Aug 06, 2009 Ami Olson Uncategorized
The purpose of Sen. John DeFrancisco’s town hall meeting last Tuesday was to explain what had happened this summer in the New York State Senate, and, for the most part, he accomplished that.
“The meeting met what I was trying to do,” DeFracisco said. “I wasn’t there to necessarily satisfy everybody, but just be able to answer questions and explain my position.”
There were, by my estimation, about 70 members of the public present at West Genesee High School Tuesday evening for the meeting, and representatives from many different media outlets. Even four Camillus police officers on hand, in case things took a turn for the worse a la Dan Maffei’s recent health care forum.
But the audience was generally respectful, and even the psuedo-questions — the hands raised for the opportunity to tell the Senator that, with all due respect, it was time for him to go — were relatively polite.
People were upset, frustrated after five weeks of hearing about a standstill in the senate, and DeFrancisco said he expected people to use the meeting to vent frustration.
“I can understand people being upset with what they knew,” he said, adding that the perception people had of the coup did not necessarily mesh with the reality.
But what he didn’t expect to encounter were basic questions about the function of government at the state level.
At one point, the Senator had to explain to an audience member that the senate and assembly were two different entities, and what had gone on in the senate had not affected the assembly.
“In answering the questions I think I had to explain the process and the inner workings of the senate or the assembly, as a background of what happened,” DeFrancisco said.
Sitting in the audience, I noticed only a handful of faces familiar to me from board meetings or other local government functions. I took this as a sign that people from other communities had come to Camillus for the meeting. While that may be true, it also became clear that many of the audience members were not all that familiar with politics.
Like Jennifer Kingston, of Liverpool, the senate coup had sparked an interest in many residents who hadn’t made much of an effort to follow state government in the past.
“It’s opened my eyes to what’s going on a little bit,” Kingston said after Tuesday’s meeting. She said this was her first political gathering – she’s never attended local board meetings or political debates, or made it a point to keep up-to-date on state or local politics.
The truth is, not many people do. And those who do tend to be hyper-involved, as though it will make up for the mass lack of interest. But it doesn’t, and it seems to me – and DeFrancisco – that this summer’s senate snafu may have shed some light on that for those least likely to care.
DeFrancisco said that although he probably won’t hold another town hall meeting to discuss the coup, he sees a need for similar meetings just to keep people generally aware of what goes on in Albany.
“We’ve got to have an educated public,” he said simply. He predicted a meeting would be useful after the senate session starts, to help clarify the cuts that will be made to the public, and another as the 2010 budget season nears.
In my opinion, DeFrancisco deserves some credit for taking the time to explain some of the most basic functions of government to the audience. Who better to explain how Albany “works” than those who work there, for us? So, thumbs up to DeFrancisco for that. He could have easily moved on to questions more directly related to the topic on his docket.
But I truly applaud the public for taking the time to educate themselves on the process, especially those who for the first time sought an explanation of what their representatives do for them, exactly. Let’s hope this is one of the lasting effects of the coup — a more aware, involved public.
Ami Olson is the editor of the Eagle Observer. She can be reached by phone at 434-8889 ext.335 or by e-mail at email@example.com.