Many politicians abandoned their constituency during the worst natural disaster in New York history while others stuck by them till the very end.
The scene was a biblical manifestation of Sodom and Gomorrah. Gusty winds howled at a hundred miles an hour, transformers exploded reigning down blue fire and brimstone, senior citizens cowered in terror clutching flashlights and ancient trees in dire need of pruning loomed over rooftops just moments away from collapse. Meanwhile the smoke and cinder billowed from Breezy Point, the acrid smell wafting into Central Queens as what was spared from the water burned to the ground. Friends, if you’re reading this you already know the danger we’ve been through in the past 72 hours but what you may not know is that your elected representative may have abandoned you.
Look, we are not asking for politicians to channel their inner Bruce Willis for every little thing and you certainly don’t need to be a superhero 24\7 when you have a family to take care of, but as an elected official they have a sacred duty to take action where it’s needed, to be a leader, and above all else to keep the public informed. Looking at four politicians we can see their true colors revealed during this storm.
Of all the ethical dilemmas and corruption I’ve uncovered regarding Senator Toby Stavisky, her absenteeism during the hurricane takes the cake. At first, I considered her absence politics as usual until I spoke with civic leaders that expressed concern of her whereabouts. Days after the disaster and they still have not seen or heard from Senator Stavisky. A photo circulated FB of Toby gawking at a tree that crushed a car in Flushing. It looks staged and meaningless. As of now it’s the only documented instance of her working in the district after the storm. According to several sources, she was not seen or heard from in parts of her district that were hit the hardest. Community leaders from these areas were not even contacted, and yet, the worst is still not over for them. Was Stavisky unconcerned about these people? In politics it’s easy to spin the issue with a photo, to doctor a presence, but you can’t do it all the time. Sooner or later someone is going to call shenanigans. For example the photo caption illustrates the point. It says Stavisky was ‘surveying,’ which is pol-speak for standing around doing nothing (similar photos with politicians are popping up everywhere). Look, we’re not expecting an octogenarian to play firefighter, but is she able to perform the duties of office especially in times of natural disaster when people look to the elects for leadership?
If Facebook is our virtual town hall, then ladies and gentleman, we’ve been jilted. But Toby is not the only absconder in times of crisis. If you live in Northeast Queens, Assemblyman Ed Braunstein didn’t do much either and he’s an able-bodied 30-year-old man without children. His FB page posted general storm information, but that’s
not the point, there’s simply no personal communication from the Assemblyman nor the Senator as to what they themselves did during the storm and it’s either because they didn’t do anything or because they don’t utilize social media.
For some elects, a staffer updates their page with generic information but the issue is that the politician in question is not the author behind their social media communications and it appears to be an accepted practice. Why is this even tolerated? Some people say they always vote for the person and not the politics. But how can you vote for the person if they are hiding behind a junior staffer impersonating the elected official? Sounds like a fraud. Without personal updates and pictures are we to assume they were out doing their due diligence and fulfilling their obligation to the people? I don’t think so. The people want to know what did you physically do in the past 72 hours? And why weren’t they online keeping us up to date? Don’t we pay elects to be available to us, so chosen because we believe they will hear the clarion call and rise to the occasion?
Assemblywoman Grace Meng and City Councilman Dan Halloran (both rival Congressional candidates for NY6) deserve a round of applause for their actions during the crisis. Dan Halloran was literally driving around during the brunt of the storm reporting conditions and removing debris. Grace Meng was in a constant state of communication by talking with people, keeping everyone calm, informed, and directing people in need of assistance to the appropriate services and means of relief. Both of their respective district offices were open and operating on extended hours taking calls from constituents.
Social Media is the future of all communication, and it’s growing bigger everyday. When the power goes out, it’s also a reliable means of communication (sometimes it’s the only means for some people) and that’s why I must commend the elects who went out into the district immediately before or during the storm and utilized their personal FB posts, tweets, and emails to keep people informed and to give them a sense of comfort that help and a friendly voice was only a tweet away.
Can you have too much of a good thing? Sometimes constant updates and glory seeking action shots open up a pol to charges of political grandstanding. While this may be true in some cases, we have to look past the superficial and see it as evidence that they are doing their job. A personal FB or twitter feed should be an absolute requirement and if your elect doesn’t have one, you need to ask why not.
Both Grace Meng and Dan Halloran’s visibility during Hurricane Sandy meant a lot to the community and it should be a model for all elects to follow for future crisis. While both are candidates locked in a very tight race, Halloran and Meng stepped up to the plate way before Gary Ackerman’s retirement, unlike Braunstein and Stavisky who’s complacency in office appear to render them useless in times of tragedy. Meng, Halloran, even Addabbo and Ulrich rose to the occasion. Their selfless actions, notifications and updates may have saved lives. Measuring the effectiveness of personal social media communication from the elects won’t be scientific, however from my personal experience and observations during the storm, it relieved tensions and the feeling of helplessness with one loud voice that stood above the rest: You are not alone. All elects should take note.