Before Wednesday, I had never attended a meet-and-greet candidate event. Rather, my campaign event experience pretty much centered on wings and pizza fundraisers where everyone tries to duck out as soon as the candidate finishes yet another long-winded speech.
Perhaps that is why the recent meet-and-greet in Marilla for Congresswoman Kathy Hochul, Erie County Comptroller David Shenk and myself was such an interesting experience.
The event was organized by the towns of Marilla, Wales, Aurora and Alden, with Mary Julian of Wales and Richard Rose of Marilla leading the committee. And while there was pizza, there was no door check-in where people dropped contributions. There was no elephant or donkey decor. There wasn’t even a party chairperson checking to be sure that the party faithful were present and accounted for.
Instead, there were about 60 people of all ages and affiliations who came to the Marilla Community Center for the express purpose of meeting and talking directly to their district candidates. And these conversations were not related to the latest political gossip or the newest election numbers. No, people were actually talking with candidates about their families, their jobs, their communities and the issues and concerns that challenge their lives.
Toward the end of the two hour gathering, each candidate was given the opportunity to speak individually. Again, the topics covered were not simply political party rhetoric. There were interesting and relevant insights about government at federal, state and county levels, along with ideas/plans on ways to stabilize and improve life in our communities. The presentation concluded with an informative Q and A with Comptroller Shenk about the current county risk assessment he is undertaking.
When it came my turn to speak, as I stood at the podium, I was touched by the audience’s passion for the democratic election process that governs our country. I was amazed that on a beautiful summer’s night, when these constituents could have been anywhere, doing anything, they chose to gather in a meeting hall— to interactively learn more about the people working to earn their votes and represent them in their various levels of government.
As I concluded my remarks and thanked those gathered for attending, I told them that their enthusiasm had truly impacted me—and they “the people” had transformed the event from a simple, small town meet-and-greet to a meet, greet and be inspired experience.