‘I’ll hand you the mic’

‘I’ll hand you the mic’

To the editor:

There’s a slate of very fine Democrats running for what will again inevitably be an all-Democratic City Council this year, but one candidate’s brochure statement caught my eye: “I will hand you the mic.”

The reason is that, as a Democrat, I saw the downside to single party “rule” when I represented a congressional district whose county council was all Republican. There’s also a downside by failing to have council members represent different sections of our city – underscored by why the United States Supreme Court paused Louisiana’s removal of one of two majority-Black districts last week.

Both have to do with different interest voices not only being fairly, directly represented, but also heard. And it’s why Council candidate Charlotte Scherer’s statement – “I will hand you the mic” – struck me.

One often hears about the city “engaging” or “listening” to citizens; less so about having a conversation or discussion. It’s why I’m bemused when people view our military as a “yes, sir; no ma’am” institution. I found it anything but – if one wanted to lead with the trust of a ship’s crew.

During “Captain’s Calls” – frigate to aircraft carrier battle group – I’d address a sailor’s query and then ask, “Did I answer your question, fully?” I wanted their trust, even if we disagreed. And I continued doing the same while in politics, such as during the heated Tea Party discussions about the Affordable Care Act with passionate constituents to win trust, not necessarily always agreement.

I am not claiming this hasn’t occurred with our elected officials, as the mayor and various councilors once walked Strawberry Run with me individually to discuss why the city might consider an alternative stream restoration plan; however, “handing you [back] the mic” in a conversation should be the norm in the city’s “engagement,” rather than too often the exception.

It’s hard for our Council members: balancing two jobs with one’s family is not fair, and why a decent salary to have them serve Alexandrians full time should be done. But in the meantime, to have someone who’s running for the most “neighborly” of our Virginia public offices promise that “I will hand you the mic,” is meaningful in that a public servant will allow a reply, a conversation, even if there’s still disagreement at the end.

Yes, this can be difficult, time-consuming, even harsh. But for a politician to complain about that in politics is like a sea captain complaining about the sea.

-Joe Sestak,

former U.S. Congressman,