Congressman Anthony Brindisi and Oneida County Tourism President Kelley Blazosky addressed COVID-19 impacts for their organizations and efforts to move forward, in feedback for a “Virtual Community Forum” by the Genesis Group of the Mohawk Valley.
The forum is seeking information from business and community leaders, after an initial phase included personal perspectives. People interested in participating in the forum can respond to one or more of the questions as listed in the entries below and email comments to rdurso@TheGenesisGroup.org.
• How has the pandemic impacted your organization?
Blazosky — Oneida County Tourism has frozen all promotions and switched to organic social media campaigns to...help our attractions, restaurants and lodging partners share their updates and stay top-of-mind for when everyone is able to start moving again. Hotel occupancy rates have plummeted to single digits. This will have a dramatic impact on our funding source and operations for the next 18 to 24 months.
Brindisi — The pandemic has impacted life all across Upstate New York. As your congressman, I’ve seen rapid changes to how we conduct the people’s business, but the work has not stopped. I’ve seen the mission of my office continue to serve, but we’re serving in different ways. We continue to act as a resource for workers, families, and small businesses as they navigate the government and various agencies, but now we spent more time on things like P-P-P and getting our hospitals the equipment and funding they need. Another change is how I am hearing from constituents. For public health and safety reasons, I’ve switched to hosting telephone town halls instead of in-person events, and regular Zoom calls with our local businesses, veterans, farmers, and educators. The feedback of all of our communities is so important to my job as a representative and modern technology means I can continue to hear from you during a pandemic.
• What have you learned?
Blazosky — Having a crisis plan for communications and operations in place is vital for every organization and company. Amazing confirmation that our industry partners and local attractions are creative and inventive leaders.
Brindisi — I’ve learned what a Zoom meeting is and that you have to mute your phone if you need to answer your kids’ homework questions or make them lunch while on a conference call. But I’ve also learned not to take for granted the time we get to spend with our loved ones and the incredible value our frontline workers play in our society. When an entire nation hits pause, it is those workers, the nurses, doctors, teachers, police officers, firefighters, delivery workers, grocery store employees, and transportation workers who keep us going.
3. What positive ideas or thoughts can you share?
Blazosky — As much as we all plan, the unexpected will inevitably happen and we will survive best by being flexible and open to change.
Brindisi — I’ve always said that it doesn’t matter if you are a Democrat or Republican, we are all Americans first. During the pandemic, I’ve seen this mantra come to life more than ever before. I’ve worked with Democrats and Republicans to deliver resources and relief to communities in need. In Washington, petty partisan politics often get in the way. But I’ve done my best to stand up to politicians on both sides who are trying to politicize this crisis or use it for political gains. Now more than ever, I value my friendship and working relationship with Congressman John Katko from next-door in Syracuse. We’ve worked hard together to make sure Upstate and Central New York gets the resources we need.
• What changes will you be making?
Blazosky — We are assessing and changing our messaging to travelers. It will be more important than ever to establish trust and confidence that visitors will be safe and our attractions, restaurants and hotels will adhere to recommended health and safety guidelines. We will work with our industry partners to share best practices and innovative ways to generate and conduct business within the travel sector as we move through this crisis to a post COVID-19 world. Our target market will start local and incrementally grow as the reopening plans move through phases of implementation.
Brindisi — I imagine Congress will be making many changes that will impact me, but I am mostly going to make sure I take that extra moment each morning to hug my family. Also, I am hopeful that I can be more thankful to our frontline workers. It is their strength and resilience that will get us through this and that should never be forgotten. Finally, I am going to double down on my efforts to expand affordable and reliable broadband access across our district. The pandemic has highlighted the need for better broadband. If telehealth and e-learning are the way of the future, our communities need a 21st century infrastructure and I will fight tooth and nail to get it.
• How do you believe that our community has been changed?
Blazosky — This crisis will undoubtedly change everyone’s personal and professional level of preparedness and ultimately make us a more compassionate and welcoming community as well as stronger, smarter business men and women. The spirit and strength of New York state is a globally recognized asset for our communities, county, region and our nation.
Brindisi — Our community has gone through a traumatic experience together. We all have the shared experience of staying home, wearing masks, and practicing social distancing. I am hopeful that the spirit of togetherness and this shared experience can change us and help heal some of the wounds from recent partisan politics on both sides. On 9/11 in 2001, when George Bush stood in New York City, we knew we were all Americans first. I am hopeful that the spirit of patriotism, American resilience, and American ingenuity will get us through this crisis.