The Silent Majority and Mayor Ben Walsh

Ben Walsh, running on the Independence Party line, among others, was elected mayor of Syracuse yesterday. He won 54% of the vote to Democratic candidate Juanita Perez Williams’ 38%. Behind the two front runners were Green Pary candidate Howie Hawkins at 4%, Republican Laura Lavine at 2.5%, and Working Families nominee Joe Nicoletti at 1%. Yes, the Green Party beat the Republican party.

The early narrative appearing in the local media is well summed up here. The Post-Standard reports that voters told political parties they’re not needed, and that “The city decisively elected Walsh Tuesday.” Perhaps this a rejection of Republicans and Democrats, and maybe it is significant that the Republican candidate got just 2.5%. But, Lavine’s campaign was barely funded nor supported by the party, and Republicans haven’t been strong in Syracuse for a long time. Walsh, while saying often that he doesn’t represent the GOP, is the heir to one of the most prominent Republican families in CNY history. I don’t buy the easy ‘Republican in sheep’s clothing’ argument about Walsh. While he may not be a Republican, certainly a lot of Republicans voted for him. A lot of Democrats, too.

But, the most popular choice among the voters was not Walsh. Rather, it was to not vote at all. Early estimates of turnout are about 35%. The silent majority, in this case, just kept quiet. Do the math and you see that the incoming mayor of Syracuse won the votes of about 18% of eligible voters. This looks more like a message about what Syracuse residents think of government, period, rather than a rejection of parties. It’s a stretch to call this a decisive victory. If Walsh’s message about the importance of civic life is sincere, I hope he’ll do what he can to get that 65% who stayed home involved in city governance. In any case, the final vote tally in the 2017 Syracuse mayoral race looks to be ‘Who Cares Party’ 65%, mayor Ben Walsh 18%.


Producing Fun: How they are Saving the Syracuse Chiefs

 Take Me Out to the Ball Game

I’m a Syracuse Chiefs fan. If you follow me on Twitter, you know that, and probably would like me tweet a bit less about it. I’ve tweeted lots of photos and comments about games this year, made fun of the Chiefs on my timeline, and last year I waged a quixotic battle trying to get the ‘Chiefs’ to change their name to the Salt Potatoes (which I still think would be a better name – see the Montgomery Biscuits). Part of the reason I do this is because even a lot of baseball fans think minor league ball is a weak substitute for the big league game, and not much fun. But they are wrong, and I want to share the fun that can be had at NBT Bank Stadium. A lot of the fun is a result of the social experiences surrounding the game, so you don’t even need to be a baseball lover to enjoy an evening at the ballpark.



Protesting Catholic Parish Mergers: A sociological investigation

For 4 years or so I’ve been working with colleagues and students on a study of parish changes and lay Catholic protest. The study considers attitudes about parish life and Catholic authority in a context of significant reconfiguration in the diocese. Recently, a paper written with my colleague Meg Ksander as part of the project was accepted for publication at Review of Religious ResearchIt is available now here, behind a pay-wall.

I’d like this paper to be read by lay Catholics involved in changes in their own parishes and dioceses, and by leaders who make decisions about the future of the church. So, I’m going to share a version of the paper here on my blog, hoping it might find some interested readers who wouldn’t find it in the journal. The abstract is below, and here is the paper.


This mixed method study describes contention over parish reconfiguration in a northeast Catholic diocese, and a case study of one merged parish. Guided by social movement theories about collective action frames and political opportunities in mobilizatio0n, we outline the diocesan frame of reconfiguration and the counter frame developed by activists who organized to oppose the process. While the diocesan frame focused on a shortage of priests that officials believed demanded reconfiguration of financially burdened parishes, the lay counter frame shifted the debate to questions about the role of the laity in the contemporary Catholic Church and what they perceived as failed leadership from their bishop. Our case study of Resurrection Parish shows how the merged process and the activists’ opposition to their diocesan leaders resulted in a parish that works to ensure the involvement of the laity, and continues to publicly dissent from Catholic leaders.

