This Tuesday, Middletown will elect its new mayor. As Climate Action Group, we believe it’s essential to choose Ben Florsheim if Middletown is to make genuine environmental progress. A lot depends on any mayoral election, but this race is particularly urgent: It will decide our city’s sustainability efforts for at least the next decade and change the way Middletown experiences climate change forever.
We can’t leave issues of climate justice up to national politicians alone – local elections matter now more than ever, and in a town of this size, one hundred votes from Wesleyan could be the difference. Very soon, Middletown’s Planning and Zoning Commission will release its next Plan of Conservation and Development (PoCD), an extensive document that outlines the city’s goals for sustainability, infrastructure, transportation, health, and cultural institutions. The PoCD, still in the process of being written, has the potential to advance far-reaching sustainability goals: How much land will we devote to green space? How will we increase access to public transportation? Will we protect vulnerable communities from weather events driven by climate change? (If you’re invested in these questions, contact the authors to learn more about the PoCD.) The mayor will be crucial in making an aspirational document like this manifest in policy. We must recognize how important it is to have a mayor who agrees with the plan. That’s where Ben Florsheim comes in.
Florsheim is a progressive who recognizes the urgency of climate change. According to his website, he has a number of initiatives to expand public transport, reduce the environmental footprint of homeowners, reinforce the riverfront, and address Middletown’s food desert crisis. You might remember him from our climate strike in late September – he spoke alongside students, professors, and community activists. Giuliano, on the other hand, recently denied climate change at a conservation event. Not much more needs to be said. Choosing a mayor is but one component of the fight for climate justice, a fight which ultimately comes not from government executives but from the community. Nevertheless, Middletown’s mayor will be a significant gatekeeper of resources, and we have the opportunity to choose between a hindrance and an ally.
Some students may feel reluctant to vote in Middletown because it’s not always clear what our role should be in local politics. Though it may seem like Wesleyan is its own insular community, governed by its own rules and internal authorities, we too form part of the Middletown community. With respect to climate change, everyone in this city has to look out for one another.
Irene Westfall and Ernest Braun, on behalf of Climate Action Group