Men and women will be elected and re-elected to serve the needs of the larger Suffolk County community. It was very disturbing when I recently took a poll in my college Sociology class at Suffolk Community College and my Humanities class at St. Joseph's College to see their lack of knowledge and interest in local government affairs and politics.
It was amazing how the majority of students did not know who was running for County Executive. The few who knew the candidates did not know what they stood for or the real differences between a Democrat and a Republican. Even fewer students knew who was running for the County Legislature or their local Town Council.
In both venues, I asked if there were particular issues of concern that they might want the newly elected to address. Most felt their voice was useless. Many people felt the political agenda was already set by political power brokers, so their perspective was not necessary or even sought after. So, the attitude of indifference runs rampant among these bright college coeds.
It is very troubling that our effort in "civics" is failing so miserably. Where is our future leadership going to come from? What are we doing in the present moment to educate people about government and issues? What efforts are being employed to convey to people that their voice does matter, that it does count?
The present political landscape in Suffolk County, both on the county level and the township level, is pretty troubling. It is understandable how many younger voters and even older ones for that matter could easily become disillusioned and frustrated.
Allegations of corruption, mismanagement, special interest and negativism run rampant. One could ask what do those who lead in Suffolk County really do? What issues do they really face? Are those in leadership really courageous and willing to make a difference?
Suffolk County is among one of the richest counties in the state. We spend a high amount of money on human services, social welfare, criminal justice and law enforcement. However, we have an epidemic number of people who are homeless, a growing number of teens who are out of control and no real programs in sight to address their needs. Housing of any kind, except for the rich, is in crisis mode. Our jails are overcrowded and understaffed. Drug and alcohol related offenses are escalating. We lack the personnel to effectively respond to these troubling concerns.
Since welfare reform has been imposed, more people are officially off the rolls. That in many ways means their needs have been met or that their social conditions have improved. If the truth be told, in our community it has gotten worse. The few resources in place are evaporating and the shrinking number of dedicated, compassionate human service workers are burning out in record numbers and are not being replaced.
Violence in our schools is on the rise. Designer drugs are more accessible to a larger population of students in every community. The snorting of heroin is at a dangerous level among a growing number of high school students.
Bias crimes are on the rise. This has been illustrated by the renewed tensions regarding the undocumented in larger communities and the inaction of government not to more aggressively address this serious concern. Unfortunately, on the part of many, not all government officials, the solution is to pass the buck and justify doing nothing.
The undocumented is one facet of the bias issue. There is still subtle discrimination in many of our communities based on color and religion. This is illustrated by the number of cross burnings and anti Semitic graffiti that has been reported throughout the past year.
It is scandalous that more and more young and old Suffolk County residents are being forced to move out of the county because of our escalating cost of living due primarily to our high property taxes.
Equally disturbing is the growing number of absentee landlords who are making millions of dollars exploiting the poor, whether it is the undocumented they are illegally squeezing into houses they own or the homeless people they are renting single rooms to through arrangements with Suffolk County Social Services. Many of the poor are trapped in these inhumane environments that are not even fit for animals, never mind people. Countless complaints are made year after year. Little or nothing is done. The owners receive their rent increases and the invisible, voiceless poor are given even less. Their rooms are not clean, nor are they safe.
As the new leadership prepares to assume office, maybe their agenda can be people centered. Perhaps they will have the courage to face some of these tender human issues that directly and indirectly touch all of us.
Social welfare in Suffolk needs to be overhauled. The homeless and the poor should not be faceless or voiceless. They are human. We don't need to spend more, but rather spend it differently. We need to cut the fat and bureaucratic waste from the human services budget.
Let's call to accountability our absentee landlords who are exploiting the needy and making a fortune on your tax dollars.
Once and for all, let's creatively, compassionately and effectively deal with the growing problem of the undocumented. Let's stop blaming the federal government and do something humane now.
Let's aggressively deal with the growing hate crimes in our community. Let's support our police and challenge the criminal justice system to create positive alternatives to incarceration for drug use and possession.
Finally, may this new leadership be committed to improving the quality of life for all of us in at least one measurable way and not perpetuate the political rhetoric used by both parties that says and does nothing.
Let this new year be one of action.
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