In six decades on earth, I never contacted my Senator or Congressperson. Didn't feel the need to. Whatever problems I encountered, I always felt there were better ways to get them resolved.
I am not an anti-government guy. Not at all. I think the government does worthy and important things for tens of millions of people, and generally makes lives better. I just believed going through my elected representatives was a slow and inefficient way to see results.
Several months ago, I had an issue that was purely governmental, and as a result, I did get in touch with my federal representatives, who in both cases, I had voted for, to see what they might be able to do.
My senator is Cory Booker, a smart and transparently ambitious man with degrees from Stanford, Yale Law and Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He also had the chops to take on the corrupt former mayor of Newark, NJ, and served as mayor there for seven years -- not an easy job.
As mayor, he made a name for himself rescuing dogs, living on food stamps -- for a week -- improving a once proud city, and generating tons of positive media attention for himself. Nothing wrong with that.
Booker is my favorite New Jersey politician -- a low bar, I know. So I figured by writing to him, I had a fighting chance of getting things done.
I first emailed Booker though his website. After four weeks with no reply, I emailed him again. Nothing. Another month passed. I called his offices in Washington, DC and Newark and asked for the person who handled the issue that was my concern.
The person in DC said these matters were handled by the New Jersey office. The person in Newark said DC handled this. I am not kidding.
Finally, I decided to stray from the conventional path and I got the name of his DC-based communications director. I called the young man and left a message. To his credit, within a day or two, he called me back. We traded messages for a week or so and then finally connected.
He seemed earnest (I remember being earnest in my late 20s/early 30s), and assured me someone in his office would get in touch with the relevant federal agency. When I said that I could get in touch with the relevant federal agency, he further assured me that their contact would be more direct and more likely to get a response because the request was coming from a senator's staff.
Great. In a few more weeks, I was confident that not only would they be able to plow through the bureaucracy a regular dope like me could not avoid, but -- dare I hope? -- maybe they could get a positive resolution.
Many more weeks passed. I followed up with calls to the young, earnest communications director. He earnestly assured me -- he was big on earnest assurances -- that they hadn't forgotten me.
I then got a call from Booker's office saying I needed to get back in touch with their Newark office, again, despite the fact that the DC office had been leading the charge up until then.
I called the guy at the Newark office. He sent me forms to fill out which I did dutifully. A few weeks later, I received a form letter, signed by Cory Booker himself -- how cool! -- saying that they had looked into the matter and there was nothing they could do.
I realize Booker has more important things to do -- legislative priorities, global affairs, dreams of a President Booker -- than to deal with something as pedestrian as a constituent, but I have to say, Cory, I was disappointed. It appeared that everything they did I could have done myself.
More than that, I was concerned that constituents with even less persistence wouldn't even have gotten as "far" as I did. After all, my two emails to his website were never answered. That would likely discourage many from taking next steps.
(I did also contact my Congresswoman, who in theory would give me more attention since she has a smaller constituent base and has to worry about her job every two years. An equally earnest young staffer from her office essentially did the same thing as Booker's office -- he had me fill out forms, had a couple of phone calls with me, contacted the relevant federal agency -- and ultimately I was sent a form letter signed by my Congresswoman saying they couldn't do anything.)
But as if I needed any evidence, the average person should approach his/her Senator warily and expect little or nothing in return. It may be another 60 years before I write my senator again.