Friday, November 26, 2010

Dan Maffei, Our Congressman By Susan Kinsella

In September, I did a week-long business trip to Washington, DC. My meetings took up almost the whole week, but I hoped I could find a way while I was there to meet my cousin.

Well, okay, if you want to get technical, I think Dan Maffei is my second cousin, once removed. But regular readers of this blog know that we all just consider ourselves to be “cousins,” without the qualifiers, no matter whether near or far.

I was unsure how to go about it, though. I knew that, as a Congressman, Dan would be immensely busy and meeting distant family could not be one of his priorities, even if he wanted to. But I thought I’d try.

Dan’s Aunt Dorothy was part of my quartet of “The Crazy Cousins” when I was a kid. (Kathy Taylor Mills and Julie Lochner Riber are the other two suspects.) I had heard news of her niece and nephews over the years as they were growing up but I hadn’t met them. Dan is her nephew and godson, but I figured he probably hadn’t heard anything about me. However, he knows my parents – they lived at the very edge of his district until three years ago – and he knows my brother, Tim, who lives in his district, and has met some of my other brothers. So I would be able to reference my family in explaining to him who I am.

I called Dan’s Congressional office and asked if there were any way I could skip in for a few minutes that week to meet him. His staff people were great and soon my call was passed on to Dan’s scheduling person. Eventually we ended up with a time late Thursday afternoon. But when I got to Dan’s office, his schedule had changed. Not to worry, though, his scheduling assistant said, if I would wait a short time, she would walk me over to a bakery on Capitol Hill where Dan would pop in on his way to an event.

This being Dan’s first term, his office is small and out-of-the-way, but his staff people were terrific. They were friendly, showed me his office, and remembered Joyce Henderson’s visit with her family in the summer and Diana Taylor McCarty’s the year before. Then we walked over to the bakery, where Dan showed up within a few minutes. Of course, I had only seen campaign pictures of him – other than decades-old pictures from when he was a teenager – but he looked like family right away. We grabbed some lemonade and sat at a table in the back, talking double-time to fit everything into a short visit.

I liked Dan so much! He seemed incredibly knowledgeable about technical subjects affecting his district. I do recycling and environmental work and have colleagues in the Syracuse area; it turns out that we knew several of the same people. There were intricate issues in my field that came up in this past Congress and Dan knew all about them – and interpreted them the same way I did (so of course he was right!).

I told him that I had lived in Washington, DC for several years at the same time that his Aunt Dorothy had run the Folger Shakespeare Theatre there. He knew all about that. And I told him that, when I lived there, one of my dreams had been to be a Senator.

“Wow! I thought I was the only one in the family with crazy dreams like that!” he exclaimed. Long ago, I had ended up deciding that I wouldn’t do well with the high-pressure demands of a Senator to always be “on” and extroverted, so I found other ways to be influential. But I was so proud of Dan that he had gone and gotten himself elected. It’s unusual, as he pointed out, that someone who had been a Congressional staffperson for a long time, as he had been, would turn around and become the candidate and then Congressman, but he had done it grandly.

Now, I said, I’d been watching his race on, a wonky polling and election projections website, and he seemed to have good odds for re-election. Dan cautioned, though, that one can never count on that until it’s real. In fact, he said, “I’ve got to get to a fundraising event now. Do you want to come with me?” That sounded great to me, so we went off to the upstairs of a nearby restaurant, where he introduced me to everyone as his cousin. I waited a while there because Dan said Abby, his wife, would be there soon and I could meet her, too, but I had a dinner planned with friends that night so had to leave before she arrived.

Throughout the rest of September and all of October, I checked frequently. The projections for Dan’s election changed sometimes but always it gave him an extremely high probability for re-election, with a healthy margin between Dan and his competitor. Then, towards the end of the campaign, Karl Rove poured huge sums into Dan’s competitor’s campaign and I got worried, but Dan was still projected to win. I hoped that would hold.

By November 3rd, the day after the election, most of the races nationwide were decided. There were just a handful that were too close to call. Unfortunately, Dan’s was one of them, with only about 600 votes difference between him and his competitor. I started reading the Syracuse newspaper online. The race was going to depend on the results of counting the absentee and military ballots, some of which weren’t going to come in for another couple of weeks. It would be a nailbiter and it wasn’t going to be decided soon. Dan’s competitor did best in the rural counties of the district, while Dan did best in the urban areas, but both had supporters everywhere.

