Geneva, New York, situated at the head of one of New York State’s Finger Lakes, is like many towns and cities in the region that might be described as Mayberry-esque. Geneva’s wholesome friendliness to day-tripping, however, belies the fact that the small city has— almost unbelievably—become a hotbed for communist activism. The city’s far-left swing hit a minor peak recently when Laura Salamendra, an outspoken member of The Party for Socialism and Liberation, gained a seat on Geneva’s city council. What’s happening in Geneva, of course, occurs at the same time as in the not-too-distant city of Buffalo socialist India Walton has won the Democrat primary to become mayor.
While the observably indomitable Laura Salamendra has strong allies and adversaries on the Geneva Council, there is no councilor who acts as a more effective opposition to her than William Pealer. I interviewed Councilor Pealer about his role as an everyman put in the somewhat comic and unlikely position of defending The American Way of Life against Geneva’s small-town communist front.
Pealer, who, while generally more composed than Salamendra in council meetings, shares with her that he is also something of a force of nature. Our interview was one of those instances where my thoughts didn’t seem to run in tandem with the person I was speaking to so much as try to catch up. In speaking with Pealer, it became clear how much research had gone into his ability to hold a line on tradition, but first, that he’d come to his current politics by a very circuitous route. As Pealer explained to me:
“When you give me a 50-question test about my political leanings or my social preferences, you will find me left-to-center and libertarian because I have very left-leaning goals. The main reason why I’m a Republican since college is because I was far more liberal then than I am now, and I bought into this lie that the Republican Party was filled with white supremacists, the KKK, radical conservatives, and Christian radicals. I bought into that, so I joined the Republican Party so that I could root them out! And you know what I found? Nothing! It was a lie! It was a bunch of boy scouts, right? A Republican Committee meeting in Geneva reminds me of a Boy Scout meeting and a pancake fundraiser.”
While Geneva’s Republicans were much more innocuous than Pealer’d imagined before seeing them in close quarters, he went on to say in observation of a more credible problem that, “What is objectively true is that there are card-carrying communists in our Democratic Committee.”
It seemed to the naturally inquisitive Pealer that some baseline knowledge of Marxism might be useful to engage Salamendra and her allies. Pealer didn’t, however, initially relish the chance to become intimately familiar with Marxist thought. He said:
“I didn’t want to learn any of this stuff. Are you kidding me? But I’m a good learner, right? When I installed my solar panels, I read the entire NEC electrical codebook. The book is bigger than the Rochester phone book. Because I wanted to know my stuff before I put solar panels on my roof. So, if I could get through the entire NEC electrical codebook, I can probably get through some ridiculous book about Marxism. And it’s always the same. They always want to reduce human suffering. Human suffering, human suffering, oppressed versus the oppressors, evil versus good, it’s this moral imperative.”
The Geneva Town Council, relative to many other councils, doesn’t lean heavily to one side or the other of the political divide. Its composition contains an almost perfect balance of personalities which makes the council somewhat representative of the country as a whole. The Geneva Council has a necessary handful of moderates, such as Geneva’s mayor, an extreme BLM-type liberal in Salamendra, a pair of councilors partial to Salamendra, a councilor in Pealer to act as a foil to Salamendra, and another pair of councilors partial to Pealer. When the Geneva Council debate among themselves, you get to see both extremes and all the ideological shades in-between. Still, it is Pealer and Salamendra who stand at the opposing poles. There have been numerous demonstrations in council meetings of their clash of wills, but the divide was very dramatically illustrated in a Geneva Council work session on June 7, 2021.
At the June work session, the council met with two local officers with the intent to see if bridges could be built between Salamendra’s defund-the-police-mentality and the small-town police force she’d campaigned against. Nearly at the tail end of what turned out to be the unscheduled finish to the meeting, Councilor Pealer spoke on behalf of the policemen in attendance. Pealer was applauded by a group of citizens observing the meeting after his speech. Pealer’s monologue was then followed by Salamendra’s, who countered almost everything Pealer had said. When Salamendra finally requested the policemen leave the meeting so the council could conduct other business, the community members erupted. The work session was called to an impromptu end amid shouting between Salamendra and the community members.
When in my interview of Pealer I referred to Salamendra as Pealer’s “opponent,” Pealer debated that characterization and said, “As far as being an opponent to Laura Salamendra, I don’t see it that way because some of the things that she complains about are obvious problems in our local community.” While Pealer didn’t disparage Salamendra on a personal level, he offered, in the way of factual accounting, two opinions of her. The first came in the manner of correcting my wording when I asked what made Salamendra “attractive to voters.” Pealer replied, “She’s not attractive to voters. She only won her election by 16 votes. It went down to counting the absentee ballots at the end of that election”. The tight number of votes Salamendra won by might lead you to believe the communist foothold in Geneva is tenuous, but hold on.
