Guest editorial: A Democrat, an Independent, and a Republican walk into a fire hall…

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This intentionally sounds like the setup to a joke and while some of our national political discourse has devolved into exactly that, there is no punchline to be offered here. There is, however, a great example of how people with different ideologies can still come together and look for ways to advance and protect the people of their community. Such was the setting last week when myself (D) and Trumansburg Mayor Rordan Hart (I) welcomed state senator Tom O’Mara [R] to the Trumansburg fire hall to ask for state support for our local first responders.


Small communities in rural New York State are struggling. For many municipalities, tax revenue is falling while expenses are soaring. Department of public works, emergency medical services (EMS), fire, police – these are essential services, but they can come with a hefty price tag. Albany’s approach to remedy this has been to push for consolidation of services between neighboring cities/towns/villages. While many have complied, there reaches a point where you cannot consolidate further and someone has to provide the service: enter Trumansburg EMS and fire.


For several neighboring towns/counties, Trumansburg EMS and fire ARE their essential service. Our volunteer fire department covers 56 square miles and our EMS crew services 110 square miles. While call type varies, call volume is steady. Our firefighters are always on-call and our EMS department has EMTs and paramedics on duty at the fire hall 24/7/365. They have the passion and the work ethic, but they need a new home that can accommodate the demands that come with their service area and call volume. For this to happen, we’re going to need help from the state and federal government. Enter Senator O’Mara.


We believe this was Tom O’Mara’s first trip to Trumansburg to visit with Village officials. So considering it was a snowy, two-hour delay kind of morning, we were happy to hear he was still making the drive from Big Flats. Tom is a fourteen-year veteran of the New York State legislature. He spent six years in the assembly and is about to complete his eighth year in the state senate. (Note: It should be mentioned Assemblywoman Lifton has also engaged with us in discussions about financial support for the Village) Perhaps you never vote for him, maybe you always vote for him, regardless, he has a deep knowledge of how the state works and how money is allocated to municipalities in need. We stood in the Trumansburg fire hall discussing exactly that. Tom has tackled these projects before so we laid it out for him: our first responders deserve better, but the Village cannot afford to shoulder the cost of a new construction project. For nearly two hours, political affiliations had no significance. This was a discussion between representatives where the focus was on the wellbeing of our first responders, the people they serve, and what state and federal funding might be available to support both.


It is in this moment where the real purpose of government was on full display. Unfortunately, there were only five witnesses (Tompkins County legislator Mike Sigler [R] and Ulysses Supervisor Liz Thomas (D) also joined the meeting). In our age of social media soapboxes, vile comment threads, and political dogma, the fire hall chats and cross-aisle handshakes that improve our communities are all but forgotten. For Americans, faith in government is at an all-time low and as it becomes easier to distance ourselves from people who vote for different candidates or have a different letter in the parenthetical adjacent to their name, local government has the potential to heal this divide by prioritizing the people we serve, not the party we affiliate with. We might not agree on Supreme Court nominees, the best approach to healthcare, or immigration policy, but while those issues often fuel the banter seen on cable news and Facebook, they are not what our residents need us focused on. Our job is to rise above the polarization and deliver the caliber of services our Village demands and work with the people who can help us succeed in that mission.


While there is still a long way to go in bringing this particular project to fruition, we started the conversation and I personally walked away with renewed optimism regarding what government is capable of when representatives check their ideologies at the door and focus on the needs of their shared community.


Keith Hannon
Trustee, Police Commissioner
Village of Trumansburg 

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