There is no question that over the past seven months we have witnessed more than our share of disasters. In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy struck the tri-state region with a vengeance, leaving hundreds of people in the dark and many families without homes to return to. Twenty-six innocent victims, including 20 young children, tragically lost their lives in December 2012 when a lone gunman opened fire at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
In April 2013, the celebratory atmosphere near the finish line at the Boston Marathon was shattered when two explosions rocked the Boston area, killing three people and injuring more than 170 others. And, most recently, most of us watched in horror and disbelief as the Oklahoma City suburbs, including the City of Moore, Oklahoma, were absolutely devastated as a deadly tornado tore through their neighborhoods, claiming several dozen lives and completely decimating entire communities.
What is the common thread that connects these tragic events other than the shock, grief and disbelief that inevitably surrounds each of them?
In the aftermath of each incident, as people struggle to understand why the disaster occurred and contemplate how they will move forward, there is generally one person who emerges from the depths of despair and becomes the de facto spokesperson and soother-in-chief. That person is the local elected official.
After Hurricane Sandy, it was New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg who took to the airwaves to reassure the public, comfort those who sustained incredible damage from the storm, and pledge to rebuild.
After the shooting massacre in Newtown, it was Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy who became the public face as a community and a nation mourned. In Boston, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick stepped in and tried to guide the City of Boston and the people of Massachusetts through a terrifying and trying time. And after the deadly twister in Oklahoma left a path of destruction in its wake, it was Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin and Mayor Glenn Lewis of the city of Moore, that bore the difficult task of trying to put the event in perspective amidst the ruins.
The cynics will allege that the elected officials are simply attempting to exploit a high-profile situation and get more face time in front of the cameras in order to raise their profiles and boost their careers. Respectfully, I beg to differ. The fact is that political leadership is not one size fits all. Many people enter politics, but merely having a presence in the governmental realm does not automatically make one a political leader. Yes, there are the festive ribbon cuttings, the receptions and the dinners, and the photo-ops. But the life of an elected official is most certainly not all fun and games, and there are difficult and challenging situations that arise that test the limits of their dedication and commitment to public service. True political leadership is not handed to anyone on a silver platter. It is something that must be earned based on one’s adeptness at handling any sort of situation that one encounters in public life.
I imagine that it cannot be easy to have to look into the eyes of a parent who just lost a child and somehow muster up the courage to say the right thing and give them a shoulder to cry on. I presume that it must be extremely difficult to walk through a neighborhood that has been reduced to rubble and reassure the local residents that their homes and communities will be rebuilt expeditiously and that everything will be okay. It takes a person of great resolve and intestinal fortitude to be able to step into the spotlight during a tragedy and assume the mantle of leadership by assuring grief-stricken people that tomorrow will be a brighter day.
If and when the time comes and another tragedy strikes, and a local elected official once again becomes the public face of the disaster in the media, we should shelve our cynicism and really listen to what they have to say. When the elected official preaches perseverance and confidently and courageously informs us that everything will be all right, we should believe him or her. When we are told that we should not worry because the future holds much promise, we should take that at face value.
In the wake of a tragedy, we would all be better off if we took to heart the message of optimism and determination that our elected officials convey. More likely than not, it is not merely a sound bite; rather, it is a message that we can all rally around and believe in.
N. Aaron Troodler is an attorney and a principal of Paul Revere Public Relations, a public relations and political consulting firm. Visit him on the Web at www.PaulReverePR.com or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/troodler
By N. Aaron Troodler, Esq.