The lectern at Lawrence City Hall brimmed with life-and-death stories Tuesday, as a group of demonstrators urged city commissioners to wade into the national health care debate.
Former Lawrence Mayor Jo Andersen told commissioners of two Lawrence friends who ultimately died after not having health insurance.
“When he was diagnosed with cancer, his doctor told him that if he could just hold out until he turned 65, Medicare would cover the medicine that might save his life,” Andersen said of one friend. “He died two weeks before turning 65. My second friend, when diagnosed with cancer and no possibility of obtaining treatment, went home and shot himself.”
Andersen and about 40 other demonstrators showed up at City Hall to ask the City Commission to formally send a letter to federal lawmakers endorsing the creation of a new federally run public health insurance program.
Commissioners took no action on the request, but showed reluctance to dive into the issue.
“It is an issue I’m real concerned about,” said Commissioner Aron Cromwell, “but I don’t believe it is probably going to be something the City Commission is responsible for. We kind of have a full plate with our own local problems.”
Mayor Rob Chestnut said he would ask city staff members to research whether what type of “jurisdiction we do or don’t have.”
“But my guess is that a lot of this is really at the federal or state level,” Chestnut said.
The rally was organized by local leaders with MoveOn.org and Organizing for America, a pair of groups that advocate for progressive causes.
“Municipalities have taken stands on federal and state issues previously,” said Margie Wakefield, a coordinator for the Lawrence chapter of Organizing for America. “We think a statement from the city would be influential.”
But Cromwell said it would be difficult for the City Commission to take a formal position on the health care issue.
“I’ve personally contacted my legislators,” Cromwell said. “But we don’t have business advocating for a point of view without really knowing what the citizens of Lawrence are in agreement upon. I don’t think we’ll find that consensus.”