The following is a guest column. What do you think? Leave a comment below.
By Rye City Councilman Joe Sack
Lights are slowly coming back on around town. But for the large number of Rye residents who still don’t have power, this crisis remains as real and immediate as it was on the first day after the storm, unbelievably now over a week ago. I don’t think any of us in Rye will feel right until ALL of our neighbors have heat and hot water again. Unfortunately and incredibly, I’m not sure if we can say when exactly that will be, although we hope and pray that it will be as soon as possible.
Certainly, we have no control over the storms that come down from the heavens. But the most frustrating thing about Sandy’s aftermath is that we don’t seem to have had much more control over Con Ed’s response. It feels that when it comes to Con Ed, we have been at their whim and mercy. This is because, it appears, we don’t have enough juice – not just in terms of electricity, but also influence.
Rye was clearly not the only community in Westchester that was hard hit. And as bad as we have it here, we know that there are areas not too far from us with real death and destruction. So maybe it is unrealistic to expect undivided attention from Con Ed under such circumstances. And therefore the ire about this, as re-directed at our city’s management, is unfair or misplaced. Our professional managers are no doubt working hard and doing their best. And I am sure that the city understands that in a crowded nest, it’s the chirping bird that gets the worm.
However, trying our hardest and being firm has not always produced the results we want. I think we need to do better in cultivating the working relationships that we have with Con Ed, so that we can have more access and leverage going forward. After all, Con Ed’s operational headquarters are right here on Theo Fremd Avenue. We should know intimately their names and faces, and be able to pick up the phone without having to wait on hold, or even walk into their offices without need for introduction or having to wait on line. I also think the Governor and County Executive need to wield their power in holding Con Ed more accountable in the future. But for now, it is highly frustrating having been kept in the dark in more ways than one early on for a long stretch.
I think our residents’ frustration turned to infuriation when we had to watch with wide eyes as caravans of Con Ed and out-of-state trucks came rumbling through our streets to muster in the Playland parking lot. Meanwhile, not one of these crews was actually assigned to help us, at least for the first part of the week. It was like being stranded on a raft in the middle of the ocean – water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink. Adding to the hard feelings, we had United States senators breezing into our town, using our shores as a backdrop for press conferences, and then driving off without giving any tangible help.
For its part, I think the city can also improve upon its communication to the public. No matter how involved our managers are in dealing with the crisis, there needs to be timely distribution of relevant information – whether it be good news or bad. If we have recognized the need to send out Nixle alerts, we need to do it on a regular and frequent basis, and with sufficient detail to insure that folks’ desire for information is adequately sated. A report on minutiae is too much, but I think some people were again frustrated with missives which were overly general and therefore deemed unhelpful. We will also need to figure out a more efficient way to disseminate the info, with so many lacking TV, Internet and phone service. I am confident that these are all easy and quick fixes on which we can all agree.
Although we are still coming out of this darkness, I think there have been many shining lights. Namely, our community organizations have stepped up to the plate big time. Whether it be Sheri Jordan and the Rye Historical Society opening up the Square House for coffee and cell phone re-charging. Or Greg Howells and the YMCA opening their facility for warm showers. Or Kitty Little and the Rye Free Reading Room keeping the library available after regular hours to give people a respite from the cold. Or Christine Siller and the Rye Nature Center offering programs while children were locked out of school. Or Tom Saunders and SPRYE keeping tabs on seniors who needed a contact to touch base. The list is a long one.
And city workers have also gone above and beyond the call of duty. Whether it be Public Works employees doing heavy lifting in clearing the streets of trees and debris. Or the Police Department patrolling the streets in times of increased danger. Or the Fire Department, including paid and volunteer members, going the extra mile in responding to calls. Or the Building Department identifying the increased use of generators as something about which the public needed safety instruction and guidance. Again, the list is a long one.
But perhaps the biggest bright spot I have noticed while mingling out and about, whether it be walking the neighborhoods or walking downtown on Purchase Street, is the amazing spirit of our citizens in helping each other and in persevering. Yes, it has been hard to be patient. Yes, we may even feel justified in losing our patience from time to time. But throughout it all, we have done the small but unquantifiable things to get through. Whether it be bringing fire wood to a neighbor. Or knocking on the door of an older person to make sure they are doing well. Or helping someone down the block find a tank of gasoline. Or opening your home, if you were lucky enough to have heat, to those less fortunate. This is the true spirit of Rye, on full display in an hour of darkness.
Joseph A. Sack, Esq.