Monday, January 5, 2009

Milk, Esrati, and Urban Politics

Esrati has an excellent post (+ comments) on the recent Harvey Milk biopic, one that i couldnt help think about after seeing the flick myself this past Sunday.

I was thinking on how Esrati is sort of like Harvey Milk. Of course Esrati is neither gay nor an old hippy, but there are other similarities, mainly in their political history as outsider candidates running for office in a political system that didn't support them, and candidates representing two aspects of a urban revival or back-to-the-city movement that started in the 1970s and continued into our time.

Like Harvey Milk David Esrati has run multiple times for office. In the case of Harvey Milk, though, the election law was changed in San Francisco to bring back ward elections, meaning Harvey Milk finally won an election. If there would be a similar change in Dayton we could well see David Esrati win an elecion, too. As it stands, the current election law in Dayton mandates at-large elections, diluting the impact of neighborhood activists and grass roots politics, as it did in San Francisco.

And Harvey Milk finally ended up with the endorsment of one of San Fransciscos two major daily newspapers.

Milk did give a glimpse of the dynamics of power in a system of ward elections via the Dan White/Harvey Milk relationship. One can see how votes and issues work differently, as neighborhood interests become more important and have to be balanced against city interests. It's messy and requires more negotiation and political skill. But is this perhaps preferable to a system that de-emphasises the importance of the neighbrohood and community in favor of a more abstract board of directors concept designed to diffuse and limit the citizens voice?

All in all this was a fascinating movie on multiple levels.

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