Letters to the Editor, March 26
Council candidate writes on ‘times of crisis’
As the global health crisis being caused by COVID-19 and the coronavirus escalates in our communities, so too does the level of fear and distress among our families and neighbors. While the crisis has prompted an unprecedented response by governments around the world, it has also presented unprecedented challenges for our leaders.
In times of crises like these, we turn to our government for answers, for protection and for solutions, but most importantly, we turn to them for assurance. We are reminded of the crucial role that government serves.
Unfortunately, these times of crises also serve to expose the fractures and weaknesses within our leadership, the catastrophic consequences of their failures, and the separate and stand-alone crisis of widespread fear, uncertainty and panic that results when we do not trust our leadership.
When a response that seems extreme on day one is inadequate on day three, when the spread of misinformation is being fueled by fear and political agendas, it is crucial that we have confidence in the competency, preparedness and transparency of our government.
When we find ourselves dependent upon a government we do not trust, our sense of uncertainty and vulnerability intensifies. If we do not trust or disregard the government’s leadership in a crisis, we may act in a way that exacerbates the situation.
We are seeing this in our individual responses to the Coronavirus, and in addition to impeding our ability to contain the virus, it is threatening to turn neighbor against neighbor.
For many years, I had the privilege and opportunity to work for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo as the director of his New York City office, so it does not surprise me to see him emerge as a true leader in this crisis. He has spoken frankly and honestly about the severity of the threat so that we can understand the urgency of protecting ourselves, while his transparency, command of facts and detailed reports about the virus and his government’s response has provided, in as much as it is possible right now, the assurance necessary to contain panic.
He has validated the legitimacy of our fears with facts but has been equally authoritative in using facts to quell disinformation. This balance has inspired confidence. He is also coordinating with neighboring states, such as New Jersey, where Gov. Phil Murphy is also providing exemplary leadership.
This was also Gov. Cuomo’s approach following the devastation of Superstorm Sandy. After the storm surge wiped out the facility being used as New York’s command center, Gov. Cuomo directed me to turn his administration’s New York City headquarters into the joint federal, state and city storm response command center. We worked with the National Guard, various state commissioners, key administration officials and the Bloomberg administration to run this operation. Paramount among all the functions was communication with the public.
My experience working with Gov. Cuomo taught me the importance of leadership and public service and ultimately inspired me to seek election to the Montclair Town Council.
Observing his exemplary leadership during this unprecedented crisis has been humbling and comforting, and has stood in stark contrast to the frightening and confounding lack of leadership we are seeing from the White House.
While it is not usually the purview of a small town’s local government to deal with a global pandemic, this crisis is requiring leadership at all levels of government. It is teaching all of us how urgently our communities need competent, transparent, responsive and trustworthy leadership, and a government we can trust to be prepared and to take responsibility for the present, future, long-term and emergency challenges we face.
The author is a candidate for an at-large Township Council seat in the May 12 elections.
Return your Census forms
Part of our Judeo-Christian culture is the story of Jesus’s birth while his parents were on their way from Nazareth to Bethlehem to be counted in the mandatory Roman census. There are lots of holes in the historical accuracy of this story but nonetheless it suggests the importance of the U.S. Census from time immemorial. We won’t have to walk for five-plus days to complete our decennial Census by April 1, but can sit at our computer and enter the requested data in less than 5 minutes. Here is why is it important that we do so.
First, a accurate population count determines fair representation in government.
Recall that Congress is the collective name for the Senate and the House of Representatives. Every state always has two Senators but the number of Representatives apportioned to each state is based on population counts provided by Census data. There are 435 seats in the House, of roughly equal population size (currently about 730,000). So, as populations grow or shift to other states, the number of representatives a state has in the House may change. For example, as people move from the Northeast to southern states or out west, those states may gain seats and thus more political influence. Thus, Census data is crucial to ensure the correct number of representatives each state should have.
Secondly, an accurate population count promotes fair allocation of government resources. The Census count will determine the amount of federal grants that state and local communities receive for the next 10 years. These grants provide roughly 31 percent of state budgets and 23 percent of state and local budgets combined, according to the most recent data.
Billions of dollars of federal funding are allocated to the states for affordable housing; community development block grants; transportation such as Amtrak and NJ Transit; bridge, road, and tunnel infrastructure projects; Medicaid; public education; National School Lunch program; Head Start; job training, clean water, and other programs vital to the state.
