A steady stream of constituents and a few elected officials took the opportunity to meet with Congressman Gary Ackerman at the offices of the Village of Port Washington North. Ackerman and a number of his key staff set aside a morning to hear constituents' concerns, complaints, requests, and, in some cases, compliments. Ackerman stayed more than one-half hour beyond the allotted time to be sure that he met with everyone. Ackerman said that he was very gratified by the turnout, adding, "I was pleasantly surprised to hear how many people just came to say, 'Thanks, you're doing a good job.'" One of his staff members said, "What a wonderful turnout! We went way over what we expected." Although the Port News was asked to not sit in on the actual face-to-face conversations so as to afford privacy to individuals, we did have an opportunity to talk with many of the constituents before or after their interview. In addition, Ackerman debriefed us at the end of the session. The constituents generally expressed satisfaction with the responses from our congressman.
The issues raised ranged from the very personal-for example, aid in getting a student into one of the military academies-to the global.
A number of individuals expressed their concern and even "outrage" at the current economic crisis and the role of the federal government in its genesis. "Everybody was asleep at the switch," said one resident. "It's disgusting," commented another. Ackerman said of the economic situation, "We have to work hard to help homeowners; then we need to determine how to keep this from happening again." He said that, in his opinion, the main cause was "the poor job that the rating agencies did," and he promised to introduce specific legislation to alleviate this.
The problem of noise from the low-flying helicopters was, as it has been for a while, the subject of a number of discussions. "I feel as if we are being invaded," said Stanley Ronell, "and no one has been able to do anything." Len Schaier, who shared with the Port News a letter he had previously written to Ackerman, quipped, "It's like Apocalypse Now without the music." In his letter, Schaier makes two specific requests: (1) congressional legislation that would ask the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) to study and report back to Congress; and (2) a mechanism that would allow individual citizens to identify specific flights/aircraft causing the most noise. Town Council member Lee Seeman also expressed concern about the helicopters, commenting, "I was at a party at King's Point, and we couldn't even talk over the noise." Ackerman said that he will continue to meet with the FAA to see how the congestion can be reduced.
Another constituent, Marian Morgenstern, came on behalf of the animals. After the abysmal job that was done in New Orleans on behalf of pets and their owners, legislation was passed mandating that accommodation be made to evacuate pets. She said that, after the recent Texas hurricane, there still was no plan to safely rescue household pets and pointed out that, as in New Orleans and other disasters, many owners refused to leave without their beloved pets. She reported that Ackerman was sympathetic to the issue and promised to look into it.
Ackerman said that other issues brought to him included: funds for the Landmark Historical Preservations Commission, concern about Social Security, a request for support for bone marrow diseases, the situation in the Middle East-specifically Iran, concerns about the waterfront, and a need to improve the Port Washington post office. A few people expressed concern about the extreme partisanship in the country and in the legislatures, a situation which Ackerman agreed is not desirable.
Ackerman and his staff welcome suggestions from constituents. His Bayside office is at 718-423-2154; the DC office is 202-225-2601, or e-mail from the Congressional website at www.house.gov.