U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews (D-NJ) took in Collingswood full sail on Wednesday, with breakfast at The Pop Shop, a chat with kids at Thomas Sharp Elementary School and a Rotary Club luncheon at Casona.
The sweep-through is something Andrews plans to do weekly in a series of 52 tours of his constituent towns in the coming year, he announced on his Facebook page following the visit:
My purpose is to listen to the residents and learn how I can contribute to the borough's continued success. Whether it is the Farmers Market, the events on the avenue or in Knight Park, Collingswood continues to have the community spirit that distinguishes it as a great American town.
Over breakfast with a handful of local business owners and borough officials, Pop Shop owner Connie Correia-Fisher said she found Andrews to be “very generous with his time.
“We talked about [how] the uncertainty with the election and the fiscal cliff definitely affected [business],” she said. “When things go too long with this decision-making [in Washington, DC], it makes people uneasy and affects their spending habits.”
The group discussed everything from gun control (Andrews is in favor of limiting access to semi-automatic weapons and expanded magazines) to the nature of the congressman’s relationship with Gov. Chris Christie (they talk all the time), Correia-Fisher said.
“I really liked that when you talked he listened,” she said. “He really seemed not to poo-poo anything, and I really feel like if I do have issues I can take it to him.”
'Why doesn't the president have a son?'
Before a roomful of elementary schoolers later that morning, Andrews navigated steadily through hard-hitting queries like “Why doesn’t the president have a son?” and “What room do you work in in the White House?”
But after a pep talk in which he described the hardships of Barack Obama’s childhood to remind students that anyone can grow up to be president, the congressman had to do a little tap-dancing when one child asked, “Will you be president?”
“Will I be president?” he paused. “Sure! If I had the chance to do that, I’d like to try,” Andrews said, adding that he believes it’s important to “do the job you have as well as you can do it.
“Our aim as a country is if you want to be the very best” doctor, teacher, plumber or electrician, Andrews told students, “you can do it if you do your very best.”
As to why Obama doesn’t have any sons, Andrews replied “because I haven’t had a son either, I’m not going to criticize him.”
Andrews reminded students that he was first elected 23 years ago, "long before you were born," and that his interest in holding political office came about after he got a taste for municipal government as a teen journalist for the Suburban Newspaper Group.
“I thought I was going to cover sports,” Andrews said. “Instead, the paper assigned me to cover news."
As his interest in government expanded as a young man, Andrews said, the family also confronted the closure of a Camden shipyard that took with it his father's job of 40 years.
"I thought if I ever got the chance to do something to help people, I would try," he said.
Tackling the issues
He explained that employment in the tri-county area he represents is down about 30,000 jobs from its peak of 330,000, which is something he hopes to remedy. But Andrews also reminded students that politicians are not job-creators.
“My job is to create an environment where businesses can succeed,” he said.
Andrews also took questions on homelessness, a topic of interest to Lisa DeAngelis' fourth-graders, and reminded children that its root causes include mental illness, poverty, abuse and drug addiction.
To the last point, Andrews mentioned a planned initiative with the Collingswood-based Volunteers of America Delaware Valley to bring a detox center to South Jersey so that more of those afflicted can stay in the area to seek treatment.
But perhaps the most pointed question of the day came from a student who asked Andrews, “What can we do to stop painful violence?”
After commending the student on his insightful choice of words and pointing out that the students at Sharp are known for their caring attitudes and good behavior, the congressman seized the moment to make an age-appropriate point.
“I do think that so much of the way we talk to each other is based on violence, and that’s got to stop,” he said.