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Dawidziak: She stopped Shoreham, and more

Executive Director of Shoreham Opponents Coalition Nora Bredes

Executive Director of Shoreham Opponents Coalition Nora Bredes in her office in Smithtown, New York on February 20, 1983. Photo Credit: Newsday File photo, 1983 / Argeroplos

Michael Dawidziak is a political consultant and pollster.

The passing of former Suffolk County Legis. Nora Bredes, who died last week in Rochester at age 60, shouldn't escape the notice of anyone who shares a common love and concern for Long Island.

Whether you agreed with her politics or not (and there were plenty who didn't), you had to admire her caring commitment and courageous zeal. Platitudes such as these are carelessly thrown around when describing politicians, but they truly and accurately describe the person who was Nora Bredes.

Bredes didn't get involved in politics out of ambition or for personal advancement. She got involved due to a genuine concern for her community. Most citizens are aware of the existence of threats to the safety or well-being of the public. The vast majority of them just never get off their butts and do anything about it. When faced with a known menace to her neighborhood, children or county, Bredes was incapable of doing nothing.

Whereas compassion and caring might have been the motivational forces that got Bredes involved, the words more often used to describe her were tough and smart -- and she was. As a community organizer, Bredes was a leading force in organizing the Shoreham Opponents Coalition. Working together with other activists, she helped to change the terms of the debate from mere protest to political action. She was instrumental in bringing the fight in the streets into the halls of government.

Bredes also had a talent for recruiting people with a wide variety of skills to help her achieve her goals. Knowing that the Shoreham opponents could easily have been trivialized as a bunch of radical protesters, she enlisted the help of professionals, including respected scientists and political consultants I worked closely with her in the anti-Shoreham battle, even though she knew I was a consultant to George H.W. Bush, not exactly an anti-nuke president.

She could be calculating and funny at the same time. Right after the nuclear disaster in the Ukraine in 1986, she put out a brochure that asked in bold print, "Is the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant safer than Chernobyl?" Answer: "Nyet."

Beyond any reasonable hope, Bredes and a ragtag group of community activists actually stopped this nuclear power plant from opening. It would make a great, if improbable, movie script. George Hoffman, a fellow political consultant who worked in the anti-Shoreham movement, has said, "Without Nora, Shoreham would be operating today." In light of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and the recent problems in Japan, Bredes' stand back in the 1980s looks pretty good today.

Bredes was a passionate environmentalist and advocate for public health and safety. But her other major initiative in life was the advancement of women in the country's board rooms and halls of powers. For 12 years, she served as director of the Susan B. Anthony Center for Women's Leadership at the University of Rochester. The post gave her a soapbox for advocating for a cause that she always felt deeply about. Her concerns about the lack of opportunities for women proved to be as accurate and prophetic as her concerns about nuclear power.

It's all too easy to look back on Bredes' life and say that women owe her a debt of gratitude, and that she should be a role model for today's generation. In truth, she deserves recognition and thanks from all of us. The spirit of activism that founded this country and continues to work to right the wrongs of the world, burned brightly in Nora Bredes.