In an editorial, Jersey City resident Dr. Alexander Mirescu explains why the city must return to civilized political discourse where vandalism should not be accepted.
Political observers are often predisposed to citing the works of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. I regret that I am equally guilty of this proclivity, but, when it comes to Jersey City and elections, it is not without good reason.
The French diplomat travelled throughout the newly formed United States of the early 19th century, carefully documenting firsthand observations of America’s unique governance as a newly independent republic, its illiberal sides and its potential for deepening nascent democratic practice in equal measure, and what de Tocqueville called “the tranquil action of society.”
This tranquility appears disrupted and it is my hope that this brief submission sheds some needed light.
During the 2021 municipal elections, Jersey City saw a troublesome spate of burnings, vandalism, and defacing of campaign materials. Residents should not dismiss this lightly.
In my 22 years in this city, a lot has changed and most of it for the better.
While there is much room for improvement, diverse political actors, cultural associations, civil society groups, academic centers, the private sector and small businesses (many immigrant owned), and municipal institutions have made countless and durable contributions to Jersey City’s increasingly positive and vibrant political fabric and interconnectivity at the neighborhood level.
While the national political climate continues to strain our ability to engage in civilized discourse and challenging but polite disagreement, certain events surrounding the 2021 elections remind Jersey City residents that we must be cautiously vigilant in protecting a diversity of political thought and opinion and advancing a culture that rejects political vandalism.
Neither comprehensive nor scientific, I have observed in the past several weeks numerous destroyed and defaced signs and other campaign materials of Ward C candidate and incumbent, Richard Boggiano.
This then culminated in an act of vandalism against his campaign headquarters this week. As a Ward E resident, I witnessed, with great concern, similar acts that included the trespassing and arson of campaign signs supporting Jake Hudnut.
Were these types of reactionary behavior isolated only to one ward, I would be less compelled to submit this opinion.
However, my fear is that this new campaign playbook is taking on citywide contours and threatens to become business-as-usual in Jersey City’s elections cycle. It is simply unacceptable.
Every state in the union has penalties against defacing political signage. Some more severe than others. New Jersey is no exception.
However, instead of a legal discussion, this is rather a call to the return of acceptable forms of disagreement and de Tocqueville’s “tranquil action” in election cycles.
These recent acts have the potential of creating negative impacts on a civilized political discourse and may impede bridging gaps in political opinion.
While it oftentimes can become personal, heated and testy, Jersey City’s political culture has tended to reject the actual physical destruction of others’ campaign property, let alone arson and vandalism of campaign headquarters.
Finally, these actions may dissuade or at least give cautious pause to future candidates from running for public office.
Extremism from any segment of the political spectrum, from local residents but especially from non-resident political agitators, must not be afforded the slightest footing in our municipality.
We should demand from our candidates that they administer even the most hotly contested campaigns in a manner that supports civility, regardless of our disagreements.
To this end, we must reject the regular and systematic destruction of opponents’ property and demand that candidates publicly denounce any act of political defacement or vandalism against their opponents.