement mentalities, this tends to breed arrogance.
And when that arrogance takes hold, politicians start to make the kind of mistakes that include, but aren’t limited to, saying some very unflattering things about your opponent’s wife on a public email account that is subject to a FOIA request.
Even those who get into the game with the best of intentions will eventually fall prey to this dynamic. This is why we need term limits. It takes a rare and unique brand of politician to rise above it all and be a good leader.
Ms. Johnson, the sad truth is, while I in no way condone it, it isn’t as much about what’s happened to the city of Geneva as it is about what’s always happened finally coming to light.
So please allow me to offer an apology on behalf of our fine city and I fervently hope you will someday return to enjoy those special visits you described in your letter.
I wish I could promise that our politicians will pledge to improve their behavior, but I’d prefer to start with a much simpler problem like solving world hunger.