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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara

"Communities carrying on"

ALBANY, June 20 -- As I made the weekly trek from my home in Big Flats to Albany early last week, the Capitol was already abuzz over what would – or wouldn’t – take place in the final days of the 2011 regular session. This final week of session is a traditional stretch of long days and nights debating legislation and working out agreements on unresolved issues.

But I was also heading back to Albany at the beginning of a difficult week across our region. Two of our communities gathered under the toughest of all circumstances. In Elmira, family, friends, neighbors and fellow officers laid to rest Chemung County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeffrey Alexander. And 50 miles to the northwest, the family and friends, fellow soldiers and veterans, and the Wayland-Cohocton community were paying final respects to U.S. Army Sgt. Devin A. Snyder.

In an unforeseen confluence of circumstances, one of Albany’s unfolding legislative initiatives – the approval of legislation to restrict protests at military funerals -- became joined to what was occurring in Cohocton. That was the result of unsettling reports that a notorious protest organization was planning to stage locally the kind of disgraceful demonstration that it’s inflicted on other grieving military families and communities across the nation.

By week’s end the state Legislature had unanimously approved legislation I co-sponsored to expand and strengthen existing state law by, among other provisions, prohibiting protests from taking place within 1,000 feet of a military funeral. This legislation was first introduced early this year in response to disgraceful demonstrations at military funerals across America. Also, in a case earlier this year, Snyder v. Phelps, the United States Supreme Court ruled that while protestors have constitutional rights, states also have a compelling interest to protect the mourning family members and friends of deceased military servicemen and servicewomen.

I couldn’t have agreed more, and I said so on the floor of the Senate. These protests in other places have inflicted added and undeserved anguish and pain on mourning families. But I also expressed my certainty that while this new law couldn’t be in place in time to help protect the dignity of the funeral of Sgt. Snyder, the community’s outpouring of respect for Devin’s service and support for her family would serve to simply overwhelm anyone or anything seeking to do otherwise. Sgt. Snyder and her family would receive the dignified, decent, respectful and solemn service she earned and deserved – something to which every one of the nation’s fallen servicemen and servicewomen are entitled.

As a legislative representative, it’s often during these most trying of circumstances that you’re reminded of the essence of what allows communities to weather the severest of storms.

I didn’t personally know Sgt. Devin Snyder or Deputy Sheriff Jeffrey Alexander. But over the tragic days since their deaths, I’ve read the words of those who knew them well, I’ve seen the outpouring of community support, and I’ve heard so many speak in ways that made it very clear that anyone and everyone who had the privilege to know them were better for it.

Each of them lived a life of service and love for their community, their state, and their nation. Sgt. Devin A. Snyder and Chemung County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeffrey Alexander were among America’s best.

How do you give proper justice to two young lives so well lived? What has struck me most over the course of the past few weeks has been witnessing families and friends, neighbors, fellow soldiers and veterans and officers, and entire communities come together to find some measure of
comfort, some moments of peace and laughter and, somehow, the faith and the strength to carry on as Devin and Jeffrey would want them to carry on.

Devin A. Snyder was a soldier, Jeffrey Alexander an officer. And above all else, soldiers and officers know what it takes to carry on. That’s good to remember.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara


Schuyler County Officials

Legislature Members:

Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Thomas Gifford, Doris Karius, Glenn Larison

Bottom row: Michael A. Yuhasz, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Stewart Field


Legislature Chairman

Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687

Legislature Members:

Michael A. Yuhasz, 535-4967

Doris L. Karius, 546-5544

Barbara Halpin, 594-3683

Glenn R. Larison, 594-3385

Thomas M. Gifford, 535-9517

Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen 481-0482

Stewart Field, Watkins Glen 535-2335

County Clerk: Linda Compton, 535-8133

Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222

Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222

County Treasurer: Margaret Starbuck, 535-8181

District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383


State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County

Sen. Charles E. Schumer

United States Senate
313 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-3201
DC Phone: 202-224-6542
DC Fax: 202-228-3027
Email Address:

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand

United States Senate
478 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
DC Phone: 202-224-4451

State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)

Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12247
Phone: (518) 455-2091
Fax: (518) 426-6976

Assemblyman Christopher Friend -- Chemung, Schuyler, Tioga
Room 720, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12248
Phone: (518) 455-4538


© The Odessa File 2011
Charles Haeffner
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869