Back in July 2009, Ulster is Your Town Too posted its first blog entry. “This blog is dedicated to citizenship,” read the first line of its mission statement. That message was carried out on a rough average of twice-monthly politically-oriented posts, with its most recent entry in late April of this year.
Local political blogs aren’t new to the area. In Kingston, two bloggers on opposite sides of the political spectrum — Rich Cahill Jr. and Jeremy Blaber — have been going at it for years, mixing solid information with commentary. But there’s a difference between those widely-read local blogs and Ulster is Your Town Too and others like it: Clear ownership.
Most local blogs, political or otherwise, use Blogger as their platform. Launched in 1999 and bought by Google four years later, Blogger is a free service that allows regular people to put their thoughts online. Poets use it, and so do critics of everything from music to food. Community activists and political pundits also use it. Both Cahill and Blaber run their blogs through Blogger, and thanks to the company’s policy of allowing for absolute anonymity, so do bloggers like those behind Ulsteris Your Town Too.
There are rumors about who runs Ulster Is Your Town Too, a right-leaning blog highly supportive of Town Supervisor James Quigley III and critical of his predecessor, Nick Woerner. Whoever it is, they’ve chosen to remain anonymous, at least on their blog. Outside of leaving comments on individual stories, there is no way to reach out to the blog’s owner. That sort of anonymity doesn’t sit well with Cahill.
“To me, it’s gutless to come out and take a shot at somebody like that,” said Cahill. “If you feel strongly enough about something, why wouldn’t you want to put it out there in your own name? The only reason I can see doing it is if you know you’re doing something deceitful or underhanded and you know it’s going to blow back on you. To me it’s a question of honor.”
“I’ll tell people exactly how I feel, and I’ll always put my name on it,” said Blaber, who scored a journalistic coup by being the first to break the news of ex-Kingston cop Tim Matthews’ suspension amidst allegations (to which he later pleaded guilty) of stealing public money. “If you want credibility, you’ll put your name behind what you’re writing. Nine times out of 10, [anonymous blogs] are designed to attack a specific person or a specific agenda. Usually the anonymous blogs, they go after people but they don’t have the guts to put their names behind their attacks.”
Cahill said his opinion on anonymous blogging was primarily directed toward those who use their platform for negativity. Cahill, a former alderman and two-time unsuccessful candidate for mayor, began blogging early in his time as the city chairman of Kingston’s Republican Party a decade ago because he felt the local media wasn’t giving enough coverage to conservative politics. His current blog, Cahill on Kingston, is archived back to December 2010. Blaber’s News and Commentary was begun in March 2006 and leans more to the left than Cahill’s blog.
“There are some blogs that are done anonymously that are very nice, but there’s other ones that are absolutely vicious and they say terrible things about people,” Cahill said. “99 percent of the time I would disagree with what Jeremy put up there, but at least I’d say, it’s in his name and we disagree, but at least he had the guts to put his own name on it. Some we know who they really are, but they’re anonymous and they take vicious shots at one another. There’s some right now that are up there that are pro-Robin Yess or against-Robin Yess, and they don’t put their names on it. I know Jeremy has been accused of doing some of these blogs, and I’ve been accused of it, but I never had a blog I didn’t put my own name on.”
Yess, the former Ulster County Republican chairwoman and now spokeswoman for the Liberty Coalition, a political action committee supporting conservative candidates and causes, is certainly aware it’s happening, and she takes it with a grain of salt.
“People forward me the links,” she said. “Half the time I die laughing. For people who know me, they say, ‘Robin’s going to get a real charge out of this.’ I tell everybody who gets involved in politics you need two things: Thick skin and big shoulders. And the same holds true I think for people who want to be a voice.”
Yess, who has run the Liberty Coalition’s blog since December 2011, isn’t swayed by anonymous online commentary. But that doesn’t mean she supports them, either.
“I am not in favor necessarily of people putting up blogs that are anonymous where the only comments they want to make are attacking people personally with no substance, no facts, just a lot of hyperbole and rhetoric,” said Yess. “But I know that those morons are out there.”
Cahill and Blaber may be the best-known Kingston-based political bloggers, but they’re hardly the only ones. And like Blaber’s arrival on the blogosphere gave Cahill a foil, the same has happened to those behindUlsteris Your Town Too.
The Ulster Report, another anonymous blog, began with a post on Jan. 7 calling itself “a behind the scenes look at the town of Ulster and their Supervisor Jim Quigley.” If Ulster is Your Town Too can be viewed as a Quigley-backer, the Ulster Report is quite the opposite. The response was almost immediate.
(Keyboard photo in slideshow image by Flickr user Racun; used under Creative Commons license.)