In Troubled Times, Let’s Try ‘The Seward Way’
In reflecting on Jim Seward’s tenure as our state senator, one vignette always comes to mind.
It was the fall of 2006, and Cherry Valley’s Pam Noonan, on a Sunday afternoon at her home on Montgomery Street, was hosting opponents of Reunion Power’s 24-turbine wind farm proposed for East Hill.
Senator Seward had been invited and, prior to his arrival, attendees expressed some vexation that the senator, with his interest in jobs and tax-base enhancement, would not support the opposition.
The senator arrived and, as he always does, listened intently to his constituents’ concerns, not exactly Sphinx-like, but without letting on too much about what he was hearing and thinking.
The outcome, a few weeks later, was Seward’s reaffirmation of support for the state’s “Home Rule” doctrine – whatever powers are NOT given to Albany in the state Constitution devolve to localities.
Influenced by that or not, the Town of Cherry Valley adopted strict guidelines governing windmills, and Reunion went away.
But the Home Rule concept moved to center stage: A few years later to the state Court of Appeals, which ruled the Town of Middlefield, using its zoning powers, could block Cooperstown Holstein’s fracking plans.
What observers learned at Pam Noonan’s that afternoon was this: Seward’s prime interest wasn’t in ideology or partisanship – it was in representing his constituents.
Over the years, many praiseful words about state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, have appeared in this space.
We are proud to say that, throughout the current ownership, we’ve had the honor of endorsing him for reelection in 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017.
The central reason for this was, again, not partisanship or ideology, but because of Seward’s main focus: To serve the people of his 10-county Central New York state Senate District but, foremost, to serve its centerpiece: Otsego County, where he was born, raised, educated and built his political career.
Another word that comes to mind is “nurturing.” Jim Seward sought to nurture his constituents, to protect them, to enhance their opportunities for a better life, to solve their problems on the macro and micro level.
Jim was stricken with cancer in 2016. When it recurred in the fall of 2019, he – weakened by one disease – was stomach-punched last March by deadly COVID-19 and almost lost his life. Then, the people he would nurture for 34 years nurtured him in return.
At the time, the outpouring of support and love on social media and www.AllOTSEGO.com was specific and impressive. People spoke about what he’d done for them, and they praised him, offered support to him and his family – wife Cindy, son Ryan and daughter Lauren, and granddaughters Nora and Vivian – and prayed (effectively, you might argue) for his recovery.
There are many examples to follow in the dozens of tributes to the retiring senator that appear in this week’s newspaper. We can enjoy them. But we can also be guided by them. Thanks, senator.
Eileen Lishansky’s tribute is a favorite. Approaching Seward with a sticky issue, he picked up the phone and started setting it right. “From that day on, whenever my husband or I would meet him in the community he addressed us by name,” she wrote.
It’s that personal touch, which grew out of who he is. Several tribute writers note, he likes people. Or that he’s not an angry man, and that doesn’t have to win every fight: He’s willing to talk things through, to take the long view.
In return, people like him. If you’re ever seen him walk across a crowded room, it’s a miracle he ever gets to his next appointment: Every half-step, someone wants to shake his hand, make a plea or give him an attaboy.
One of the people who knew him best is former state Sen. Hugh Farley, a Republican from the Capital District, now retired to Port Richey, Fla. They sat side by side in the Senate chamber for decades, and Farley saw Seward in action. (Only John Marchi of Staten Island, who served 50 years, was in the Senate longer than Seward, Farley said.)
“He got along with people,” said the retired senator in an interview from his Florida home. “It makes for a much better situation if you don’t get personal in your partisanship. He was always a gentleman. I never heard him confront or insult anybody. I was very proud of him for that.”
As we bid Senator James L. Seward farewell from his current job – thankfully, he plans to stay active in a manner still to be revealed – the dozens of complimentary tributes that appear in this edition give us pause for rumination.
We’re in a period of intense partisanship, where we believe we’re right and the other guy is wrong – or worse, immoral. In reflecting on Jim Seward’s 36 years serving all of us, we realize it doesn’t have to be that way.
We can disagree without insulting. We can believe strongly, without demonizing the other. We can have a diverse country – diverse lifestyles, diverse culture, diverse thinking – by being who we are and accepting that others may be different. No sweat.
It can be done. Jim Seward’s life to date proves it.