Here is the reprint of the opinion piece from Valley News in Fulton NY.
|Between the Lines: Aubertine and Lee Memorial: How a politician used a community|
Ronald L. Caravan 02-07-2009
Ronald L. Caravan
With the elevated agonizing that is going on in the Fulton community now that we are incrementally losing A.L. Lee Memorial Hospital as we have known it for generations, we should not miss an important and immediate political object lesson the hospital saga peripherally provides. It is an apt and timely illustration of how a disingenuous politician will mislead and use a constituency with impunity and without conscience for his own political gain.
In order to digest what the object lesson has to offer, we must engage in something that American constituents are, for some odd reason, disinclined to do very much—look back in some detail at claims and promises a politician made about a specific issue during a campaign for office, then compare the campaign assertions with reality as it actually presents itself.
Where it comes to examples, we have a real dilly the way New York State Senator Darrel Aubertine used the Lee Memorial Hospital issue during last year’s election campaign.
Sometimes the line is rather fine between measured and appropriate use of an issue in a political campaign versus inappropriate and misleading claims. Where the Lee Memorial issue is concerned, Mr. Aubertine actually engaged in both; the way he engaged in the latter should give constituents throughout the 48th Senate District pause.
Mr. Aubertine’s first television spot in his campaign for the November election against Republican David Renzi—a commercial that can still be viewed on the internet’s “YouTube”—exemplifies quite clearly how the Aubertine campaign used the Lee Memorial issue dishonestly. In the 30-second spot, a narrator exclaims, “As a state senator, Darrel worked tirelessly to keep Lee Memorial Hospital open, saving hundreds of local jobs.”
At the time, though, the hospital had only been given a one-year extension to operate as a full-service facility, not a reversal of the Berger Commission mandate to down-size to an urgent-care center. Mr. Aubertine knew this, of course, and even took full credit for getting the extension in other campaign statements and materials.
But even that claim was highly questionable. According to a piece in the Watertown Daily Times in early November, “Claudia Hutton, public affairs director at the (N.Y.S.) Health Department, offered another take on why the one-year reprieve was granted. ‘One of the things we value is an orderly transition,’ she said. ‘A.L. Lee did not submit a closure plan in a timely manner to respond to Berger. In order to get a smooth transition, we felt it was necessary to grant A.L. Lee another 12 months to put together this transition’.”
Mr. Aubertine had first tapped into the Lee Memorial situation as a campaign issue early in 2008 in his campaign against Will Barclay in the February special election for Jim Wright’s vacated senate seat. As reported in The Valley News Feb. 23, 2008, Mr. Aubertine stated the following in reference to Lee Memorial: “The theme that I keep hearing was that their state elected officials did not fight for this facility. With the hospital, I will make it my business.” It was also reported in that article, “He cautioned, however, that he is not making any promises, especially since it is the eleventh hour.”
But come June, with the special-election winner required to run again in the regular November election and the fall campaign season getting into gear, Mr. Aubertine’s senate office issued a press release headlined “Aubertine: Hospital Deal Close.” The release stated that Senator Aubertine “is close to a deal between the state Department of Health and A.L. Lee Memorial Hospital that could preserve some level of acute-care and emergency-room services at the facility.”
Further down in the press release it was noted that the “deal” would require Lee Memorial to enter into a partnership with another hospital. So clearly, there not only was no development that could reasonably be characterized as a “deal,” it wasn’t even a “new deal,” as partnership negotiations had been going on between Oswego Health and Lee Memorial as far back as late 2006.
When Mr. Aubertine was in Fulton Sept. 4 for a town-hall style debate with Mr. Renzi, a member of his staff handed out flyers that stated, “Helped save 200 jobs at A.L. Lee Memorial, keeping the doors open and beds in place.” Although the press was not allowed to ask questions during the event, when asked afterward if he felt the flyer might be misleading to the public since the state Health Department had not changed its position on the hospital, he replied with a straight face that he did not consider it misleading.
In retrospect, probably one of the cruelest as well as most inappropriate campaign gestures was an Aubertine campaign rally held the following Wednesday outside Lee Memorial Hospital with the cooperation of the hospital administration (whose own internal policies quite likely prohibit partisan political activity). In this campaign appearance, Mr. Aubertine exclaimed, “During my last campaign, keeping Lee Memorial open was a key issue, and as your senator I have made it a priority to protect the services and jobs here. Today, I stand in front of his hospital and it’s still open.”
Many of those surrounding Mr. Aubertine with adoring smiles and holding Aubertine campaign signs—homemade as well as professionally produced—were members of Lee Memorial’s staff, who undoubtedly took the senator’s words to mean he was delivering something to them, not just using them as a campaign prop. (The campaign’s own coverage of this event can still be seen on the northern New York web site newsjunky.com.)
Throughout this time period in 2008, The Valley News did the best it could to keep local constituents in touch with reality where Lee Memorial was concerned, contacting the state Health Department for information that obviously would never come from a political candidate, but also that the Lee Memorial administration was obviously reluctant to offer.
From the way Senator Aubertine used Lee Memorial Hospital and its people in his re-election campaign, and from the way voters are similarly manipulated and used at every level of politics, a simple axiom can be derived: The more thorough the collective amnesia of a political constituency, the more a disingenuous politician will thrive at the expense of that constituency. It’s a while until Mr. Aubertine’s next election, but we will see if the axiom applies.
- Valley News