Reflections on Elections

Submitted by Anthony Covatta


May was a watershed month for the Literary Club, with two differing electoral events, the first appearing to put to rest longstanding questions on a bedrock club tradition, the second jettisoning an ancient tradition, leading to multiple resignations of senior members and casting the Club’s commitment to the free exchange of ideas in doubt.

I was ambivalent on the woman issue and offer these remarks as a dispassionate observer, a long term member and past president with a brief for neither side. My concern is the Club, not any ideological position.

The sense of the Club votes on four modes of dealing with the issue of women’s relationships with the Club went off without a hitch (after months, even years of fevered debate).  The votes made it clear that a strong majority opposed female membership and lesser majorities opposed women as guests on a regular or special basis, while a final majority voted for inviting women to special events to be designed by the BOM.   As this writer remarked at the close of the meeting, this gave a clear picture of Club sentiment and put to rest the long simmering debate.  It was a result that all could accept, and as appeared from remarks after the meeting, it appeared that all did.  Certainly the main proponents of the pro-women movement did.   And with good grace and without a murmur even if they were disappointed.


But the victors for whatever reason did not accept their victory. At the Annual Elections last week the long standing tradition of treating the VP as President-Elect was deliberately ignored, and the officers who had been most strident in defense of the status quo were elected to the highest offices.  All attempts to mollify the situation by this writer were shot down.  It seemed as if a desire to punish those holding unorthodox opinions held sway.  This has not been the tradition of the Club heretofore.  Indeed, on several prior occasions where feathers had been ruffled in the electoral process, measures were immediately taken to bring the Club together and salve the hurt of the offended member.  Perhaps we can no longer do that under the new rules.

But something should and must be done for the good of the Club.  I am sure uncivil things were said by both sides. But all need to take a deep breath and reconsider positions. The election has been held and the new officers are or soon will be in place.  While there was overt electioneering by one side ( not by the pro-fems) nothing forbids that.  It’s a pity, but one can do as one wishes. Nevertheless, I call on the new officers to affirm that the Club remains dedicated to the free exchange of ideas without ungentlemanly name calling and retribution.  Further, that they will dedicate themselves to leading by example.  And I call on each of us to regard those who disagree with us without rancor or fear. It is a shame that we have driven valuable members out of the Club who accepted the results of the prior poll on women,  but could not accept the hostile fear engendered remarks and behavior that followed.

Let’s back down before the Club is hurt more.  The Club will remain exclusively male.  Will it become again a haven for brotherly exchange of ideas?

4 thoughts on “Reflections on Elections

  1. Rich Lauf

    The Club’s recent highly contentious debate on the issue of women members and guests has no doubt left bruises and scars all around. This is unavoidable on an issue where passions run so high, and indeed was predicted based on the experiences of other clubs who confronted this issue. The rhetoric was sharp, the discussion heated, occasionally over-heated. The vote on the issue showed a clear consensus on the part of members to retain our current situation. Most members want to put this issue behind us and return to the good fellowship and camaraderie that traditionally add so much value to our “literary exercises.” I certainly do.

    I believe the votes in the BOM election primarily reflected the judgment of many members that a key part of laying this issue to rest was to elect BOM members who found the outcome of the issue votes more congenial rather than less. Members surely had conversations regarding the best choices for the Club’s immediate future, which seem to me legitimate deliberations immediately following such a contentious “dividing of the house.” From anything I heard, the votes were in no way a reflection of personal animus towards those who supported this major change to the Club and were in fact cast “without rancor and fear.” The narrowness of the BOM votes compared to the issue votes reinforces the view that members cast their votes just as a judgment call as to the best way to bring this episode to a close and move forward.

    Now if, after the debate, some members have concluded that they simply cannot in good conscience be a member of a club that is all male and, given the margin of the issue votes, will remain so into a future measured in years not months, there is very little I or anyone can say to dissuade them. I would accept their conclusion of necessity, even while lamenting the loss of members well respected and well liked.

    If some of these resignations are due principally to the BOM elections, I would strongly encourage them to reconsider. We have only two meetings left until the summer break. I am hopeful that the summer break will cool the passions all around. I assume that no one wishes to keep the broils and contentions going, and thus that things will be substantially settled down come September.

