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Boxing outside the think 

One line in county executive hopeful Maggie Brooks' platform will probably not be quoted much. It's too abstract and unforthcoming at first blush. But it does get the mind moving.

            "Do we really want to turn our community into a laboratory, a place to experiment and tinker with our future?" asks Brooks.

Well, do we? It largely depends on who "we" are.

            If things are great for "us," nobody reaches for the test tube and Bunsen burner. But the other part of us that sees nothing but trouble ahead --- more unemployment, more unfair taxation, more cuts in vital services like schools, a declining quality of life --- might don the lab coat rather than die with the status quo.

            Clearly, apart from town business like recreation or sometimes the preservation of open space, most Monroe County suburbs are not inclined to experiment. The tendency is obvious from the list of candidates. Here are some lowlights:

            In the town of Greece, there's a county legislature seat up for grabs. But only one set of hands is grabbing: a Republican-Independence-Conservative nominee running unopposed.

            Same goes for the "race" for Chili town justice.

            In the town of Clarkson, Republicans are running unopposed for supervisor, town clerk, town justice, and town council.

            Republican-Conservatives similarly are shoo-ins for Gates town justice and town council. And the incumbent Gates supervisor (R-I-C) faces a challenger with only the Working Families line.

            You get the picture.

            But one more sour note: A special single-party-state citation goes to Rush, where Republicans not encumbered with cross-endorsements are running unopposed for supervisor, town clerk, town justice, town council, and highway superintendent.

So is everybody happy in these towns?

            On one level, a majority must be. But that feeling of satisfaction might rest on a failure to know what's happening next door --- how certain towns are suffering while others prosper.

            It's not talked about much, least of all during elections. But wealth is not very fairly distributed among the suburbs. Take an example from the county's southern tier: The town of Wheatland, quite despite a population (2000 census) of 5,149, had a total full-value assessment of around $195 million. Just across the Genesee River, the town of Rush's total full-value assessment was around $217 million, though Rush has just 3,603 residents.

            Maybe this has something to do with the fact that Wheatland includes the village of Scottsville, which has low-income housing as well as stately historic homes. Or with the fact that Scottsville's main drag lacks the kind of economic activity villagers would like, whereas Rush has more spillover from teeming Henrietta immediately to the north.

            In any case, the difference in valuation gives one town the upper hand. But is this an election issue? Maybe in the finest of fine print. Wheatland, where only R-I-Cs are on the ballot, shows no more sign of political ferment than does Total Republican Rush.

            There are ways of dealing with tax-base inequalities: for example, revenue sharing, with or without consolidations. And this is done to some extent in Monroe County through the Morin-Ryan sales tax sharing formula. Let's face it, though: The real way is to tax income and wealth instead of property, but localities can't take this route alone.

            Thus the inequalities, by their existence, argue for some kind of experimentation and innovation.

You could view one-party, one-ideology rule as a radical experiment in backwardness.

            The towns and villages have sought refuge in themselves, and their citizens pay the price, through economic stratification and mounting expenses. Irondequoit, for example, has nearly twice as many residents as Pittsford and has a large commercial base. But Irondequoit's full-value assessment is less than Pittsford's. The numbers spell the difference between a "built out," inner-ring, middle- and working-class community and an expanding, upscale one.

            "People want to choose where they live, where their children go to school, and the kind of government structure that serves them," says the Brooks platform.

            You have to concede the "want to" part. That's observable human nature.

            But real people's lives play out within a narrow range of options. Choices are dictated by geography, wealth and income, employment, accessibility, and other factors minimally under the control of individuals.

            And in the "one-party state," individuals lack even a meaningful choice in the voting booth. Maybe they're wise to stay home on Election Day.

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