Candidate Learns Lessons From Public Forum

On a hot Tuesday evening on the grounds of Love Elementary School, residents and elected officials gathered for a town hall. I arrived early, thinking I would sit quietly and listen. I discovered the format was casual conversation among community members and those who represent them. I was free to circulate, meet new people and exchange ideas. Listen I did — I heard concerns of which I am familiar, as a person who once moved into a neighborhood littered with trash, drug activity and gunfire.

We formed a block club. In fact, we joined a movement of block clubs across the city. Some problems we were able to address on our own. I wrote and distributed our block club newsletter. One day I asked the fellows who worked the garbage trucks why we saw so much litter after the trucks went through. I learned that people were not bagging trash but simply putting it in cans. When cans were dumped into the truck loose trash fell onto the streets.

The next issue of our newsletter was about how to bag trash. It was a lesson in reusing plastic bags from the grocery, and getting small amounts of trash out of the house quickly and neatly into outside garbage cans.The fellows on the truck told me they knew to the day when our newsletter was distributed because they saw an immediate improvement, as did we on garbage collection days. The trail of litter disappeared. This may not be an example that applies to Jamestown neighborhoods, but it shows what a group of concerned residents can do on their own to identify and fix a problem.

Other problems require concerned residents to work hand-in-hand with law enforcement and city officials. There has to be a commitment on all sides, and all sides need to understand and fix barriers to success. In the beginning, police response to resident calls was painfully slow. Over time this improved because we adopted a community policing model. The U.S. Department of Justice trained residents (myself among them) to be able to work with law enforcement so that we were all in sync about how to address difficult problems. Little by little gunfire died down, drug houses closed, abandoned properties came down or were transformed into livable homes.

None of this happened overnight, but it happened. It happened because people listened to each other and made a commitment to make our city a better place to live, work and play. It was a lot of work and it’s never ending. Cities are vulnerable, especially where neighborhoods are forgotten. No neighborhood should be forgotten.

I have a hunch the organizers of the event at Love Elementary never expected me to show up. I hope as we move into the future I will be full of good surprises. I met wonderful people who care deeply about Jamestown neighborhoods and the well-being of others. I believe the people with whom I spoke appreciated knowing that someone who may represent them has been in the trenches where they are now. I believe people realize it’s not about voting party lines, but about who gets it, who’s been there, who sees the world from the perspective of the people — regardless of where people may be on the spectrum of problems we need to solve in neighborhoods or as a State. My thanks to the organizers of this event and thank you to all the people who spoke with me about what matters. I will not forget.

Judith Einach is a Westfield resident and a candidate for the New York State Assembly.