At 6 a.m. two weeks ago, around 50 people gathered outside a darkened Bayside office building in the cold for the swearing in of the 112th Congress. The event was still a five-hour bus ride away in Washington, D.C., but residents were ready to make the trip in support their congressman, U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside), who invited them along to witness the ceremony.
“It’s a process to celebrate,” Ackerman said. “A lot of these people were very helpful during the campaign.”
And as the bus pulled away, those people were alternatively dosing off in the predawn dark, excitedly talking politics or ordering specific breakfasts from the makeshift kitchen in the back of the bus.
“No Splenda? I don’t want it,” said one woman to a congressional intern balancing two cups of coffee in the swaying aisle.
The television screens lit up to provide entertainment while crossing the dull Delaware landscape, and set the political mood by showing “My Fellow Americans,” a 1996 Jack Lemmon and James Garner buddy comedy following the adventures of two ex-presidents.
Ackerman had little in common with the bumbling actors on the screen, aside from a long career in Washington and the occasional blunt assessment of a situation.
He recently referred to the Bush-era tax cut compromise as “the Republican’s ‘Wet Dream Act,’” a pun on the Democrat’s DREAM Act, which aimed to give children of illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.
Ackerman’s 28 years of service have earned him a prime view of the domed Capitol Building across the street from his office in the Rayburn House Office Building, where his supporters gathered to listen to the congressman give a short speech around 11:30 a.m. He thanked them for coming and threw plenty of barbs at the new Republican majority.
“Everybody will applaud,” Ackerman said, referring to the moment Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) would be sworn in as speaker of the house. “Some less enthusiastically than others.”
Ackerman then left to be sworn in, while his family and friends had to settle for watching the ceremony on a flat screen television in his office.
Many of Ackerman’s supporters went out to explore the capitol. Some as far as the Washington Monument, others just to the Senate gift shop.
The few who stayed in the congressman’s quarters watched as Boehner delivered his acceptance speech on Jan. 4, saying, “To my friends in the minority, I offer a commitment. Openness — once a tradition of this institution, but increasingly scarce in recent decades, will be the new standard.”
But the congressman was concerned that Boehner’s Congress would undo the recent work of the Democrats.
“We have to make sure that they don’t roll back what we did,” Ackerman said, referring to Republicans’ plan to repeal health-care reform.
But he also conceded that the Democrats do not want to be the new “party of no,” a moniker attached to Republicans who attempted to constantly block the Democrats’ legislation.
“We’re going to be the party of ‘yes we still can,’” he said.
And unsurprisingly, his supporters agreed with him.
“I am concerned about the ongoing struggle,” said Morshed Alam, a former member of Community School Board 29 from Jamaica who went on the Ackerman bus trip 10 years before. “We have a lot of benefits that Republicans want to dismantle.”
After a photo session on the steps of the Capitol Building, the bus departed shortly after 4 p.m. and returned to Bayside at 9:30 p.m., nearly 16 hours after it departed.
But as Ackerman’s flock trudged to their cars in the dark, they seemed ready to do it all over again in 2013.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.
©2011 Community News Group
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