St. Rocco’s Festival shouldn’t have been turned into campaign pep rally
For the past 33 years, every year at the end of summer, I have attended the St. Rocco’s Italian Festival in Hulberton. I have always loved going there and seeing family, friends and neighbors all enjoying great food and each other’s company.
In years past you could barely walk through the festival grounds without bumping into someone, literally. It always had outstanding attendance. It was a great fundraiser for St. Mary’s Catholic Church. Patrons came from near and far to enjoy and support it. Sadly, what I saw yesterday was quite the contrary.
As anticipated, if you weren’t there to support Randy Bower’s campaign or to play in the bocce tournament, then you had little reason to attend. A church fundraiser had seemingly been hijacked and turned into a pep rally for Randy Bower trying to be Sheriff.
I would say a fair estimate would be 85 percent of the people at the festival were wearing some type of Bower propaganda. That’s overwhelming for any non-supporters or neutral attendees. I would attribute the seemingly low numbers in attendance to this. It was not a capacity crowd as it once was. And one could just feel how those not wearing a Bower T-shirt were slightly uncomfortable.
I know that parishioners of St. Mary’s voiced concerns to Father Mark about this possibly happening, fearful that it may taint the meaning and purpose of the event. Mr. Bower is also a parish member of St. Mary’s. I can’t speak for him or his campaign, but it would appear that his personal agenda took precedence over his parish’s wishes and his community’s yearly end of summer event. That’s too bad.
For citizens unattached to the Bower campaign, it became an “eat and leave” environment, when it used to be a “stay all day” event. I’m sure people from the Bower camp did stay all day however. It had become their private party after all.
I also know several people from Orleans County that said they would not attend this year, expecting it to be a campaign rally for Randy Bower and not the family-friendly environment it historically has been. That’s not to say the Bower campaign isn’t family oriented. I’m just acknowledging that a political event is not where most people unassociated with a campaign want to spend the last Sunday of the summer with their kids. And thus, many did not.
I personally was unsure how the crowd would look when I arrived. I was hoping to wear the typical Green, Red and White of Italian pride like my Grandmother would have liked. But when I saw the Bower contingent I knew it was no longer the Italian Festival of old. I threw on my “Drennan For Sheriff” T-shirt and proudly entered the event. I was at a pep rally after all, and I’m rooting for the other team.
My mother and I spent some time together there for a little while, donated some food and money, then left. It just wasn’t what it should have been.
The shirt I wore yesterday clearly stood for something more than just a candidate for Sheriff. It stood for honor and integrity. Here’s why: Republican-endorsed candidate Tommy Drennan did make an appearance at St. Rocco’s and spoke to people privately without drawing attention away from the church’s efforts. That’s an appropriate and professional way to handle a public event. I’m proud of him for that.
I feel sorry for St. Mary’s. They lost control of their major fundraiser to a private citizen seeking public office. As I heard one patron say while exiting with his family, not having spent a dime. “All good things must come to an end.”
Hopefully next year, the festival can get back to being the community event it used to be and not someone’s campaign stomping grounds.
Todd R. Smith
Proud son of current Orleans County Undersheriff Steven D. Smith