By Barbara Taormina
Ward 4 Councillor Ryan O’Malley this week proposed that the city hold a public hearing on political disillusionment and the spread of political, racial and religious extremism in the United States.
O’Malley said recent events, particularly the tragedy in Pittsburg where 11 people were murdered in a synagogue by a gunman shouting anti-Semitic slurs, reflect widespread political disillusionment that has led to extremism. O’Malley asked the City Council to schedule a public hearing so the community could explore these trends and, hopefully, diffuse them through a discussion on the need to establish an environment that offers dignity and respect to all. While councillors said they appreciated O’Malley’s intentions, they agreed a public hearing was not the right vehicle to foster unity.
O’Malley said the shooting in Pittsburg led him to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s website to learn more about the rise of nationalism in Germany, the Nazi party and the Holocaust. “Similar to pre-Nazi Germany, we live in a period of long-term political dysfunction on all levels of government that has lasted for decades,” said O’Malley, adding that the political environment has left many people disillusioned.
“This widespread disillusionment is being intentionally exploited by people, both domestically and abroad, to sow the seeds of political, racial and religious extremism on the national, state and local levels,” he said, adding that intolerance should be addressed both privately and publicly.
“Our collective future depends on our ability as a society to learn to resolve our differences peacefully through words,” said O’Malley, who then asked for a public hearing so councillors could hear from residents about whether or not they feel disillusioned and how they feel about political, racial and religious extremism.
Council President Debbie DeMaria said she had spoken with Mayor Gary Christenson’s staff about many of the concerns raised by O’Malley. “There are many things already in play,” she said.
Ward 5 Councillor Barbara Murphy proposed referring the idea of a public discussion to the Civic Engagement Committee, which could develop an appropriate format that would include a range of voices and perspectives.
“I agree it should go to Civic Engagement,” said Ward 1 Councilor Peg Crowe. “Hearing from the people is one thing, but usually with a public hearing you hear the pros and cons; we’re not making a decision after hearing who’s for and against it. I don’t think it should be couched as a public hearing.”
Councillor-at-Large Craig Spadafora agreed and said there are rules the council needs to follow when holding public a hearing. He added that the Civic Engagement Committee is better equipped to plan this type of dialogue.
The council then voted unanimously to refer the proposal to the Civic Engagement Committee.