The Optimist played pundit this week, giving his two cents to Katharine Jose of The New York Observer about all-but-announced candidate for Public Advocate Eric Gioia. I first met Gioia in the early days of his first term as Councilman to Sunnyside, Woodside, and Long Island City when I was managing editor of The Queens Courier, and though I no longer cover Queens I have kept up-to-date about Gioia and his two media savvy terms in the Council.
If you aren't familiar with Gioia, you should certainly read Katharine's fine profile of him in today's Observer. Though I'll likely end up supporting Norman Siegel in his bid for Public Advocate (full disclosure: I've already attended one of his fundraisers), I respect Eric Gioia. Unquestionably, he has been a responsive councilman and an effective representative for his constituents - a rarity in this day and age. At the same time, however, Gioia has made sure to never do anything without being noticed by the media for doing so.
For many, these are the qualities of a model politician. As for me, I don't condemn ambition. Often ambition can be a virtue in politics, for it generally compels the politician to take into account the needs of the people - if for no other reason, but to calculate their own self-interest.
Mediocre politicians tend to be as tiny as their aspirations. They maintain the status quo simply out of convenience. In the Bush era, we've not only come to tolerate widespread mediocrity from our elected officials, we've come to embrace it. At a time when everything our President touches turns to dust, we're just happy if an elected official doesn't make things any worse.
Politicans like Eric Gioia, for good or for bad, at least challenge their colleagues in government to do better.