And then this week I got an e-mail that Dan sent out to his constituents and supporters. He wrote, “I am deeply and forever grateful for the opportunity to serve you during the past two years. When I won the Congressional seat, I pledged to give it my all everyday and I did just that. I came home every weekend, stayed focused on local issues while supporting national policies beneficial to our region, and did my best to bring our troops home safely from Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I served every day honored to live in a city where a shy kid of modest means from a proud Syracuse family and a graduate of the Syracuse public schools could grow up to earn the trust of his community to represent you in Congress.

“My staff both in Washington and in Upstate New York was terrific. I helped them assist thousands of you with challenges ranging from not getting fair treatment from insurance companies and banks to getting life-saving Veterans benefits to keeping businesses open. . . .

“I make no apologies, except to my friends, supporters, and staff for the fact the final outcome was not what we wanted. . . . I made it to Congress - my dream - because of all the great Upstate New Yorkers who, like me, care so deeply about our future. And while the dream was short-lived, my gratitude is eternal.”

I can only imagine how agonizing it must have been to have to concede his seat after such a hard-fought election and with a difference of just a few hundred votes out of more than 200,000. I have to say I wasn’t sure what was the best thing for me to wish for Dan. This next term in Congress looks like it will be a frustrating and harsh experience, no matter the party. I was appalled by the viciousness of the commentaries about Dan that followed all the Syracuse newspaper articles. The escalating level of people’s callous cruelty towards elected officials is heartbreaking to me, especially when I see it directed towards someone in my family, but even when I see it directed towards politicians I think are wrong. As another “shy kid” who does extroverted work, I can’t see how good people will continue to put up with that to serve the public in these perilous times. Still, I sure wish that Dan was going to be there in Congress to keep injecting good, thoughtful, intelligent solutions and leadership.

I don’t know what Dan will do next, nor if he will run for election again sometime. But I am so proud of him that he served in Congress! It is a really, really tough job when done well.

As regular readers of this blog have seen, our family has been deeply involved in the history and formation of New York State, New England, and the nation of the United States since the time of the Pilgrims. We have been courageous seafarers, pioneers, rabble-rousers, religious leaders, political leaders, and even sometimes successful business leaders, all while also being people of modest means who loved the land and our community. I am struck by the stories here about how we seem so often to have had an uncanny ability to be ahead of the curve, creating new directions for our region and nation.

Dan fits right into this family tradition and we are so fortunate that he has represented us in Congress. Being one of our Baker cousins, we know from our history that he will soon find another way to continue to lead with courage, intelligence and grace.

Thank you, Dan!

Picture One: Sue and Dan
Picture Two: Dan and Diana
Picture Three: Tim Kinsella and Dan at Lockheed Martin (notice sign in background)


Pat Kinsella Herdeg said...

Sue, Great write up!!

Dan, we all felt we knew you--Mom was always talking about you and how NOW Washington might have a chance.

Thinking of you, and wishing you all the best.

Kathryn said...

I really loved the picture of you two. I can see the family resembalance.
Thanks for the piece, Sue, it was great!
Dan, Good luck in what you do next. I have to admit that I loved having a cousin in Congress.

Diana said...

Hey how many other 'Cousins' visited Dan in DC. I know I did and I think I posted a picture here - as Sue did - and Sue I watched in horror too as the race started sliding the other way too.

So did anyone else get an 'official picture"

Nance said...

I was following this race in the final weeks even though I live in Florida, through the help of cousin Chuck Lochner who kept me posted as well as what I read online. I know that Dan gave it more than his all and really wanted to make a difference in Washington -- I'm sure he did even though he wasn't granted the extra time to do more with this election results. We can't keep allowing the financial interests of big business and special interests to run our governments for their end means -- this government is for the people and by the people -- not big business, big money, and crazy extremists. I am so proud of our cousin and the job he did. If he so desires to run again, I would be behind him 100% of the way, and who knows, I might even be able to come up and help with his campaign next time. God Bless!

Julie Lochner Riber said...

Thank you, Sue, for such a great read. As I told you over the phone, no one can imagine the feeling of defeat in a race like this until you've been there. This election cycle was full of surprises everywhere, from Washington, DC right on down to the grass roots local elections. I'm with you, Nance, that the extremists need to go away. My heart goes out to Dan, his family and all of his supporters. Unfortunately, a lot of good, sincere politicians who were defeated probably will fade into history for two simple reasons: the toll this takes on candidates families and personal lives is huge! And until someone can figure out how to better educate the public, things will never change. As much as everyone hates negative campaigning, it works.