Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Propaganda-Palmieri Style

Propaganda- "A form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position."

That's the Wikepedia definition of the term that has been used for years to describe certain political activity, where the desired result is to convince the populace that a particular initiative is having a desired effect.

"Quality of Life Sweeps." That's the name of the current propaganda program that Mayor Palmieri and his followers are using to convince the citizens of Utica that all is under control, that this new administration at city hall has all the answers.

Unfortunately, the citizens who inhabit the troubled neighborhoods used as the stage to present these sweeps are beginning to question the effectiveness of the operation. When will things begin to get better, they wonder? And, the uncomfortable feeling that they are being exploited has begun to creep into their thoughts.

When Palmieri and his entourage fan out across the particular area chosen for the weekly press event, plenty of cameras are present and taking hundreds of pictures for local news outlets and Facebook. Department heads, police and fire officials, codes inspectors, administration loyalists, all assemble for a good, old fashioned, feet - on - the - street mixer.. Children on their bikes circle the mass of important  looking people that will, for a few moments, turn their neighborhood into the center of the universe. For them, it's a chance to glimpse themselves later on the local news. Sometimes, for maximum political impact, a child is interviewed for the camera. They are always prepped to say how happy they are that the mayor and his team really, really care about them!

The adults of the neighborhoods don't always look so happy. Residents on parole or probation nervously eye the proliferation of badges gleaming in the hot afternoon sun. Timid faces peer out from behind faded curtains and tattered blinds, wondering what will happen next. Suddenly, a bullhorn appears! The Mayor is in full control now, barking orders to the sweating, casually dressed department heads, codes inspectors and DPW workers milling about.

Paint brushes appear, and the Director of Planning paints a fire hydrant! The Fire Chief rolls in in his magnificently appointed SUV, directing the parade of fire trucks. Police car sirens flash, streets get swept, doubtful residents are assured that this is "only the beginning." Palmieri, sensing that the excitement of the event is about to peak, seizes the opportunity to reaffirm his constituents that these sweeps will continue to unfold, week after week, until the city has been restored to it's former glory.

Then, as fast as they appeared, they are gone. The codes violations are written, the debris has been swept away, the residents have been warned to "stay positive and keep your neighborhood clean!" Everyone is confident that they have given the people what they want - responsive, pro-active government. Back to the air-conditioned comfort of city hall, they quickly resume playing solataire on their desktops, checking to see if the pictures that were just snapped are posted to Facebook yet.

According to the Wikipedia definition, "Propaganda, in its most basic sense, presents information primarily to influence an audience." The sweeps are purely propaganda in its most basic form. The administration, bereft of ideas on how to change the direction of a city in crises, has instead chosen to pursue a weekly event designed to give the populace the sense that all is under control, the problems are being addressed and will be solved.

"Propoganda often presents facts selectively to encourage a particular synthesis, or uses loaded messages to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented." If the TV stations show it on the news, if the local papers print it, it's got to be working! That's the sentiment behind the sweeps. Roll out a weekly press event, keep the cameras going, show that things are happening. The people will believe anything!

That's how successful propaganda works. And, Palmieri has become a master at it. You have to give the guy credit. He knows how to work the media. He gets his people on the street, and he works them into a frenzy. Desperate to keep their jobs, Masters Degree holding individuals paint hydrants, office workers pick up trash.

One thing seems to be missing-results. What are the outcomes? How does a neighborhood change after one sweep? How much does it cost to deploy the legion of officials every week to be used as extras in what has basically become a constantly running re-election event for a mayor desperately looking for positive press?

When asked, the administration is mum. The shroud of silence has descended over city hall. We won't know what the results are-at least not until re-election.

1 comment:

  1. I too am sad to see Utica's decline. My ancestors lived there when it was bustling. In fact, my grand aunt and uncle owned the Littlecote Hobby Shop. I never had the pleasure of visiting the store. I would love to hear more about it.