Avoiding a Return to the Era of Ill Feelings
After former Governor Mario Cuomo’s death on January 1, a former colleague reminded us that when Cuomo signed the legislation authorizing the creation of an Environmental Protection Fund on Lake Champlain in 1993, much of the tension that had on occasion erupted into violence as a result of the restrictive recommendations of the 1990 Commission on the Adirondacks in the 21st Century, was defused. A compromise had been reached. Funds were awarded for land acquisition, but there was also money for local governments in the form of grants for infrastructure and hamlet re-development. Of greater importance, the self-appointed leaders of the so-called Property Rights movement lost their constituencies and many of them left the area. Reasonable, responsible people on both sides of the issue reasserted control of the conversation. That’s how things have stood, more or less, until recently. In December, Denton Publications published a bizarre editorial calling for the abolition of Protect the Adirondacks, an environmental advocacy group based in Lake George, supposedly on the grounds that the group wants to drive true Adirondackers from their homes. “Fewer jobs means fewer people, thus more command by their like-minded. Shuttered schools simply mean less taxes on fancy lakeside second homes and vanishing downtowns means less blight enroute to the water’s edge,” the editorial stated. How a group can be abolished by those who disagree with its mission was never made clear, but well-reasoned logic was not among the piece’s strong suits. The papers’ publisher, Dan Alexander, disavowed the tone if not the meaning of the editorial, but not before the Essex County Board of Supervisors unanimously endorsed it. It was also supported in Letters to the Editor columns by, among others, veterans of the 1980s Property Rights Movement. In January, we received emails from Lake George residents who accused the Town’s Comprehensive Plan Committee and its consultants of surreptitiously placing within a draft of the plan new zoning regulations that would constitute “takings by regulation of our private property rights,” ignoring the fact that environmental protection had been identified as a priority and that the proposed regulations were merely suggestions as to how the town might achieve those goals. More disturbing than the authors’ arguments was the mistrust of the motives of anyone who disagreed with them, the conspiracy theories attached to the drafting of the document and the hostility expressed toward the committee. The most recent example of this return to the era of ill-feelings was the response we received when we posted to the web an article about Governor Andrew Cuomo’s support for an Adirondack-wide strategy to combat invasive species. The unthinking, visceral dislike of Cuomo expressed in comments was so vicious that we deleted most of them. Whatever the source of this renewal of animosity, it’s important to recognize it and realize how dangerous it is. No one who lived through the fierce debates in the Adirondacks in the 70s and 80s wants to see that animosity revived, and those of us who did should caution newcomers about demonizing and dehumanizing those with whom they disagree. We’ve seen the consequences of that, and frankly, they were horrifying.