Friday, January 13, 2006

Who cares about truth if you've got cash?

We've got a prime example of financial corruption of the political process going on in our city right now, and it doesn't even involve politicians. It involves a businessman throwing huge sums of money around to convince people to veto a plan to build a school near his business. This guy has already mired an early version of the plan in endless hearings to get permission to build in an industrial zone, paying experts and lawyers by the score to tangle the approval machinery. Now he's turned his focus on an election to expand that original project into a facility that will greatly relieve overcrowding in our high school and middle schools.

The result is one of those situations that, if this were two candidates running for office, the fairness of the financial imbalance would be called into question. On the one side, we have the school board, which has a few thousand dollars to spend and can't even legally urge people to vote one way or the other. And on the other side, we have Mr. Businessman, who is spending tens of thousands of dollars on glossy colorful mailers decrying the school plan; full-page ads in local papers; and commercials on networks like Lifetime and CNN to bring his message home.

It's a pretty crazy message, so he sure needs all the money he can get. He needs to convince people who live here that the street his business is on is so heavily trafficked, so beset by trucks traveling heedlessly upon it, that it presents a real and unacceptable danger to our fragile schoolchildren. This is, seriously, one of the quietest and least-busy streets our growing city has. We've got one school on a major highway, and many more on busy thoroughfares that serve as traffic arteries. By comparision, Mr. Businessman's setting is about as bucolic as it gets around here. But his brochures are sure authoritative looking, and dramatically copywritten, and his TV ads will probably be full of portent. Will city voters seek out the other side of the story by, like, driving to the street and noticing they're the only car on it? Most politicians would bet not. I'm hoping they're wrong.

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