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Someone once asked me what job I would never want. The answer was easy: politician. I knew there’d be too many times I would tell someone: “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” And you can’t say that when you’re an elected official.

That conversation kept running through my head as I sat waiting for Governor Christie to arrive for a town meeting last month. I was there because of our story on charter schools. Parents were planning to question the Governor about the state’s approval of a new charter school in Cherry Hill. I went to videotape the exchange.

It was standing-room-only. And I quickly realized everyone there had very specific questions on a huge variety of topics: property taxes, fire safety, dyslexia, new construction projects, same-sex marriage, education, the list was endless. Many people came angry – really angry. Few were there to express their pleasure with the Governor, although some did. But even those who did then went on to talk about a difficulty they were having in their corner of the world. They were looking for this elected official to help.

Men and women of all ages stood and spoke on their own behalf, explaining a problem they felt was more important than others. It was interesting how one person can speak about a subject few know little about and consider it an essential issue. But to them, it is.

The meeting reaffirmed my position that I would never want this job. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to stand in the mall as the one guy hundreds of people have a question for – and they want you to make them happy.

But then a woman who stood far in the back was handed the microphone and nervously started to speak.

She explained that despite making $20,000 a year, she had bought her first home. “The home was unlivable,” she said. “No one wanted it, that’s how I was able to buy it.”

She worked to make it livable and moved in. Soon after, her town reassessed the property, and her taxes tripled. Now she couldn’t afford to pay her tax bill, and she was at risk for foreclosure.

I was surprised she wasn’t one of the angry people. Her tone was calm. I think she had reached the end of her rope and wasn’t expecting things to get better. She didn’t ask the Governor for help. She asked him to review the property tax situation, because she thought it was flawed. Clearly, she was right.

Later, a middle-aged man stood up and his gentle voice quieted the large crowd.

He held in his hand a large brown envelope. He spoke in broken English and slowly explained that he was honored – and very nervous – to be speaking to the Governor. His voice was shaky and when he spoke, everyone in the crowd listened closely. You couldn’t help but feel the intense emotion he felt with every word. Even the woman next to me, who had been sitting upright on the edge of her seat with her hand raised, pulled her hand down and sank back in her chair.

He told of his 15-year-old severely autistic daughter. He said caring for her was very difficult for him and his wife, and they worried and struggled every day. They had made many calls to the state searching for help they desperately needed, but they hadn’t received a response. He didn’t want to take up much time, but he had a letter in his brown envelope that explained what they had been going through. He wanted to know if the Governor would read it.

I then understood why someone would run for office. Having the power to help people who deserve to be helped must be intoxicating. Politicians can do that. Maybe it is understandable that someone would choose to work in politics. Maybe.

February 2012
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