Race For 69th District: Fighting Corruption and Politics Of Division and Fear

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Steven M. Appel
 

August 28th marked 53 years since Dr. King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech. In his 1958 book Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, Dr. King wrote: “Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they cannot communicate; and they cannot communicate because they are separated.”  

Dr. King’s words ring just as true today as they did nearly 60 years ago.  Our nation is becoming increasingly diverse yet divided. We live in an age of politics of division and fear. Many of us have lost faith in government—and in each other.  

Across America, communities of diverse backgrounds are hurting and we are increasingly polarized as a nation. The social fabric of our country is fraying.  During this painful period, it’s appropriate to once again ask: What is the fundamental purpose of government? I believe the purpose of government is to unify us all and help us reach our deepest potential.  

In America today I believe we face two bottlenecks preventing government from achieving its higher purpose: The weak ethical and the disconnected social contexts in which we are attempting to solve our greatest challenges. Albany’s record on ethical governance is abysmal. From the disbanding of the Moreland Commission in 2014 to the recent sentencing of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a culture of corruption pervades Albany.

Comprehensive ethics reform has stalled and real progress is not being made.  The political system in Albany is designed to protect entrenched incumbents and promote political insiders (via campaign finance laws, special elections, committees on vacancies, and low voter turnout), which greatly limits the ability of innovative new leaders to get elected.

And the LLC loophole allows big money to disproportionately influence our politics, which is contributing to the staggering income inequality corroding our society.  We must pursue the type of robust ethics reform that ensures a transparent and just government that is, as Lincoln said, “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” 

I strongly support creating a system of matching funds and term limits similar to that of the NYC Council, consolidating primaries, closing the LLC loophole, reducing campaign contribution limits, and making the state legislature a full-time position.

While I understand that reform takes time andit’s unrealistic to expect an entire system of government to change overnight, I am also deeply committed to holding myself to a much higher ethical standard even if specific ethics reform are not yet enshrined in law.

As an Assemblymember, I will not pursue outside income, I will work fulltime, and I will impose term limits on myself.   Unfortunately, politics can be inherently corrupting even for those with the strongest of ethical compasses.

Politicians must cultivate the humility to say to the public: “I will undoubtedly be tempted. Hold me accountable!” Albany is in desperate need of a new generation of independent, progressive, and unifying leaders committed to servant leadership and willing to pursue the kind of self-imposed ethics reform that restores trust in Albany.

We need leaders who aren’t beholden to the old structures of power. It’s not enough, however, to strengthen our ethics laws by electing ethical leaders. We must also work to reshape the social fabric of our community.  From its very inception, our nation was founded on the protection of difference—on the aspirational idea that granting equality to all people would ensure their freedom to pursue their deepest creative talent—their “pursuit of happiness.”

America wasn’t born equal, but the history of America is the story of the slow march to freedom for increasing numbers of people. America’s perennial greatness stems from the extraordinary potential of her diverse people. And there is no telling what a truly unified America might be capable of.

Working toward American unity is one of the great challenges—and hopes—of the 21st century.  In 2009 I co-founded the Center for Ethnic, Racial & Religious Understanding (CERRU) at Queens College-CUNY, a non-profit dedicated to facilitating cross-cultural engagement to advance understanding.

The five years I spent at CERRU convinced me that the future of our nation lies in our ability to deeply connect diverse people to each other. I believe we will become a stronger and more innovative nation by building understanding between diverse communities and increasing our interdependence.

The more we understand and learn from each other, the greater our capacity will be to positively shape the world around us.   I am running for Assembly in the 69th District—the Upper West Side, Manhattan Valley, and Morningside Heights. Our community is diverse; yet we largely remain in isolated bubbles, separated from each other.

Too often when we do come together, it is to hear what authority figures at the front of the room have to say and not to listen to each other. Only through dialogue with each other will we explore our shared assumptions and enrich our understanding of our community.  Here in the 69th Assembly District we can begin the important work of increasing intercultural understanding and building a new kind of community.  We can regularly hold dialogues that bring together diverse members of our community from all corners of our district.

We can launch a bi-annual Social Innovation Summit that organizes everyday members of our community from business, government, and civic society to creatively tackle challenges we face and share resources.

We can reimagine our school cafeterias and religious institutions as spaces where diverse people engage in the types of deep conversations that build intercultural relationships. And we can encourage dialogue within government to increase understanding between diverse legislators.  

Without reshaping the ethical and social fabric through which we govern, it is more difficult to make progress on issues that matter to us like affordable housing, high quality public education, quality of life/environmental issues, and the fight for working families and seniors.  

As we reflect on Dr. King’s stirring speech this week, let’s honor his legacy by together building a more ethical and connected community we can all be proud of.   

Steven M. Appel is a Democrat running for NY State Assembly in the 69th District in the September 13, 2016 primary. In 2009, he co-founded the Center for Ethnic, Racial & Religious Understanding at Queens College where he served as assistant director for five years.

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