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Archive for the ‘civics’ Category

I can vouch for my grandpa being a gentleman. But until this week, I didn’t know he was ever an officer of anything.

This week’s calendar entries open the door ever so slightly, but leave most questions unanswered:

My grandfather was not a big civic joiner.

Sure, he took part in church-related activities. He went bowling alongside his friends from work. And he participated in a group or two that aligned with his personal interests, like the Stamford Art Association.

But, as far as I knew, he was never a Lion, Moose, Jaycee, or member of any other community or social improvement group. Nor did he ever hold any position of official authority.

At least, that was what I thought until I uncovered the above calendar entry.

Then I went backwards through his calendars and discovered that, for portions of 1966 and early 1967, unspecified “board meetings” were regularly noted at 8 p.m. on the second Monday of each month. No other info was ever presented.

(The February 1967 meeting seems to have been the last one he attended. February is a curious time for any board to roll over its members; but, who knows?)

The notion of his serving as an officer on a board, or even attending a meeting, took my dad by surprise:

I certainly can’t picture him either seeking or enjoying such a function.

If I were to assume that he was indeed on some board, my guess as to what it would have been, in order of decreasing likelihood, would be:

1. Stamford Camera Club (although I think he was more active in that during the mid-late 1950s)
2. Springdale Methodist Church, or some sub-group thereof
3. Some Art Club / Society
4. Bowling League
5. Local branch of the Sons of the Alsace Schnitzelbenders

I can’t rule out any of those for certain; but again, in the absence of more specific info, I can only guess.

One potential clue comes from the calendar entry of March 14, 1966.

That word at the top doesn’t look like “officers,” nor does it quite look like “official,” and it’s certainly not “Schnitzelbenders.” But I can’t figure out what it is.

(It looks almost like “offernal,” which I went so far as to Google just to see if it was a church term related to the offertory. It isn’t.)

If I could sort it out, that might give me my answer. Any guesses from the peanut gallery?

March 14, 1966.

 

 

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Everywhere you turn in an election year, you’ll hear people saying that every vote counts … and our brave forefathers died to give us the right to vote … and you can’t complain about politics if you can’t vote.

(This last claim has always chafed me. As if logic built on superior smugness has ever stopped anyone from complaining. As if anything has ever convinced somebody not to complain.)

Even the most loyal patriot occasionally gets tired of doing his civic duty, though.

That seems to be where my grandfather was, more than 50 years ago:

November 6, 1962.

November 6, 1962. Wonder what the numbers signified?

Some Election Days are more gripping than others. This one does not seem to have engaged my grandpa very much — though my aunt seemed quite cheerful about getting the day off from school.

In retrospect, I’m hard put to understand why my grandpa seemed so nonchalant. The November 1962 elections were plenty eventful for residents of southwestern Connecticut, who had two Congressional seats to weigh in on:

– The retirement of Prescott Bush left one of the state’s two U.S. Senate seats open. The seat switched parties, as Democrat Abe Ribicoff beat Republican Horace Seely-Brown in a close race (51 percent to 49 percent).

– In Connecticut’s 4th Congressional District, incumbent Republican Rep. Abner Sibal held off Democratic challenger Francis X. Lennon Jr. in another close race, 52 percent to 48 percent.

Those races look interesting enough to me. Could be they weren’t as close as the numbers and the distance of time make them seem.

Or, maybe my grandpa was more motivated by municipal races, and there just weren’t many of those to pique his interest. For instance, there was no mayoral election that November.

(There would be mayoral upheaval in Stamford the following year, as Hizzoner J. Walter Kennedy left town to take an unusual new job — commissioner of the National Basketball Association. But that didn’t have anything to do with the 1962 election.)

Of course there was no presidential election in 1962, since the election that year fell at the midterm (or what would have been the midterm) of John F. Kennedy’s only term.

There won’t be a presidential election this year either, but there should be plenty of other activity across the country. Here in Pennsylvania, for instance, we’ll be choosing a governor — a new governor, quite likely.

So do get out and vote in tomorrow’s “election,” won’t you?

Even if it doesn’t excite you.

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This week, we find a group of well-meaning policy-wonk types trying to save the world through the teevee, with the unlikely help of my grandfather.

March 16-17, 1973

When first I saw the TV listing on the 17th, I assumed it was an early countdown program to the 1976 Presidential election. You know, the sort of show on which avuncular men in sensible suits would intone things like, “Rep. Morris Udall of Arizona represents the centrist wing of the Democratic Party.”

(Sure, March 1973 seemed awfully early to be looking ahead to the next Presidential race. But the mainstream media never cared much for Richard Nixon, so I figured they would put on a program about his successor just to piss him off.)

Instead, what we have here is something much more interesting — one of those earnest, Moog-toned Seventies civics experiments, with the hamstrung City of New York at its center.

“Choices for ’76” was actually a series of five hour-long TV programs produced by the Regional Plan Association, a New York-area citizen group, with a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. (Plus support from viewers like you.)

The “televised town meetings,” as they were styled, turned the spotlight on problems affecting America’s cities and detailed possible solutions. The March 17 show, first in the series, focused on housing. Others later in the series tackled issues like transportation and the environment. Stars like Ruby Dee and Eli Wallach hosted the episodes.

After each show, viewers were asked to send in ballots giving their opinions on questions related to each subject. The ballots were made available at banks, libraries and through some newspapers. Also, hundreds of thousands of surveys were mailed to people throughout the region.

The point of the series was threefold — to inform the regional public, to draw it into involvement in planning issues, and to obtain feedback that could be used as part of the planning process.

Was the “Choices for ’76” effort a success? Depends on who you ask.

The Regional Plan Association later reported that some 3 million people in the greater New York City area watched at least one of the programs. An average of 26,500 people submitted ballots after each of the programs — topping the 25,000 responses organizers had hoped for. The series was also honored with a regional Emmy Award.

Whether it made a real dent in the city’s problems is another question, and one I don’t have the answer to. I think the quality of life in most of New York City is better now than it was in 1973, but I have no idea whether that had anything to do, directly or indirectly, with “Choices for ’76.”

Did the show engage people outside the five boroughs with the city’s problems over the long term? I tend to doubt it, as I think people tend to focus on their own back yards after a certain amount of time.

I’m kinda surprised that my grandfather would have tuned in to this, in fact. I never knew him to be all that interested in civic planning. He was interested in how machines worked, but not societies. And, he had no particular attachment to New York City that I know of.

I kinda wonder if he didn’t tune in to this show expecting to hear about Morris Udall and the ’76 campaign.

(It is still a mystery to me, by the way, why the series was called “Choices for ’76.” The issues on offer were not specific to that year, and certainly weren’t going to be solved by then. Maybe it was an attempt to hook on to the slow-building interest in the Bicentennial, and to subliminally express the idea that America ought to be a better place by the time its 200th birthday came around.)

But, far be it from me to drench an earnest policy experiment — or my grandpa’s participation in it — in cynicism. It was worth trying; they tried it; and my grandfather was one of the millions tuning in.

I can only wonder what they might have accomplished with the Internet at their disposal.

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