It's not just what you know, it's who you know
Former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill used to say that all politics is local.
Our elected representatives, including those who serve in Washington, are interested in finding out how to serve their local communities. Make yourself a resource.
I have been politically involved since 1959, when I participated in a rally for John F. Kennedy. Five years later, in 1964, I was pleased to be asked to campaign with his brother, Robert Kennedy, at his appearances in Brooklyn during his Senate campaign. He faced a daunting opponent in Kenneth Keating, and had to battle the charge of being a "carpetbagger" from Massachusetts.
I have lasting images of those appearances I made with Kennedy, announcing his presence and handing out fliers. Those of us who accompanied him also provided a protective ring of security around him. RFK sent me a note of gratitude that continues to hang prominently in my office.
My interest in politics continues today, and I have found it to be important professionally in my role as director of sales and marketing and community relations at St. Michael's Cemetery.
When St. Michael's decided it was part of our calling to establish a permanent tribute to the Queens firefighters who died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, I contacted Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan, Queens). She enthusiastically agreed to be honorary chairperson of the committee St. Michael's formed to ensure that a monument would be built to honor the FDNY personnel from Queens who sacrificed their lives at the twin towers.
Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Queens, Bronx) was the keynote speaker at the dedication ceremony held at the cemetery. His cousin, Battalion Chief John Moran, died on 9/11. Crowley spoke both on behalf of the nation and as a representative of the families present to honor their lost loved ones.
At the dedication, every elected official representing our area was present or had a spokesperson there. Most of them have attended every 9/11 memorial service St. Michael's has held since then.
The importance to the profession
Knowing the municipal, state and national elected officials who represent your area benefits not only your funeral home or cemetery but also the profession as a whole.
ICFA Government & Legal Affairs Committee Chairman Irwin Shipper, CCE, and ICFA General Counsel Bob Fells, Esq., constantly stress the importance of ICFA members getting to know their elected representatives. Most of these people whose legislative actions can seriously impact our professional lives know little about what funeral directors and cemeterians do for their families and communities—unless we tell them, and show them by inviting them to share in our events.
The outrage created by the Washington lobbyist scandal has affected how our elected officials accept contacts and requests. Clearly personal contacts will be considered over paid representation. By having a relationship with office holders, you are guaranteeing that your voice will be heard.
Rep. Ed Towns, D-NY, who represents Brooklyn in Congress, has been a friend for over 20 years. When the ICFA Government & Affairs Committee was setting up appointments to meet with members of Congress and their staffs during a recent visit to Washington, I asked Rep. Towns to meet with them, and he did.
Thanks to similar contacts by other ICFA members, the committee members were able to meet with a number of members of Congress of both parties, not to try to influence specific legislation but to let members of Congress know they can turn to ICFA members for information about our profession at any time.
This approach is an intelligent way to proceed, as it involves connecting personally with legislators while creating friendships and trust with lifelong benefits. It also gives us a seat at the table so that we will be heard when legislation is being considered.
If we don't make sure that those of us who run good organizations and serve our families well are in contact with our legislators, we can expect to see legislation enacted that's driven by extreme and rare examples of misbehavior such as the Georgia crematory scandal.
It is incumbent upon all of us, as responsible members of the funeral and cemetery profession, to get involved in two ways.
We need to support the ICFA's Government & Legal Affairs Committee. And we need to establish and maintain connections with our local representatives. It's a two-way connection that helps both parties.