On election night, I headed up Broadway, past Times Square, to watch the returns and, hopefully, to celebrate. As I did so, I walked not far behind a young man picking through garbage cans, rummaging for food. At one can, he pulled out a "Vote for Obama" sign and, for the next dozen blocks or so, as he remained in my view, he proudly held the sign out, shaking it at cars and passersby.
A few days later, I watched people rummage through piles of donated clothing and cleaning products. They were Superstorm Sandy victims with severely damaged homes who were selflessly volunteering, preparing relief packages for others.
I'm always humbled by how quickly people stop thinking about their own needs or wants and simply try to make a difference in their own personal way.
When Sandy's fury directed hurricane-force winds and record storm surges at the Eastern seaboard, lashing into Long Island and the New York metropolitan area, something incredibly hopeful was also occurring: Amid the devastation and destruction, neighbors helped neighbors, and brave first-responders — police officers, firefighters and emergency workers — did what they always do, they saved lives and protected property even while their own families were still in harm's way. Many risked their own lives in acts of heroism that were truly amazing.
Not a single one asked: Are you a Democrat or Republican, conservative or progressive — or are you registered to vote? As Sandy raged, every single threatened household was simply an American household.
And almost all our elected leaders got the point, too.
In the midst of a bruising election campaign — one in which candidates here in New York spent an estimated $75 million on negative advertising — our leaders and aspiring leaders rose to the occasion. They set aside partisanship and ideology to work in the best interests of their communities and to alleviate the suffering of residents.
No donkeys. No elephants. No red. No blue. Just Americans helping Americans … the way it should be.
The election is now over. The young man proudly holding the sign he salvaged from the garbage, and the million dollar ads, might or might not have had an impact. The winners take office in January, joining others in federal, state and local governments who, as their terms continue, are also charged with leading our nation forward. A multitude of challenges await each of them.
I'd like to believe that Sandy's silver lining is the chance to begin anew. The collaboration and spirit of bipartisanship that was so evident during and after Sandy is the impetus for that beginning. It can and should continue.
Leaders from all parties, from all regions of our state, must ensure that our state's policies provide essential public services while helping our economy to once again grow and prosper. Our elected leaders must see the critical need to come together to find ways to invest in education and to ensure that our state's system of funding schools is more equitable. Likewise, we need elected leaders from both parties to work together to find solutions, so that quality, affordable healthcare is available to all.
Sandy is putting government and public service to the test and in most cases — but not all — the call is being answered in exemplary fashion. Elected officials are avoiding partisan politics and public employees are being allowed to do what they do best — serve their communities.
The lessons from Sandy will be many. They'll deal with topics such as preparedness, climate change and recovery.
The one I'm going to hold onto speaks to the value of respect and collaboration. Not a bad lesson to launch the holiday season. And who knows, it might continue into the political season as well!