    There is great wisdom in Bill Sena’s view that the make-up of the BOM should largely be a matter of indifference, where members periodically contribute to administering the Club’s routine affairs. As a result of the recent polarizing debate, this election stands as an exception. I hope that next year’s elections mark a return to the idea that the BOM is established simply to meet the Club’s bureaucratic needs. As a newly elected member of the BOM, I view the elections as a mandate to the officers to restore comity and get on with the administration of the Club’s affairs. I am personally committed to that restoration.

    Reply
  2. Mike Kremzar

    Mike Kremzar
    May 26, 2014

    First, let me thank Tony for his thoughtful blog comments about the events of the last month and his question about the future of The Literary Club. He and I had a very helpful phone conversation today and I appreciate his input and reactions. In this response, I am going to focus on his closing comments about the future of the club, and not amplify the dissention about the recent election. . For my part in some of the heated exchanges with the Board of Managment, I sincerely apologize. There are always two sides to every discussion, but the important issue, as Tony accurately challenges, is about the nature of future dialog in the club.

    For better or worse, I am the elected President for this next club year. It is not in my nature to take responsibilities lightly, and leading The Literary Club is certainly a major task. When I look at this job, what I see is a club of intelligent, vocal, thoughtful, and accomplished members who represent a wide variety of backgrounds and world views. This leads to a stimulating exchange of ideas as expressed in the papers that we write and the discussions that precede and follow the papers. This has been and should continue to be a venue where diversity of thought and opinion is treasured and not marginalized. Our political, religious, and social views and beliefs are varied and should always be honored in civil discourse. While our nation continues to divide and sub-divide itself along various political lines, it has been a pleasure for me to come to the club and discuss these issues with members of different and well informed views without rancor.

    There are several challenges ahead of us in the year ahead, but none as important as healing breaches caused in the last few months and using that experience to make us a better club. The Board of Management will be looking at a response to “Issue 4” (an event to include women), and we solicit input from the membership since there are so many options to consider – who, what, when, etc. Our membership has been rebounding recently, but we need to continue to bring in new members not just to fill out the roll, but to continue to keep adding new life to the club. There have been several recent resignations of officers that I very much regret, and the BOM needs to work to find ways to encourage these individuals to feel comfortable back in our midst. These recent resignations are not just welcome back, but are valued as part of our culture.

    In any event, I can assure you that I will do all in my limited capabilities to be President of the entire membership, so that we can enjoy the camaraderie, literary presentations, and good times that are typical of this unique and valuable club. I welcome your comments about what we should be doing and your feedback on how well we are performing.

    Mike Kremzar

    Reply
  3. John Diehl

    Tony and fellow members,
    I miss the Club and specially regret having been physically unable to
    attend the recent election meeting. I was surprised to learn the results. I
    appreciate receiving Tony Covatta’s thoughtful “Reflections on Elections”
    and thoroughly agree with him.
    Since the record of Club officers has been kept since 1864, the current
    vice president was elected the new president in every election except four,
    and those for good reason.
    Thomas Hinkle (Pres. 1872-74) and Julius Dexter (Pres. 1875-77) were
    both elected president for two consecutive terms.Albert Thompson (VP
    1909-10) and Oliver Bryant (VP 1936-37) were not elected president for some
    unrecorded reason.They possibly moved out of town or died.
    Our wonderful old Club is a real treasure. Let’s remember and respect
    it’s remarkably successful past and keep it on track for a long, healthy
    future.

    John Diehl

    Entered by jnmyers

    Reply
  4. Tom Bennett

    For those of you concerned about the last year’s developments in our community (dare I suggest “organism”) you might find these words of John Dewey food for thought:

    “Life itself consists of phases in which the organism falls out of step with the march of surrounding things and then recovers unison with it — either through effort or by some happy chance. And, in a growing life, the recovery is never a mere return to a prior state, for it is enriched by the state of disparity and resistance through which it has successfully passed. If the gap between organism and environment is too wide, the creature dies. If its activity is not enhanced by the temporary alienation, it merely subsists. Life grows when a temporary falling out is a transition to a more extensive balance of the energies of the organism with those of the conditions under which it lives.”
    – John Dewey, Art as Experience, page 14, Perigee Book paperback edition, SBN 399-50025-1

    Reply

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