Irresponsible Media: and Civil Conversation in Syracuse

Last night I ranted on Twitter, just a little bit, about something has been doing regularly for some time now. They will, about once a day, run a ‘Your Comments’ story highlighting comments on stories they’ve run earlier. Here is the one I was reacting to last night. Nearly all of the comments on are made by folks with pseudonymous usernames. Like many web comment sections, ‘discussions’ after stories tend to be dominated by the loudest, angriest, nastiest voices.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what’s going on at these boards, including writing an article about it with a colleague of mine. I’ve come to see these comments sections as a site of competition between regular posters to make the most outrageous post. It’s championship trolling, and you win by being meaner than all the other competitors. Users have long rewarded one another for the meanest posts, with ‘likes’ when allowed them, or with positive feedback in the form of ‘+1’ comments or ‘right on!’ sort of replies. You can see a hierarchy of posters, some who are considered clever by many, and others who are regularly attacked for their views. My take is that most of the ‘top posters’ are the meanest, most reactionary readers who seem to devote the most time to crafting their forum identity.

I don’t really expect to do much about that, and they’ve always been pretty good about deleting the most blatantly bigoted posts and banning the most regular offenders. The competition was contained to the comments sections, and you could pretty easily ignore it if you weren’t an interested sociologist like me. But, now, that’s changed.

When starts rewarding posters by highlighting comments in later ‘news’ stories (they show up in the news feed just like everything else, and @syracusedotcom tweets them out) the community of posters steps up its game, trying to get the status attached to being shared. Unfortunately, the game they play is mean spirited and depressing. Are all the comments that privileges mean and ignorant. No. Is that a pretty good way to get noticed, and elevated. Yes, I’d argue that’s a pattern I see. I think that shares stories they know will upset their easily angered commenters as a way to get page views, and then they write about comments, the more provocative the better, as a way to get more page views, and then they start over. They’ve got to convince potential advertisers this is a page people see.

(The “Ha ha ha” which is the first highlighted in the story I shared above is a great example of the rude condescension that regularly appears in the comments, and sure enough, put it in a post they then shared on Twitter.)

You might say these things could just be ignored, and maybe that’s true. It’s less true now that one of the primary media sources in the city is privileging the condescending, mean spirited, blather of pseudonymous posters and making sure it becomes part of the civic conversations we have in this place. As a transplant to the Syracuse area, I know that my impression of this city has been negatively affected by the regularly disgusting, negative comments on those boards. I should know better because I’m always teaching about and striving for representative samples when I try to learn about social life. certainly is not a representative sample of this city, and I’ve come to know many people who are very optimistic about this place. Unfortunately, I’d guess very few of them take the time to combat the angry trolling on Quite frankly they are doing more important, good, cool things. does not help this city, or people working to make it a good place to live, when they give these comments such visibility.

It’s a shame. It should stop. should be more responsible.

Some extra comments. The Post Standard employs very good journalists, many of whom I follow on Twitter and have interacted with quite a bit. This is not a problem with their work, which I often find really wonderful. This is the negative outcome of a desperate media company trying to survive and taking what I’d call the low road. did respond to my Tweets, and asked that I email them about comment moderation. I will.

Radical Catholic Activists?

Here in the Diocese of Syracuse, for the last 5 or 6 years, a fairly well organized movement of lay Catholics has emerged to express dissent from the local bishop and the wider Church. Today, this movement is mostly visible in the activities of Faithful Catholics Concerned (FCC), a group I wrote about just under a year ago. FCC’s goals include opposing the local bishop and the USCCB when they become involved in ‘partisan politics’ and are shared by Catholics across the U.S.  A few weeks ago FCC hosted a day long workshop with a keynote address by Fr. Jon Sivalon, who some Catholics certainly identify as radical. At the workshop, Fr. Sivalon quoted Thomas Merton to call for a lay-centered, ‘Vatican II’ Church.  Local activists promote what could be called a theology of community, meaning that they understand God to be active whenever ‘two or more are gathered,’ and hence they see the institutional church as secondary to the substance of being Catholic. Does this attitude about the institutional Catholic Church make them radical? (more…)