Disclosing, Explaining, and Learning from a Bad Week

This is a New Rochelle story, but it’s necessary to begin with some broader context.  Bear with me.

As America’s painful COVID experience nears its one-year anniversary, our thoughts and actions increasingly focus on the vaccine.  How quickly can it be manufactured?  How will it be distributed?  How can we address and overcome doubts about its safety and efficacy?  When will this nightmare finally be over?

The issue of sequencing — who gets the vaccine first, second, third, and fourth — is especially complicated, logistically and morally, given the present mismatch between demand and supply.  So it’s no wonder that vaccine distribution protocols, which fall under state jurisdiction, have been intensely debated.  It’s also no wonder that vaccination rates among different hospitals have been carefully scrutinized, with urgency to get the vaccine into people’s arms as quickly as possible.

Up to now, New York has limited vaccine distribution mainly to health care workers in what the State calls Phase 1a.  This week, New York will expand to Phase 1b, including teachers, first responders, and people over 75 years of age.  There’s more here.

I don’t feel qualified to have a personal opinion about the right vaccination policy, but I do believe that uniformity and consistency are vital to avoid a free-for-fall.  Therefore, I see it as my responsibility to explain, uphold, and implement State directives, in partnership with local and regional health providers.

That’s the backdrop for this past week’s events in New Rochelle.

On Wednesday around midday, I received a call from Montefiore New Rochelle hospital with important news: the hospital had just been directed by State health authorities to expand vaccine distribution to the entire municipal and school district workforce.  Knowing that Montefiore’s prior vaccine delivery numbers had been low, and that the State was eager to get the vaccine out the door, the hospital’s invitation seemed entirely plausible, and I did not think to confirm it with State colleagues.  In retrospect, that was a mistake.

I immediately informed the City Manager, so that our employees across all departments could be mobilized in an orderly fashion, and I contacted the School District leadership, so that they could coordinate with the hospital on a parallel track.

The City administration established a vaccination schedule, and municipal employees began lining up for their vaccines by Wednesday late afternoon, with the goal of completing the City workforce over the next 48 hours or so.  The School District established its own schedule.

Next day, the wheels came off.

On Thursday evening, I received upsetting word from both hospital and State officials.  Montefiore’s invitation had been an error; the hospital had misinterpreted the State’s guidance and was not yet authorized to issue phase 1b vaccines, let alone to vaccinate the whole municipal workforce, which includes categories of employees outside 1b.  The vaccination process needed to be halted right away.  This was especially traumatic for the School District, which has a larger workforce than the City, including hundreds of teachers who would now be disappointed.  A mess.

For me, this difficult week also has a dimension of personal regret involving my own vaccine.  Although Montefiore’s invitation encompassed elected officials, I had originally intended to decline my own vaccination and wait for a future phase.  Around midday Thursday, however, the City Manager informed me, with surprise and distress, that many municipal employees were refusing to take the vaccine.  Here in our own City family was the vaccine hesitancy that experts fear could imperil efforts to achieve herd immunity.  A serious problem.

I was persuaded that receiving my own vaccine would demonstrate confidence in the vaccine’s safety and efficacy, and set a good example for colleagues.  So I agreed to get my injection Thursday mid-afternoon, and then returned to City Hall, where the City Manager and I sent an email to the entire workforce, affirming the vaccine’s importance and urging colleagues to do the right thing and follow our lead.  In the moment, I was trying to act responsibly, but now I certainly regret my participation and can’t shake a feeling of shame that I received a vaccination to which I was not properly entitled.

I am satisfied that everyone in this whole episode was operating in good faith and sincerely trying to do the right thing under great pressure.  But, as someone with a visceral aversion to “cutting the line” (in fact, while I was waiting for my vaccine at Montefiore, a friendly nurse literally invited me to cut the line, I declined), I find this chain of mistakes professionally frustrating and personally embarrassing.  And I suppose this blog post is my attempt to fully disclose what happened, learn from the experience, and move on.

Seeing the challenges firsthand will only reinforce my determination to ensure that our community is provided with information and access to the vaccine as quickly as supplies and State authorization permit, especially with imminent entry into phase 1b, which is really the beginning of mass vaccinations.  As we look ahead to recovery from this incredibly difficult year, there is no more important responsibility.  Onward.

12+

Domenic Procopio, Rest in Peace

Domenic Procopio, the Chair of New Rochelle’s Civil Service Commission and the long-time President of the Calabria Mutual Aid Society, passed away last night. His death marks the end of an era.

