How I did not run for Congress -- 08/20/09

In my previous entry (Part II of my Woodstock reminiscing) I made a comment about some politicians attempting to gain votes by condemning the kids who had attended the festival.

So, this leads me to a story I have never told here (although I may have alluded to it once or twice): the aftermath of Woodstock almost led me to run for Congress. Here's how it came about....

As I had mentioned in the first part of my Woodstock memories, at that time I was teaching in a public school in Sullivan County. My school system was the smallest of the "Big Three" school systems in the county. Monticello and Liberty were the biggest, then came my school district, and then came a number of small rural districts. I was very involved in teacher union activities at the time -- no, not the NEA; I was a fervent supporter of Al Shanker and the AFT. All of the teachers organizations (whether they were NEA or AFT affiliated) in the county (except for Monticello) had banded together to form an umbrella group called the Sullivan County Teachers' Council. This group's main purpose was to enable the key leaders and the negotiating teams from the various schools to get together and exchange ideas and experiences and problems and strategies. The school boards had set up a county organization for similar reasons years earlier. I was the president of the county teacher's council for 1969-1970.
(Remind me sometime to tell you about that experience....)

The New York State legislature (probably as in other states) loves to create gerrymandered Congressional districts that have no rhyme nor reason other than to attempt to give an edge to one political party or the other. It is certainly never because of any concern for the rights or opinions or interests of the residents of those districts. Oddly enough, at the time of the Woodstock festival, Sullivan County was in the same Congressional district as Delaware, Orange, and Rockland Counties -- four mostly rural contiguous upstate counties -- and the seat was held by a very conservative Republican. Actually, I should not say "conservative" (because although I view myself as being mostly libertarian, I think of conservatism as being as viable and decent a political stance as liberalism) but, rather, should use "reactionary" to describe him (plus various other unfavorable adjectives).
[This general area has since been squished and squeezed and pulled and stretched (it looks like this), so that it now runs from the Hudson River through Sullivan County and on to the west in a narrow band through Binghamton and then makes an odd turn to the north to include Ithaca. The current incumbent, although a Democrat instead of a Republican, is as vile as the incumbent of forty years ago.]

This Congressman apparently viewed Spiro Agnew as a role model and was constantly broadcasting invective about druggies and hippies and commies and weirdoes -- and the Woodstock festival provided him with a great opportunity to spew forth his bile. Although local politicians in Sullivan County soon learned that most local residents had come to view the events with something of a sense of humor and saw the attendees as being just a bunch of normal decent kids (although, perhaps a bit scruffy and unkempt), Sullivan County was just part of his district and his remarks may have played better with people who had not been close to the events. At any rate, his comments did annoy a number of people, including me and some of my fellow teachers.

When I got to cast my first vote (the minimum voting age was 21 back in those days) in 1964 I voted for Senator Goldwater for President and, because of that, registered as Republican. Although in 1968 I had voted for Humphrey (on the theory "what if Nixon won by a single vote"), I had not changed my party affiliation. In New York State you could only vote in party primaries if you were already registered as belonging to that party -- and, since I grown up considering the Democrats as the party of Southern racial segregation and bigotry, I could not imagine myself ever wanting to be affiliated with them. Today I am much more even-minded; I view both parties with equal contempt.

In other words, I was a registered Republican. During the 1969-70 school year, the Congressman also had made some remarks that we took to be rather anti-teacher (well, probably because they were meant to be anti-teacher). And comments began to be made about it being too bad that he seemed to be so strongly entrenched in his position. The likely Democrat opponent in the 1970 election was probably going to be the previous holder of that office, a man who had been already been defeated by the present incumbent when he gained the office. This was a heavily Republican district. The Democrat had only won in 1964 because he had been carried into office by the overwhelming LBJ landslide victory over Goldwater and had only been able to hold onto his office for two terms (and it is relatively rare for an incumbent to lose), the odds against his winning were steep. This would not be a presidential election year so there would be no presidential coat tails and, with a lower voter turnout, the incumbent would usually be even safer. There also appeared to be no internal opposition; our Congressman would not have to face an opponent in a primary election.

Do you see the picture? People began to suggest that I should challenge him in the primary. Teacher connections would probably enable me to get enough signatures on petitions to secure a place on the ballot in a Republican primary. This would force him to have to organize and expend time and effort and money and attention on a primary contest. No, we did not seriously expect to defeat him. The idea was to be enough of a thorn in his side to get his attention and let him know that we had some serious issues with his big mouth.

Ah... If only....

You see, I was planning on leaving the area because I had been accepted in a doctoral program at Binghamton University. I could not manage to run a primary campaign -- not even a mostly symbolic one -- at the same time that I was preparing to move to another area of the state (finding an apartment, finding jobs, packing, moving, etc.) -- and thus, despite the fun that it might be, I iust couldn't do it.

So I told my friends and colleagues not to gather signatures and not to raise money and to forget the whole thing. I moved to Binghamton.

Ah, but as the late Paul Harvey used to say, "Now for the rest of the story..."

The Republican Congressman was charged by the Internal Revue Service with failing to report more than $78,000 of income from 1964 through 1967. (Yes! True story!) He attempted to claim that actually the government owed him money.

He was defeated in the general election by his Democrat opponent. He was later indicted by a federal grand jury on multiple counts of tax evasion and early in 1971 he settled the charges by pleading guilty to one count of tax evasion.

Yeah... what might have been...

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