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The time for protest is just beginning

Numerous Democrats --- including our own two senators --- disgraced themselves last week by caving in on Iraq. With their help, the president has the authority to start his war any time he likes.

                  In the week before the vote, an anti-war protest in downtown Rochester drew about a thousand people. Now, interest in protest may flag. But last week's vote was just the beginning. There is growing public awareness of the danger and cost of an attack and of unilateralism. That awareness must be kept alive, and built, through protests, letters, and vigils.

                  The country's policy on Viet Nam, after all, changed because of protests. And those protests started out very small indeed.

                  (Thanks from this citizen to Republican Amo Houghton and to Democratic Representatives Louise Slaughter and John LaFalce for their votes against the Bush plan to wage unilateral war.)

In whose interest?

Speaking of Democrats: I don't know how much weirder the Dems in the County Legislature can get. You tend to think of Democrats being split along philosophical lines, conservatives and liberals on opposite sides of an argument, and moderates desperately trying to hold the party together.

                  But in Monroe County, the libs themselves are often split. That's the case now, and the split seems pretty personal. One liberal faction supports the Democrats' leader in the legislature, Stephanie Aldersley; the other is resisting her.

                  Here's what I'm hearing from average, active Democratic voters (as opposed to Democratic pols): The Aldersley faction needs to wake up. Their voters are getting concerned.

                  No, I haven't taken a poll. But the people I've heard complaining are Prime Dems. Some of them give money. Some volunteer at election time. All of them vote. And the level of their concern is deep.

                  I started hearing the comments when Aldersley refused to appoint a Democrat to the committee studying the county budget. Yeah, I know: The Democrats could appoint only one person, and the Republicans got to appoint five. That made the Republicans look silly. But the Republicans appointed some respectable people.

                  No matter; Aldersley and her crew stuck to their guns. There's no Democratic appointee on the committee. As a result, the Democrats aren't getting any information from the committee's deliberations. And the folks who look silly are the Democrats.

                  Worse still, the Dems seem to be split on the issue of raising taxes to ease the county's budget crisis.

                  People all over the county are pleading for leadership in this mess. Two Republicans --- Ray Santirocco and George Wiedemer --- are providing it, proposing a modest tax increase and trying to cobble together enough votes to get it through and withstand a Doyle veto.

                  That gives the Democrats a chance at statesmanship. They could join Santirocco and Wiedemer in a bipartisan effort. Some Lej Democrats have said they'll do just that. So far, though, the Aldersley faction doesn't seem to have made up its mind.

                  (Maybe Aldersley's personal goals are complicating things. In a well-publicized coup, she took over as the Dems' leader in the legislature in June. Almost immediately, her party picked her to run for Congress against Republican James Walsh from Syracuse, in the reconfigured 25th District. So Aldersley has to weigh statesmanship in the Monroe County Legislature against the risk of endorsing a tax hike while she's running for Congress.)

                  I recognize that the Democrats are in a tricky position. As City's Chris Busby noted last week, if lots of Democrats but only a few Republicans come out for a tax increase, the Dems' vote can be used against them in the next election.

                  But time's short. The legislature is now analyzing Doyle's new budget, which once again calls for major cuts and no tax increase.

                  You can't often find reason for hope in this incredibly polarized community. But there is hope in the Republicans and Democrats of the "independent caucus," legislators who have had enough of blind partisanship and are willing to work together, across party lines, for the public good.

                  It would be a shame if their efforts were shot down by a group of shortsighted Democrats.

The Wegman gift

It is Robert Wegman's money, and he has a right to give it or keep it. But we ought to do more than just shrug our shoulders at the news about Wegman and Aquinas Institute.

                  In May, Aquinas announced that Wegman, himself an Aquinas graduate, was giving the school $10 million: $5 million in tuition aid for students and $5 million for a new fine-arts center.

                  Last week, Aquinas announced that Wegman was "delaying" the gift. Wegman hasn't talked to the media about his change of plans, but according to the Democrat and Chronicle, the gift "is in jeopardy" because Aquinas teachers want to join a union.

                  Did Aquinas contact Wegman and ask for help in fighting off the union? Did Wegman hear of the labor drive and step in on his own? We'll probably never know.

                  Besides, the effect is the same. Whether the man and the school intended it or not, Wegman's generosity now looks like a threat: If teachers join the union, they'll cost a valuable Catholic institution a great deal of money. They'll deprive the Aquinas community of a fine arts center. They'll deprive needy students of tuition aid.

                  Predictably, local teachers-union leaders are furious. But this story has ramifications beyond what the union and some Aquinas teachers want. It's dangerous to let large donors insert themselves into the personnel matters of schools, museums, and other educational institutions. What if another large donor doesn't like the curriculum at Aquinas? What if a donor doesn't like the statements of a history or science professor?

                  When we make a donation to an institution, we ought to do it because we believe in the goals of that institution. We ought to trust those in charge of the institution to use our money wisely --- and to deal honorably with its employees. We ought to keep our hands off the day-to-day operations of the institution. And the institution's leaders ought to insist that we do so.

Wimps' mush

I'm starting a new contest --- for the most insipid Democrat and Chronicle "Thumbs Up, Down" entry of the year.

                  The daily uses this Saturday column to help us feel good about ourselves --- for raising money for charity, for showing up at public meetings. But lest the thing become too, too saccharine, the D&C tosses in a couple of thumbs-down every week.

                  On rare occasion, the target is local (somebody stealing flowers from gravesites, for instance). Usually, though, the barbs are aimed at distant targets. Currently leading in my Dumb Thumb contest: A Thumbs Down for George Stephanopoulos, for taking his barking dog into a Barnes & Noble store in Virginia.

                  Readers' nominations are welcome.

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