Big-hearted, warm, and generous beyond measure, Domenic loved our city unreservedly and was loved by countless friends in return. Beyond his direct contributions to public life, which were considerable and which earned him innumerable accolades, awards, and honors, Domenic also embodied the multi-generational experience of Italian-Americans in New Rochelle – the hard work, pride in heritage, and fierce determination through which so many immigrants and their descendants rose into positions of meaningful service, leadership, and success.

On a personal level, I will miss Domenic greatly. I will miss his unannounced visits to my office – voice booming out “hello Ms. Taylor, hello Mayor” – always a cheerful highlight of the day. I will miss his shrewd observations about the various characters and personalities who populate and orbit the City government. I will miss his deep knowledge of New Rochelle’s history, grounded often in his close relationships with the people who made that history.  I will miss his kindness, decency, and unshakeable loyalty. To understand Domenic fully, a listener was sometimes required to battle through his thick accent, but such attentiveness was well worth it and invariably rewarded with pearls of wisdom.

Were it not for COVID, Domenic’s memorial service would surely bring together hundreds of New Rochelle and Westchester residents in remembrance and tribute. That we cannot gather in person is an especially painful blow in an already painful year. Yet, even from afar, we are gathered in spirit, taking pride in Domenic’s accomplishments, drawing inspiration from his humanity, and expressing gratitude for the community he did so much to shape and strengthen.

May Domenic Procopio rest in peace.

14+

Seasons Greetings

 

Our family wishes you and yours the very best for the holiday season.  May 2020 be a year of peace, love, and joy.

 

1+

My New Website

Please take a look at my newly-redesigned website.  In addition to a fresher overall appearance, there’s also some new content, including a robust Issues page with details on the City’s recent accomplishments, information about early voting, and other links related to the upcoming election.  The core of the site, however, remains my blog, which I will continue to update regularly with municipal, personal, and political news and views.

I hope you like it.  And if you’re not already on my distribution list, please sign up to receive information via email.

 

3+

Nita Lowey

Former staffers with Nita Lowey

Yesterday, Nita Lowey announced her decision to retire from Congress at the end of the current term.  In the hours since, countless leaders have offered public tributes to Nita’s service, all well-earned.  For Nita has, indeed, been a truly exceptional representative — effective, principled, tireless, often courageous — with an astounding record of accomplishment for our region and nation.  Few, if any, officials in Westchester’s history have achieved as much or enjoyed anything close to the same level of esteem and affection across a span of decades.

I confess, however, somewhat selfishly, that my thoughts about Nita’s retirement have been less about the public record and more inward-looking, personal, even emotional.

Nita gave me my first job out of grad school as Deputy Campaign Manager for her 1992 reelection.  From there, I went on to join her staff, mainly as a speech-writer, beginning a professional relationship that continued in different ways for about 20 years, most of my adult life.  Outside of family, I can’t think of any person who has had a more profound impact on who I am today.

Some elected officials have a private persona that differs significantly from their public image.  Not so Nita.  Up close, as a boss, she is every bit the same kind, warm, empathetic — and, make no mistake, also tough and shrewd — figure that she appears to be from afar.  One telling memory: Nita visiting with a family who had just lost a child to a random act of violence.  I was “staffing” her, watching silently from a respectful distance.  With the family, she was strong and comforting, just what you would hope for from a leader in an impossibly difficult moment.  And then, afterwards, as we walked back to the car, her voice and composure broke as she murmured “he was a good kid.”  A small moment, almost trivial in the context of a career with so many towering achievements, and yet, for me, indelible and moving still now, even as I write.  There are too many people in public life who feign humanity with the spotlight on and snap into cold self-absorption with the spotlight off.  With Nita, the humanity is never, ever an act.

Because of these qualities, she fostered a fiercely loyal community of staffers over the years, who maintained relationships with her and with each other long after they had moved on to other positions.  Today, I can still count friends, many friends, good friends, whom I know through Nita.  And across this network, the news of Nita’s decision has fallen like a lightning bolt, prompting reflection, story-telling, laughter, tears, and, above all, gratitude.

It almost goes without saying that most of what I know about public service, I learned directly or indirectly from Nita.  And although I have never come close to matching her accomplishments, graciousness, energy, or uncanny ability to read people, I have tried my best.  If more of us in public life adopted Nita Lowey as a model, our world would be a far, far better place.

This is not a eulogy.  Nita is happy and healthy.  She has more than a year of hard and important work left in her term.  And, if there is any justice, she will have many years after that to enjoy life and family.  So it is not a time for good-byes.  It is a time instead to say a simple, heartfelt, fervent: thank you.

2+