Comerford hosts phone conferences for constituents

Massachusetts State House. March 20, 2018.

By Lillian Eden
BU News Service

In a reflection of the social distancing required in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, Sen. Jo Comerford is meeting with constituents in a somewhat different forum: a community conference call.

“I think communication is one of the most important things that legislators can help facilitate in this time of great uncertainty and ever-changing news,” said Comerford, D-Northampton, in an interview with the Hampshire Gazette following the conference calls Wednesday. She held one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

Comerford was recently appointed to lead the state Senate Working Group on COVID-19, which is meeting daily to address the needs of the public.

“I want you to know that no one at the state level is taking this lightly,” she told the audience on the conference call. “This is a short-term crisis. We know it will need a long-term recovery.”

Before opening up the line to questions, Comerford drew a comparison between the Great Recession in 2008 and the current state of the economy.

“I’m thinking of it as something along the lines of the kind of seismic shock to our economy that the 2008 recession was,” she said. “But then there’s an added intensity because, of course, there’s a health issue intersecting it.”

Comerford said the state is working hard to deal with COVID-19 and its impact on constituents, adding that she was encouraged by recent events, particularly Gov. Charlie Baker’s declaration of a state of emergency.

“The government is functioning and responding in real time,” she said.

Comerford also stressed that this time is particularly difficult because of how quickly the situation developed.

“We’ve moved more from the personal hygiene imperative — cough into your sleeve, wash your hands all the time — to a much more social distancing, and much broader community precaution,” she said.

The morning session had 28 participants. While she didn’t have official numbers on how many attended the afternoon call, Comerford said she thought there may have been more participants.

There are 14 phone conferences scheduled between now and May. To join, people call a number and type in a six-digit code, and are asked to introduce themselves.

“Every time we hear a ding, that’s another person joining,” explained Sam Hopper, Comerford’s director of constituent engagement, before the start of the morning conference.

Comerford said constituents should feel free to send her specific information about their own situations, but the public phone conferences are an opportunity for people to reach out and for her to let constituents know what work is being done to address issues.

“I think sometimes just having me be a regular person on the line, inviting them to let us know if we could be helpful is the invitation they need for us to be helpful,” she said in the interview with the Gazette. “I think that’s so critical to have a responsive, transparent, accountable presence by government at this moment.”

Constituents can log in to the calls by dialing 605-313-5111, and use access code: 378045.

Dates for upcoming conferences include:

■Wednesday, March 25, 9:30-10:30 a.m., and 1-2 p.m.
■Saturday, March 28, 11:15 a.m.-12:15 p.m. (Hatfield Library Tour date), and 2:45-3:45 p.m. (Greenfield and Deerfield Library Tour dates)
■Wednesday, April 1, 9:30-10:30, and 1-2 p.m.
■Saturday, April 4, 12-1 p.m. (South Hadley Library Tour date), and 2-3 p.m. (Amherst Library Tour date)
■Saturday, May 2, 12-1 p.m. (New Salem Library Tour date), and 2-3 p.m. (Hadley Library Tour date)

This article was originally published in The Hampshire Gazette.

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