The SandPaper

‘All Politics Is Local’ – Let’s Start With Our Infrastructure

Commentary

I am always amazed and more than a little concerned by the surveys that ask voters what, in their opinion, is “the most important issue” we are facing. The implication in that question, and by default in the answers, is that elected officials need to focus on that one most important issue at the expense of all of the other issues we face as a nation and as a community.

In truth, if elected officials do not give ample attention to all of the issues we face, then we will surely fail our constituents. And if you can do only one thing at a time, that one thing should be: retire.

So, in all the surveys that I have seen, the economy and inflation are always at the top, followed in various orders by crime, personal freedoms, healthcare, immigration, taxation, protecting democracy and other issues. All need constant attention. However, it seems to me that we are not giving sufficient focus to the issues that barely register. For example, coming in around 33rd place in Gallup surveys over the last six months: infrastructure.

The federal government certainly paid attention to infrastructure one year ago this month when it passed the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The IIJA, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (it doesn’t take much to be called “bipartisan”), is dedicated to, among other things, highways, transit and the all-encompassing “other programs.”

Not a small number, that was trillion, so my question is: Where is our share? For the record, New Jersey is to get $12.3 billion from the IIJA. So, to repeat, where is our share? And by our share, I mean our local communities. There are many “other programs” we can utilize.

Which brings me to Tip O’Neill.

Former congressman and speaker of the house, Rep. O’Neill may not have originated the phrase “All politics is local,” but it became associated with him enough that he used it as the title of his political memoir.

Our national politics is broken. The extremes have taken over. Compromise is a bad word. Working across the aisle to find solutions will subject you to a primary challenge from someone who vows to never work with the opposition. We should not accept these things as givens, as just the way it is. We can demand that things change.

And while we are doing that, we can build this country back to what it should be, to what it always aspired to be, by starting locally.

In our small towns, on our Island, in our broader community and our county, we can make government work, starting with our infrastructure.

Infrastructure may mean many things to many people, and the federal government can define it very broadly, as it does in the IIJA. So, speaking of “local,” has anyone noticed that our local infrastructure is in desperate need of funding, and better management to go along with that funding?

I suppose that we should be happy with all of the construction and roadwork on Route 72, the Causeway Bridge and the Boulevard, all started before and not funded by the IIJA. But it is hard to be happy when the work seems endless, poorly managed and inconsiderate of homeowners.

And with the IIJA, we should get so much more to meet our “local” needs. The “infrastructure” in the IIJA specifically calls for funding for healthy streets programs, safe streets and roads programs, congestion relief, sewage systems (flooding relief!) and various grant programs that can be reasonably utilized for beach replenishment, a constant critical need for our LBI community. The IIJA also, thankfully, refers to “climate change” needs. Our beaches certainly should qualify. And we simply cannot keep doing the same beach replenishment programs, relying on the same “experts,” and getting the same results: entire stretches of LBI with little or no beach. It is time for new approaches and utilizing some of that trillion dollars right here, for our local beaches.

No politician embodied Tip O’Neill’s admonition more than former New York Sen. Al D’Amato. He managed to have 18 years in the U.S. Senate, largely due to his concentration on local issues, and in spite of some very contrasting traits.

As a community activist and political leader, I worked with the “Pothole Senator,” as D’Amato was christened for his dedication to local issues. I know that he was, among many things, a fierce advocate for his constituents, but also an unscrupulous manipulator for his own personal gains; he was highly principled and thoroughly opportunistic; he was extremely popular and widely hated. He gave passing attention to national interests and obsessive focus on local problems. He was easily re-elected and then soundly defeated. Easily elected because he paid attention to local issues; soundly defeated because he let his personal interests and conflicts of interest get in the way of representing his constituents.

Being the “Pothole Senator” was enough, until 18 years in office made him out of touch with the very notion of “local,” and attacks on his integrity and trustworthiness caught up with him, leading the Village Voice, among others, to note that he was more the “Shakedown Senator” than the “Pothole Senator.” Once the public questions your personal motives, your days in office are numbered, pothole repairs or not.

Tip O’Neill was so much more than his congressional district in Massachusetts, even to being an integral part of the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, a treaty between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland that helped to bring about an end to the Troubles in Northern Ireland. You do not get less “local” than that. Yet he knew that taking care of his community was his first responsibility – and should be the first responsibility of every elected official.

We all need to care about the potholes. And the depleted beaches. And everything else that goes under the giant umbrella the federal government calls “infrastructure.” The world and the country have their share of problems, from inflation to Russia and Ukraine. We need to pay attention and insist our local, state and federal representatives start working together and actually solve problems. We can start with our local infrastructure problems.

Happy birthday, IIJA and your $1.2 trillion.

Where’s our share?

John M. Imperiale is Harvey Cedars deputy mayor. He can be reached at johnmimperiale@gmail.com.

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