Commentary Magazine


The Councilman

To the Editor:

Roger Starr’s characterization of Councilman Carter Burden [“The Aristocrat in Local Politics,” January] as an aristocrat who speaks with an inflammatory tongue is most unfair and unjust.

The proof offered for this assertion is the strident voice in which Mr. Burden speaks out on behalf of community participation in solving the problems that confront it as part of the urban dilemma.

While I occasionally find myself in strong disagreement with Councilman Burden on particular issues, I nevertheless find in him the rare politician whose political actions are governed by what he considers to be the genuine social need and the public good. Councilman Burden as a hard-working, intelligent, and articulate voice for neighborhood government may be attacked by Mr. Starr for taking that position, but it is unfortunate to make Mr. Burden out to be an aristocratic autocrat in order to make a case against him.

Edward A. Morrison
New York County Chairman, Liberal Party
New York City

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To the Editor:

. . . It seems to me that Roger Starr has forgotten the grounds on which our government was formed. He writes: “. . . those with a residual ambition or political power find that emphasizing personal service to the individual or the small group of local people offers a safe haven from the consequences of a bad guess as to how the present American turmoil will end.” But isn’t it true that the rights and wants of the individual are held in high esteem in our Constitution? It would seem difficult for Mr. Burden not to work for the wishes of his constituents. The small group is the unit of a majority and if we forget this, our type of government will fail. Mr. Starr says that Mr. Burden made supposedly outlandish requests of the city because that was what the people he represented wanted, but it is his job to represent his constituents, not to work for things which, though he may think them right, run contrary to the views of his constituents. . . . It seems to me that Mr. Starr is attacking Carter Burden for being young and wealthy . . . or perhaps Mr. Burden said something against Mr. Starr’s own activities and interests which evoked Mr. Starr’s condemnation of representative government.

Jeff Birnbaum
Scranton, Pennsylvania

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Roger Starr writes:

I did not say that Carter Burden doesn’t work hard. He does. He is also personally charming. If he puts in some homework on economics, controls his divisive public tongue, and recognizes the need to prepare his constituents for constant adjustment between the local and the general interest, he may cut quite a significant figure in American politics. As a good Democrat, I trust that gratitude for Mr. Morrison’s defense will not hurtle Mr. Burden into the arms of the Liberal party.

Mr. Birnbaum’s bed is full of other strange fellows who have argued that an elected representative should restrict himself to furthering the interests of his constituency regardless of his own view of the merits of the case. I do not see how any general government can exist at all unless the representatives of the several constituencies are prepared to compromise in the course of the legislative process. I do not see how any legislator can compromise unless he uses his own judgment and relies on his own system of values. And I don’t see how he can survive the compromise unless he has let his constituents in on the secret that there is a price—sometimes a very high price—on the bounties he has offered them.

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