Thirdly, Census data is used for planning purposes by both government and business. The data helps determine the need for new roads, hospitals, schools, and other public sector investments.
Finally, Census date is used during the outbreak of disasters. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Census information was used to identify where and how much assistance was needed. Now, Census demographic data can assist epidemiologists and public health personnel in the tracking of coronavirus origins, hot spots and its impact.
Please consider the importance of completing your Census form and return it by April 1.
The author is a candidate for an at-large Township Council seat in the May 12 elections.
Institute a rent freeze
Landlords such as Paul Weingarten, who wrote in to the Letters to the Editor section March 19, have been vociferous in his campaign against rent control even after tenants of several buildings had to go to the mayor and to court to fight unconscionable rent increases. But he is correct, the time to consider rent control is not during a pandemic.
The township should institute a town-wide rent freeze for all residential and commercial properties for the next six months as businesses and renters recover from the economic hardships caused by the coronavirus, and affirm the governor’s stance that evictions will not be tolerated in any dwelling.
The need for interaction
We live next to one of the county parks in Montclair. Officially closed due to the virus, it has never been busier, which is understandable. People don’t take to being cooped up; they want to get out and into the fresh air. Well and good.
What is not so good about this parade of people into the park is the socialization that goes on. Yesterday I sat by my living room window, a fine place to observe the scene. I saw a number of people jogging some four or five abreast in lockstep towards the park entrance and any number of others in groups of four, six and more standing around on the street close together in protracted conversation, and I suppose that is understandable too. People miss their friends and neighbors and are glad and reassured to meet up with them on the street and see that they are still in health.
Then there were the scenes last night on the TV: miles of Florida beaches packed with kids on spring break. Hey, we’re young, it can’t touch us, no worse than a cold. Well, let’s hope. At times it seems that is all we can do.
But I wonder if in time, sooner than later, I’ll be seeing something like that incredible scene out of Ingmar Bergman’s film “The Seventh Seal.” A small Swedish village back in the Middle Ages during an outbreak of the plague, the people trying to carry on as usual. Then suddenly a parade of flagellants enters their town scourging themselves in hope of some relief if not deliverance through atonement.
Recalibrating our lifestyles
We all know previous generations have had to cope with enormous challenges, but I’d venture none of us ever imagined we too would face such a stark and sudden departure from our normal way of living. I believe our culture will be fundamentally re-set by what’s to come providing us with a great opportunity to build up again, better and stronger. We are necessarily living lifestyles less demanding of the environment and our natural resources. By slowing down and staying close to home, where each walk is to be savored, we can better synch with our natural world and understand our place in it.
For millennia, humans have taken solace, inspiration and perspective from the night sky. Now, sadly, more than 80% of our country can no longer see the Milky Way due to light pollution. I encourage everyone to turn off their lights for one hour and step outside to marvel at the stars: Earth Hour 2020 is this Saturday, March 28, at 8:30 p.m. This world-wide event is promoted by the World Wildlife Fund. They note “Life is resilient when we give it the chance to bounce back.”
Our mandated lifestyle change is giving the earth an unforeseen opportunity to recover and we can help it further. Make a commitment you won’t use pesticides or chemical fertilizer this summer. I find the plummeting bird population far more frightening than coronavirus. Because of upheaval in our normal weather patterns and use of chemical pesticides, birds aren’t finding the bugs they need when they migrate. Backyard bugs are good. So are bats. Bats are not our enemy because of coronavirus; just the opposite. Bats pollinate 500 types of plants (including agave, used to make tequila!), and they play an enormous role in agriculture by controlling pests. Each bat will eat its weight in mosquitoes in a night. The reason coronavirus jumped from bats to human is because they were being butchered as human food in unsanitary conditions. We need to do everything we can as a society to help our pollinators (butterflies, bees, birds, and bats). Plant sunflower seeds and your children will never forget their sense of accomplishment. If you don’t have a garden, you can still put a lavender bush or some flowering herbs on your outside windowsill. You’ll find these at the farmers market in the coming weeks.
It’s too early to plant, but now is the time to pull weeds before they really take hold. Weeds between pavement? Hot water or vinegar will kill them without harming the ecosystem.
Spring cleaning? Don’t just put give-aways on the curb where they may be wasted; put an ad under For Sale/Free on Craigslist.com. No matter what it is, someone can use it. No need for a face-to-face hand-off; just can arrange a time to leave out front.
We are not helpless. We each have a vital role to play in righting the world, in all senses.