Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Politics vs. Public Service

Originally Published at Think.MTV.com

Why in the world would anyone want to run for public office? For some young Michiganders, the reason is simple: Someone has to do it. It might as well be a person who cares and has a sincere desire to serve the community.

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It’s 10pm, and Rashida Tlaib (pronounced tah-LIB, as in Kweli) is just getting back to her campaign office after a long day of door knocking. Her voice rings with a tone of self satisfaction. The candidate for state representative in Michigan’s 12th district proudly proclaims that just today she finished visiting every street in her district for the second time. Tlaib has knocked on 7600 doors in the last ten weeks, introducing herself to residents, speaking with them about their concerns and asking for their votes.

“Every time I knocked a door, and I talked to a person,” says Tlaib, “I was completely reminded – and I know this sounds corny, but it’s so true – I was reminded every single time I talked to a resident, why I’m doing this.”

This is the first time Tlaib has run for office. The eldest of 14 children born to immigrant parents, Tlaib was raised to understand the importance of hard work, honesty and commitment to community.

After graduating from Wayne State University in 1998 with a degree in political science, the Detroit native began a career of public service in the non-profit sector providing social and advocacy services to families in the Southwest Detroit neighborhood where she grew up. Work in agencies like Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development (LASED) and the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS).

She earned her law degree on the weekends while working fulltime. This later led to a job in the office of Michigan State Representative Steve Tobocman. With Tobocman leaving office this year because of term limits, Tlaib decided to run for his seat.

“I’m more of a social worker than a career politician,” Tlaib explains. “I’m a person that is a true believer helping people through every day kinds of issues needs to go hand in hand with legislation or it doesn’t work at all.”

The corruption in U.S. government is noxious. Its stench hangs over the nation like a dark cloud rising from municipalities to state legislatures all the way to Congress and the White House. What young candidates like Tlaib seem to have in common is a sincere desire to help her community and to change the way government is run.

35 year-old Todd Lajoy is running for State Rep in Michigan’s 21st district just as he is completing his first term as a Trustee in Canton Township. Lajoy believes the skills that he has acquired connecting workers with employers in the staffing company that he and his brother founded will be useful to the state that leads the nation in unemployment.

“I really felt that my personal professional background and my community service and experience really could significantly help in one of the major critical areas in Michigan, which is jobs - job creation, retaining jobs, attracting jobs, growing businesses.”

Lajoy continues, “I’m running because the state is struggling, and I really believe that we have to have the right people in place to help turn the state around.”

The 21st district covers the communities of Canton, Canton Township, Belleville and Van Buren Township, a suburban and rural area nestled about 30 miles west of Detroit, and just east of Ann Arbor. As Lajoy knocks on doors in his district, the number one issue is the economy.

“We had one of the largest foreclosure rates in Wayne County, and it’s one of the highest in the nation also.” When Lajoy asks the residents why they are moving away he finds most often that it is work related.

In Detroit the high number of foreclosures creates other problems. The vacant homes in rich and poor neighborhoods alike have become a magnet for rodents and for rats of another kind – thieves. While jobs may be the top priority in Lajoy’s suburban district, in Detroit, public safety and problems with city services are the major concern.

“The neighborhoods have been decimated by the subprime lending scandal”, Lee Gaddies, a State Rep candidate in Michigan’s 7th District which encompasses several northern Detroit communities. “People are getting put out of their houses, crime is being left unchecked, the police are unresponsive, and people want their politicians to do something about it. They want to know that their cries have not gone unheard.”

Leslie Love, a first-time candidate for State Rep in the 8th District (West Detroit), has experienced these problems first hand. Her home was burglarized in February, and the thieves cleaned her out. Then on July 21st, burglars attempted to enter her home when she was there, but she scared them away.

“Now I have a big dog that I didn’t plan to have in my life at this time,” she laughs. “So I know it’s happening to me. I know it’s happening to my neighbors. There are a lot of foreclosed homes in my community, and people are going in taking copper, taking door knobs, taking chandeliers and fixtures. Their taking everything but the paint off the wall, so safety is very much an issue.”

This prompted Love to go to her Western District community/police relations meeting to discuss the issue with the commander there, and she reports that the police response has improved.

Public service at its core is about becoming involved in the community and helping your neighbors. The reason many young people shy away from politics is because of the corruption that abounds.

For Tlaib an older community activist inspired her to run when she said, “It’s people like us that never consider running for office, and that’s what’s wrong with [the state government in] Lansing. We don’t have enough people like us down there.”

“I’m gonna be painfully honest with you,” Gaddies confides. “Politics is dirty. That’s why we need regular, ordinary people to hold office. You don’t need a bunch of letters after your name to vote for what’s right for your people. You just need a little bit of common sense.”

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1 Comments:

Blogger rodeopro said...

Personally, I'm fed up with Todd LaJoy's long-winded voice messages sent from a Washington DC phone number, as well as his negative ads.

He's definitely not my choice for state representative.

November 03, 2008 3:08 PM  

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