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From the desk of NY State Senator Jack Martins: December 27, 2011

The “Airing of Grievances”

For fans of the television program Seinfeld, one of the most beloved episodes introduces a rebuttal to the year-end frenzy, a made-up holiday called “Festivus.”  The brainchild of George’s father, a character named Frank Costanza, the traditions of his invented holiday are exercises in dysfunction but of course, pretty funny.

One of the “traditions” is the “airing of grievances” in which people take a moment to explain to family members how they’ve disappointed them in the past year. As an elected official, I’ve often joked that it might be nice to have people “air grievances” just once a year as opposed to sharing them constantly. To be sure, the most difficult part of this type of service is answering people’s criticisms.

Sometimes you learn from it or maybe you’re able to clear up a misperception, in either case moving dialogue forward. Sometimes nothing comes of it except for allowing constituents to direct their concerns “at someone,” which has its own value as well. In either case, complaints and concerns come with the territory and you eventually come to understand that nothing gets resolved without first establishing discussion, however uncomfortable. It has to begin there.  

That point was driven home as I recently attended the annual holiday gathering held by Congressman Ackerman. To be honest, I was a little apprehensive as making small talk at these parties is hard enough without also being one of the few Republicans in the room.  Yet my concerns were quelled as soon as I walked through the door by a gracious and hospitable host. In fact, I was warmly welcomed by everyone there and complimented on my first year of service in Albany.

As I made my way about, I was reminded of what I’ve written in this column many times. Public servants, from both sides of the aisle, are motivated by the exact same set of problems and we almost unanimously desire the same outcomes for our constituents. It’s how we arrive at the outcome that sometimes creates friction. Yet I am convinced our forefathers designed our political system to create that friction, knowing full well that often the best outcomes would be derived from compromise.         

The tax cap, balanced budgets, ethics reform, rollback of the MTA payroll tax and even our recent tax cut for the middle class were all topics of discussion and some debate that evening but it was all with civility and good-natured passion for solutions.   

In that light, I plan to invite these same colleagues to a series of informal “get-togethers” in the New Year.  As we are all already inundated with official meetings and hearings governed by tedious rules that can often hamper discussion, my goal is to create relaxed opportunities for us to openly share news, ideas, and yes, even “air grievances.”

I believe it will lead to better dialogue, better solutions and even remind us that we’re all working towards the same goals – just approaching the same goals from different directions.

With that, I wish you and your family a Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Happy Holidays and a happy, healthy and blessed New Year.  The challenges for the coming year may be many, but as the past twelve months have shown, we can meet those challenges and make our state a better place when we work together.