A month ago, Journal News readers would have noticed that our Opinion page was largely filled with letters on the upcoming November elections. We welcome letters that offer a substantive discussion of the issues facing residents in our various municipalities and state and congressional districts. Unfortunately, in the case of the local races, most of what we received were letters written by candidates’ family members, friends, campaign staff and party activists. The typical letter would inform us that the writer had known Candidate X since high school, that the candidate was qualified to hold office due to having been a former PTA president, Little League coach, volunteer fundraiser, etc., and that he or she was “truly, truly concerned about the residents of our fair town.” This recitation of a candidate’s resume is fine up to a point, but seven or eight or a dozen letters of this type will make readers’ eyes glaze over, which is why most such letters were relegated to our Web site.
Letters regarding the Ossining town and village elections in particular generated more than one complaint about their having come from people who were a little too close to either the candidate or the party. While people who happen to have some sort of association with a candidate are entitled to make their opinions known (and certainly that association can lend some credibility to their assertions), we do draw the line at letters from campaign managers and paid staffers, or from party leaders, whose job it is, after all, to see their candidate elected. One example: Tom Reddy, who wrote a letter praising candidate Mike Aurora for village trustee, was revealed in an unrelated story last week to have been Aurora’s campaign manager and treasurer. Had we known, Reddy’s letter would have been disqualified. Other cases aren’t as cut-and-dried in deciding whether to publish, but are instances where we would have appreciated the writers being more forthcoming about their ties to the candidate. In Rockland, for example, there were instances of candidates’ spouses writing letters without identifying themselves as such.
Now, how do we enforce these rules? So far, we’ve refrained from demanding of every writer that he or she disclose any and all ties to the candidate being written about (or the opposing candidate, if the letter is critical), but clearly, the honor system isn’t working. For the next election cycle, we will publish reminders about our rules regarding election letters, and take more care in scrutinizing the letters we receive and asking questions of the writers if we smell something fishy.