Pealer’s next observation of Salamendra was one that might make more difference to me than it would most people. I have consistently been attuned to what I would call the performance aspect of politics, as noted in my interview with Carl Paladino, a politician whose campaign style was the basis for Trump’s and my review of the confrontational approach of reporter/activist Laura Loomer. Salamendra, while I don’t share her politics, impressed in the same way Loomer has. Both women have it in them to act as a one-woman-army while at odds with a crowd. Pealer suggested to me, however, that many of Salamendra’s lines spoken at council meetings were scripted in real-time by parties texting to her phone. Here are some particulars offered by Pealer:
“She’s heavily coached, live in meetings. That’s the 800lb gorilla in the room. It’s hard to see in a zoom session but easy in person. The amount of times she’s checking her phone and then reading responses live in council is many. Many many. If you sit in a meeting and focus on the interactions, you can see people in the public seating giving her signals, texting her. Every step of the way. She has a very activated, intelligent cohort of people that help her along in meetings and in her writings. So, I don’t know if this person from Buffalo (India Walton) has that as well, but what we’re talking about isn’t illegal. It’s just highly bizarre to have a person who’s an elected official not be a polished speaker or thinker.”
It would be meaningful to me, and perhaps this is my preoccupation if it’s true that Salamendra isn’t able to articulate thoughts without handlers—even at the entry-level political position of counsilor. Part of my begrudging admiration for her has to do with her ability to not back down in a dustup, but that admiration is predicated upon, at least in part, that she’s not someone’s student.
What isn’t known to me at this point is who exactly Salmendra’s alleged advisors might be, but an educated guess would be that they’d fall into one or both of two overlapping camps —area communists and/or college professors—which is something that can be deduced even from reading various articles written about Salamendra. While Pealer didn’t address who exactly the alleged scribes might be, both communists and academics came up during our talk. Pealer said during our interview:
“There’s a large college community that backs her based on several Marxist activist groups like the Geneva Women’s Assembly, which is a culturally Marxist feminist activist group, and they’ve got members that are also part of the Geneva communist party which is called The Party for Socialism and Liberation. And The Party for Socialism and Liberation, they’ve got sections in Syracuse and Ithaca and all these other regions.”
The second quotation from a different point in the interview:
“And there’s video of Laura doing interviews for the PSL—The Party for Socialism and Liberation—where she is boasting about how her and her camp—her and her comrades—have swung the Democrat Committee of Geneva far left. So while she doesn’t have the support of the people, she has the support of the money. These are all college professors, right? I think we used to call them ‘dinks’ in social science class: Double Income No Kids. So you’ve got people with tons of free time, all the intellectual tools at their fingertips, all the publishing tools at their fingertips, technology at their fingertips, time and money and technology, right? And those are the people who are in the Democratic Committee fueling individuals that won by a margin of 16 votes, 18 votes.”
So are we looking at a people’s revolution or a dink revolution?
The final question, and the one I’d most wanted to ask Pealer, was what advice he’d have for other politicians on how to deal with communists suddenly playing the role of Democrats in their cities? While Pealer didn’t feel he’d been in politics long enough to offer any politician guidance, he did have a suggestion for any concerned resident. His recommendation reminded me of the advice offered by Danny Reid Turner, Eric Swalwell’s challenger in 2016.
Danny Reid Turner recommended in an interview with me that California’s conservatives should vote to push California as far left as possible to quicken California’s collapse, after which conservatives would be well-placed to pick up the pieces. Turner’s logic: “Because if not, it’s just going to be a slow burn, and it’s going to get to that blue state anyway, and we’ll probably get to that collapsed state as well, but it will probably take twenty or thirty years rather than ten.” Councilor Pealer likely doesn’t see a deep-blue Geneva as inevitable. So while he also advises conservatives behave (somewhat) like Democrats, his idea is not to push Geneva further left. Just the opposite, in fact. Pealer advised:
“Know your Democratic Committee in your community and start going to their meetings if they’re open and public. And I’ve even thought about re-registering to Democrat so that I can root out the Marxists and communists in my community because that’s what’s … See, that’s the problem in Geneva is we’re 3/5ths Democratic voters, but 90% of those Democrats are very autopilot Democrats. They just vote Democrat. They don’t know what’s going on with the Democrat Party of their community, and if you talk to these Democrats, the vast majority are conservative Kennedy Democrats. So when you tell them that the vice president of the Democrat Committee in Geneva is a communist?”