From the 21 April 2008 Lockport Union Sun and Journal (Lockport, NY)

By Bob Confer

Last week’s column was probably the most popular one I’ve written. My inbox was flooded with e-mails from all across the United States, everyone to a person agreeing with my analysis of how our state’s political climate makes it darn near impossible to live and work in the Empire State, in the end forcing our dear family and friends to greener pastures far away.

Most of the respondents highlighted the fact that the majority of those who leave NY aren’t snowbirds or seniors. Instead, those jumping ship are young people, throngs of individuals who traditionally would have represented New York’s Tomorrow. Adding insult to this heartbreaking injury, it’s almost as if we’re investing in other States’ Tomorrows: Day by day, the ranks of our 25-to-40-year-olds head out, even after we as a taxpaying society have invested everything that we can in their primary, secondary and college educations.

For as many of them that leave, countless numbers of their peers hold to their roots and suffer the slings and arrows of our brutal economy. They’ve chosen to remain here, forsaking higher wages and a higher quality of life (economically-speaking) to eke out a living in New York, being true to their hearts and their families. To them, New York State is home and there’s no place like home.

There are certain expectations that come with a home, though. One would like to think most people prefer to keep their home in order. So, it’s really up to those of us who remain to tidy it up. Just as with those who have gone, society has invested in these young people and, quite frankly, it’s about time the investment paid off. These folks – my peers – must adopt some semblance of good citizenship and accept responsibility for the world in which they live. They obviously have a vested interest in the region (they stayed, didn’t they?). They need to apply that very same heart to civics, economics, and community service. By doing so they can make their lives – and the lives of everyone around them - better. They can keep their friends and family here. In the long term, they can prevent their children from one day becoming just like our modern-day gypsies.

Locally, it’s difficult to find young people who take such stands and are engaged in the well-being of our community. Sadly, you can count such individuals on two hands. Why should WLVL’s Scott Leffler and I be the only thirty-somethings to openly take the status quo to task? Why should North Tonawanda’s uncommonly philanthropic Rob Albert be an anomaly amongst young businessmen? Why should Niagara County legislators Andrea McNulty and Jason Cafarella be two of the very, very few twenty-somethings in the local political scene?

These conundrums aren’t pondered across the United States. In many areas, youth rules. Some of the most high-profile leaders in successful cities and towns are those well under forty years of age. Look south to Pittsburgh….Luke Ravenstahl became its mayor in 2006 at 26 years of age, taking over for its deceased mayor. In 2007, he was elected to the role outright and is the youngest mayor of a major city in American history.

Across America such youthful devotion to the community is the norm, not the exception to the rule as it is here. Its seems that far too many (most?) young people in WNY are pathetically apathetic to a true sense of community. Yes, they may love their hometown, but actually applying that love and making the "relationship" work is completely foreign to them. They don’t understand, like our elders and baby boomers have, that getting involved is a way of life.

One can’t help but wonder, though, if the aforementioned oldsters have caused, if not forced, the disinterest. Local boards and councils are full of greybeards and their good ol’ boy networks which don’t take kindly to change or new blood. They seem to thrive on their power and relish the status quo. Some locals even partake in age discrimination and look at youth as a sign of ignorance. My God, many a man has said 29-year-old Jon Powers is not worthy of running for Congress because he’s "inexperienced". Last I knew the "kid" has experienced more in his years at war than any of us will ever know in our entire lifetimes.

This has got to stop. New York is on a continued decline and it will take a concerted group effort, one involving the young and the old, to make things happen and return prosperity to our land. It’s high time that my peers took on this challenge and the elders accepted us into the fray with open arms.