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  • Writer's pictureTommy Zurhellen

Bread and Circuses

Tuesday, September 5th

Dear Friends:

I hope you enjoyed a safe and restful Labor Day Weekend with friends and family! Before I start my letter this week, I want to thank our labor unions for their blood, sweat, and tears in defending our civil rights. Labor Day is more than flashy sales and a day off to mark the end of summer. It’s a testament to the courage of union members who are fighting for our civil rights, every day. Everyone – especially our young people – needs to understand the sacrifices made by our union workers throughout American history, including the present day. I’d especially like to recognize our amazing unions here in the Hudson Valley like 1199 SEIU, CWA Local 1120, APWU Local 3722, NYSNA, and more. You are all heroes to me!

This past week also marked the last of this year’s senior picnics offered by Dutchess County’s Office of the Aging. I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer at many of these weekly picnics, and I loved meeting new folks as we shared a few laughs. I must have poured a few thousand cups of iced tea, and I especially enjoyed the opportunity to meet many fellow veterans as I listened to their wonderful stories.

However, when I meet seniors across Dutchess County on the campaign trail, they all tell me the same thing: we need help with housing, and we need help with our healthcare. For many seniors, the situation feels desperate; I can hear the anxiety in their voices. They ask me, if elected, what will you do to help seniors stay in their homes? What will you do to help us afford healthcare?

As I talk with our seniors, one thing becomes crystal clear: the Office of the Aging can do so much more than picnics and a few phone calls from Sue Serino.

I love picnics. I know you do, too. But picnics and cold calls from a politician will do nothing to help seniors stay in their homes, or afford rising healthcare costs. And yet, picnics and phone calls are the bulk of what the Office of the Aging offers. (They also implement the Meals on Wheels program, but let’s remember that’s a program funded by the federal government.) Picnics and phone calls? That’s it? Is that the very best Dutchess County can do to support our seniors?

There’s a reason why our county leaders offer senior picnics every year before election time, instead of creating programs to give real relief to our seniors. These picnics have been a great way to get out the vote for Republicans who have been in charge of this county for 32 years. This summer, I saw it for myself: you’ve got Bill O’Neill singing songs. You’ve got Sue Serino singing and dancing, too. You’ve got a veritable receiving line of Republican politicians welcoming folks as they arrive. They want everyone at these picnics to have a good time. But they would also like everyone to forget we have a homelessness crisis in Dutchess County. They would like us to forget our kids are being poisoned by lead pipes in Poughkeepsie, while county leaders do nothing about it. And above all, they want us to forget they gave away $25 million of your money last year to make improvements on someone else’s baseball stadium, while they prevented your kids from receiving tuition relief at DCC to follow their dreams.

Our current county leaders won’t do anything about the problems we all face. Instead, they give our seniors a summer picnic right before it’s time to vote. It’s an effective strategy that’s way older than Dutchess County or even America itself.

You might say, it’s the oldest trick in the book.

Two thousand years ago, the poet Juvenal wrote the famous line “bread and circuses.” He was talking about the Roman Empire’s strategy to appease its citizens and distract them from the pressing problems surrounding society – poverty, mistreatment of veterans, unchecked waterborne disease, corruption, and more. Sound familiar? Instead of finding solutions to the real issues facing the people, politicians would offer bread and circuses to make folks forget just how bad things are.

Bread and circuses. Picnics and phone calls. Friends, I don’t see much of a difference.

We must use county resources to give our seniors real relief. Why not have the Office of the Aging provide supplemental healthcare for our seniors, especially in rural parts of the county? Why not fund telehealth visits and house calls? Why not find a way for Dutchess County to help our seniors afford their medication? There are probably a thousand ideas that would be better than simply putting on a picnic every year. And yet, our current county leadership doesn’t want to do the work to find real solutions.

We all love picnics. But don’t we love our seniors more?

By the way, my friend Sue Serino reportedly gets paid $42.00 per hour to make those phone calls to talk to seniors. Yes, you heard that right; my opponent gets paid by our county government to chat with voters. Wow! That’s one expensive phone call if you ask me.

We can’t afford another four years of the same old, same old. Seniors are dealing with real problems that require real solutions. But our vision to support our seniors won’t become a reality without your support! If you agree we must do more for our seniors, I urge you to consider a donation in any amount to our campaign using the secure Act Blue link below. We will never accept any money from corporations or corporate PACs, so we rely on heroes like you! Please help us share our message of hope and inclusion with every voter in Dutchess County with a donation today.

Thank you for your support!

Thanks again to all our labor union members here in the Hudson Valley for fighting the good fight when it comes to our civil rights. And thank you to all our seniors, who built this county with their hard work and creativity. You deserve more than picnics and phone calls. After all, you earned it!

And thank you, for listening. See you next time!

Respectfully, Tommy


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