Government Of The People, By The People . . .
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER with DOMENICK RAFTER
Politicians aren’t exactly the most popular people in America at the moment.
Ask many as to why their opinion of our elected officials are so low, you might end up getting some form of “they don’t listen to us” as an answer. The lack of faith in the public’s ability to influence legislation and policy has been blamed for notorious low turnout in elections and low approval ratings, especially for legislators.
Voters expressing cynicism in government will often say they feel outnumbered by lobbyists, corporate money or unions. Some look at the high incumbent reelection rates and partisan gerrymandering as signs their voices won’t be heard- whether during debates or in elections.
Yet there are some recent examples of enough public outcry influencing policy makers. The Tea Party moved us to the right several years ago. Then in 2010, Occupy Wall Street was credited with reigniting an argument over the tax rate on the richest Americans.
When a bill to legalize same-sex marriage came to a vote in New York in 2009, some state legislatures who were undecided on the bill took the pulse of their districts. When announcing his “yes” vote, Queens State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. announced calls to his office were overwhelmingly supportive, when in 2009; they had been a majority in opposition. Addabbo voted no that year.
It is possible to make your voice heard – possible, but not easy.
There are various ways to do this; phone, email, letter, town hall meetings or organizing demonstrations. The most common and often effective way to do so is by phone. A simple phone call to your local representative’s office will be taken by office staff and noted. Often, elected officials wish to receive these calls during hotly contested debates over issues.
Emails and letters could be less effective, especially in scenarios where an issue is galvanizing a large portion of the population. Email addresses given to the public are usually generic ones that could receive thousands of inquiries a day. Personal letters could take a while to reach a local official’s office, especially since the 2002 Anthrax scares led to increased security measures for regular mail.
A community event and meeting one on one with constituents is the best way to emphasis your point of view with your local representatives. Town hall meetings are common, especially in smaller communities. However, security concerns in the wake of the assassination attempt on former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords has not made it any easier to access an elected official.
Organizing or participating in a demonstration outside an elected official’s office or at a scheduled appearance certainly makes your point but may not be a way to make friends with the elected.
Using the legislative bodies’ websites is the easiest way to find contact information. Each legislator on every level lists their office location, email and phone number on their individual website and often list upcoming community events they will be appearing at or holding.
Type the following addresses into your browser and follow instructions to find your representative:
• City Council: council.nyc.gov/html/members/members.shtml
• Assembly: assembly.state.ny.us/mem/
• State Senate: nysenate.gov/
• Congress: www.house.gov
Even if you get no response, or your representative took a vote you disagree with, an American citizen will always have the power of the vote. And if you don’t think one vote can make a difference, ask former Connecticut State Representative John Kovaleski. The Democrat lost his 2002 reelection campaign by a single vote.
This column is in response to the following letter from a reader:
I enjoy your informative articles and insights into the political issues and would like to request a little help from you.
When I read about a bill pending, or opposing views on an issue, I would like to voice my opinion. I’m sure alot of readers feel the same, as we don’t seem to have much ‘say’ lately in government.
Could you give information to me and your readers how we best get our voices heard?
I don’t like being part of the silent majority. I’d greatly appreciate your letting me know how I determine whom to contact.
Are calls and emails equally effective?
Thanks for your time and help.
Susan H. Fleming
If You Build It, They Will Come
By JACK FRIEDMAN
Welcome to Queens. Land of our region’s two major airports, home to the United States Tennis Open and the New York Mets, the site of our City’s only casino. With 2.3 million people living in a borough that continued to grow during the sluggish economy of the past few years, with exciting development in Long Island City, downtown Flushing, Jamaica, Astoria and more Queens is thriving. Yes Manhattan, there are other boroughs.
So why are naysayers from Manhattan being so negative about Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recent announcement of plans to develop the country’s largest convention and exhibition center at Aqueduct Racetrack in Southern Queens? The same naysayers, I remind you, have been complaining about the antiquated Javits Center and its inability to draw first-class trade shows since it was built. They are the same folks who run NYC & Co., the organization tasked with promoting tourism for all New York City, yet acts as if Queens doesn’t exist. I don’t have an issue with those who want to insure we address all the concerns that come with building a facility of this size; traffic, commute to Manhattan, truck access, etc. But to all the negativity I say, “If we build it, they will come”.
The Queens convention center was included in the New York City Regional Council’s strategic plan. That group included prominent and well-respected business leaders like Kathy Wylde of the New York City Partnership, Gail Grimmet of Delta Airlines, Steve Spinola of REBNY, Peter Ward of the Hotel Trades Council and others. They represented developers, airlines, hospitality, business and other sectors vital to the New York City economy. They are all Manhattan-based, yet as a group they supported the Queens Convention Center in their plan.
Governor Andrew Cuomo, Empire State Development CEO Kenneth Adams, and Mayor Bloomberg all support the plan. Robert Yaro, President of the highly regarded Regional Plan Association spoke at the Queens Chamber of Commerce last week touting the center as a transformational project that can be a stimulus beyond Aqueduct and Southern Queens and in fact, will have an impact on all of Queens, New York City and the region. These are no lightweights. These are the thought leaders and policy drivers for our City and State. So why all the negativity?
The answer is simple. Our efforts as a City are far too Manhattan-centric. The U.S. Open is the most successful sporting event in New York City, responsible for more than $800 million of tax revenue annually. They play in Queens. Resorts World New York is attracting 20,000 visitors a day, earning the State $1 million daily. It is in South Queens. Millions of people visit our City, State and Country daily through our major airports, both in Queens. It’s time that Queens is recognized as a land of opportunity for the hospitality, tourism and convention sector.
Lets rally behind this project. Genting has proven to be a smart, reliable partner with experience building these types of facilities around the World. They are willing to invest $4 billion of private money into this venture. It will guarantee thousands of jobs and billions in revenue. Stakeholders have a right to be concerned, many issues remain unresolved, but none are insurmountable.
Naysayer Michael J. Stengel from Marriott Hotels recently stated “Good luck. I know we’re not putting a hotel out there anytime soon”. That’s fine. If you don’t, others will and you’ll be sorry you missed the boat.
Welcome to Queens.
Jack Friedman is the Executive Director of the Queens Chamber of Commerce.