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From the desk of NY State Senator Jack Martins: February 8, 2012

The Art of Listening

 Like many of you, I’m up early, reading the news and making breakfast before the rest of the family wakes up. Later, I manage to grab a few minutes to get ready between my wife and (four) children before embarking on daddy’s a.m. taxi service. This day, I’m a little late to an 8 a.m. meeting with union officials to discuss issues impacting them, but I’m sure I’ll make up the time somewhere in the day’s schedule. By 9:30 a.m., I’m at a grammar school in another part of the district explaining how a bill becomes law to 200 fourth-graders. They prove remarkably well-informed and pursue an analysis as to what recent legislation is likely to work and what they believe will not. I take mental notes.

Next up, I have the honor of introducing Governor Cuomo at Molloy College in Rockville Centre, where he is giving a presentation on his new budget. He stirs the pot and immediately following, I listen to many people sharing many opinions. Then I’m off to a 12:30 p.m. meeting (I haven’t made up that lost time yet, in fact – I’m falling further behind!) with the Manhasset Men’s Club where I give a speech and host a Q&A session about what’s happening in Albany and what this year’s goals are. At 2:15 p.m. I’m at Westbury High School for “Pizza and Politics.”  My office established this program to encourage high school students to discuss their views on current events and to encourage careers in public service.

About halfway through the day, my chief-of-staff looks weary. My attempt to humorously compare us to Sancho and Don Quixote draws a blank stare. Onward.

It’s now 3:30 p.m. and I meet with local elected officials regarding issues their communities are facing. At 5 p.m., I get to a restaurant in another corner of the district where a local businessman is being honored for his work with state agencies. Fortunately, the meeting after that is with the chamber of commerce right in the same neighborhood. (I knew I’d make up that time!) I speak briefly and then spend most of our time together listening to the concerns of these small business owners. I’m able to spend a good amount of time going over local issues with them as I miraculously have nothing left on the evening’s agenda, but my chief-of-staff reminds me this is only because there are documents that need my attention at the district office.

I go there and he goes home. I eventually make it home just past 9 p.m. as the kids are heading off to bed. My fatigued wife dryly asks why I look so tired. I joke that this is “the best 60 hour-per-week, part-time gig anyone could ask for.” Honestly, I thoroughly enjoy what I do and yes, it’s considered “part-time.”        

What this typical day reveals is that I do a great deal of listening, which is an integral part of my work for you as Senator. And, it’s absolutely necessary in order to properly represent you. In that light, I make a conscientious effort to gather input from a good cross-section of my constituents. If a contentious issue does present itself, I will always seek an opportunity to hear from all sides. I believe this to be the only prudent and fair thing to do. That being said, I will tell you that this approach has cost me some fans. I am under fairly consistent pressure by special interest groups to ignore every other point of view that is not their own, and I am regularly promised angry protests and the loss of my job, should I not concede.

I don’t take it personally. Nor do I concede. I understand that’s just the nature of politics. And I happen to represent one of those districts whose constituents carry a wide range of views. I knew this going in and my goal has been to consider as many of them as possible. That won’t change – because if I were to simply heed the loudest threat, I wouldn’t be much good to you. And if I wasn’t much good to you, it wouldn’t be long before you would rightfully retire me.

This is an election year and I’m already beginning to feel the stepped-up, angry rhetoric. I want to assure you that it will make no difference in my approach. I will continue listening to as many points of view as possible and refusing to cave to intimidation. And while it goes without saying that there isn’t a single person reading this column who would agree with my take on things 100 percent of the time, you should also feel secure that my views are only arrived at after a deliberate and informed examination of the issues. That remains my “job one.”          

Keep sharing your thoughts and I’ll keep listening.