Koffel's Intentions Honorable, Tactics Questionable
Just this Tuesday, the Oberlin community made some important decisions about who would lead them in the near future. Really, it was the latest in a continuous stream of Oberlin’s attempts to better the world as we deal with the challenges of the future. Pledging to be “carbon neutral” and selecting our new president are others. However, as we aim high, some strange symptoms are becoming visible.
On Monday, Nov. 5, Student Senator Colin Koffel, one of Oberlin’s most respected political whiz kids, sent out a mass e-mail to what appears to have been either the list of registered voters or just a large number of students. The e-mail described how now ex-Councilman Tony Mealy was a stain to “our city’s proud and progressive values.” He went on to cite a public memo about Mealy saying he was going to (sort of, maybe) pull a gun on the Oberlin Municipal Light and Power System for considering using biodiesel. Similarly, Koffel mentioned Mealy’s aggressive behavior toward construction crews downtown and his support for coal being used in our power plant.
While I personally am in favor of not having gun-toting pollutioneers running any place, I also am concerned about this kind of e-mail being sent out. While Koffel’s e-mail had credibility because of his past community service and his use of quotations from public documents, wasn’t this an attack ad of some kind? Why was this urgent message about an incident that happened over a year ago being broadcast now other than to influence how people vote? Certainly information is helpful in voting, but if Mr. Mealy is such a problem for Oberlin, why wasn’t there a larger conversation about his behavior earlier, so everyone knew that Billy the Kid was on the ballot?
I suppose I was a bit let down that someone who has contributed so much to our community would put out such a one-sided, last-minute attack. Should we expect Colin Koffel and other student politicians to have a better sense of what is a casual message between friends and what a student leader can say with facts, logic and room for discussion? I’m not sure, but I think so, to some extent. (For example, while I am no expert on alternative fuels, I would have liked to know the reasons why Mealy opposed biodiesel so strongly. Was it the cost, his evilness or another factor?) Writing in a student publication like this is another example of a place where some constraints may apply.
While I like Colin as a person and he is my Facebook friend (even quoted on my profile!), I neither want to excoriate him or forget that this happened. I don’t really want a public apology, or to rename the famous Guy Fawkes celebration (also November 5 coincidentally) after Colin. Really, I’m interested in starting a small conversation about at what point our political leaders have to be factual and fair when discussing their colleagues and similarly important topics.
The sad truth is that Koffel may be right about Mealy. But, what if someone sent out the exact same e-mail about Koffel when he was running for office? These kinds of ads do not work because they are factual — they work because they scare the community enough into believing what they have just read.