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Ron Kaye: Civic engagement and high expectations

April 15, 2013
  • Mayor Dave Golonski, right, lost re-election last week.
Mayor Dave Golonski, right, lost re-election last week. (File photo )

It was the changing of the guard — Parcher Plaza at Glendale City Hall filled with people celebrating Mayor Frank Quintero with taquitos and cupcakes, a gathering of well-wishers that included Burbank Mayor Dave Golonski, who offered a framed memento in tribute.

The irony was hard to miss.

Quintero was retiring quietly, much as he had served the public for 12 years; Golonski was going out with something of a roar, essentially fired by voters just two days earlier in a runoff election after 20 years of serving his city.

Both men had achievements to take pride in, helping their cities at a time of great transition and enormous stresses to stay healthy and vibrant.

I've known Golonski a long time, since an issue in the alley behind him — a large-scale development taking place without anyone in his neighborhood knowing about it or having a say — got him involved in activism and led him to the noise problems from Bob Hope Airport, and finally, to win a City Council seat in 1993 as a slow-growth candidate in the face of a decade of growth at any price.

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"It's been a great run, but after 20 years, I guess my time was up. Maybe it's a function of being there so long," Golonski said, taking defeat philosophically as we chatted before the Quintero event.

"We've seen an evolution take place in Burbank," he said. "But we managed to grow and prosper and still somehow hold onto the small-town community feeling and pride. That's extremely important to me."

As a politician, Golonski made a lot of friends over the years, and his share of enemies — politics is what cities are all about.

The word "politics" itself derives from the ancient Greek word polis, meaning city, as in Athens and Sparta, where human beings came together in common purpose and feel they are part of something greater than themselves.

Cities are the basis of civilization, not nations. Great cities are about real politics, grassroots grappling with economics and quality-of-life issues that directly affect everyone's life.

That's why it seems so ridiculous to me that voter turnout is far higher in state and national elections than in local ones. Or that the vast majority of people pay far more attention to abstract issues and what is happening far away than what is happening down the street — to stuff that directly affects them, and that they, in turn, can directly affect.

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