It's interesting to be on the inside creating policy, because suddenly you learn there are several sides to any issue, sides that you must consider as an elected official, but don't have to acknowledge as a protestor.
John Hertzler ’72 was finishing breakfast in a Rochester, N.Y., hotel in January when he overheard three businessmen at an adjacent table discussing Star Trek. Hertzler, who was elected to the town board of Ulysses, N.Y., last November, was in Rochester for training when the strangers made a reference to his television past.
Says Hertzler, "I said, 'You're obviously fans of Star Trek. Does anybody know Deep Space Nine? Anybody know General Martok?' They said, 'Sure.' I said, 'That's me.' There I was at a training session for town boards of upstate New York advertising myself as a Klingon general."
Hertzler, an actor for 40 years and known professionally as J.G. Hertzler, played multiple roles in the Star Trek franchise, most notably Martok, a celebrated Klingon warrior.
Hertzler moved to Ulysses, a town of nearly 5,000, in 2007 when he became a visiting lecturer in the acting and film department at Cornell University, 10 miles from Ulysses. That position ended in 2010, but Hertzler stayed in Ulysses, continued to perform and became active in politics as a member of the Democratic committee for both Ulysses and Tompkins County, as well as of the county's Environmental Management Council.
"Although I've never longed to be an elected official, I believed I had something to offer, and I wanted to know a lot more about what's going on," says Hertzler, who majored in political science at Bucknell. "It's interesting to be on the inside creating policy, because suddenly you learn there are several sides to any issue, sides that you must consider as an elected official, but don't have to acknowledge as a protestor."
A major issue in the Ulysses area and one Hertzler opposes is whether to allow hydraulic fracturing, the controversial method of extracting natural gas commonly called fracking. To him, fracking's effect on the environment and possible contamination of regional drinking water aquifers outweigh its potential economic benefits.
New York's Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, will decide this spring whether to uphold bans by lower courts on fracking in two towns, one not far from Ulysses in the picturesque Finger Lakes region.
"This is one of the most beautiful, pastoral, bucolic areas in this country," Hertzler says. "I am anti-fracking, but I do understand the need for jobs. It's a terribly complicated issue. But in the long run, you have to consider the safety of drinking water. Why would we want to put that at risk when it's a major asset to this entire region? That makes no sense, and that's basically where I'm coming from."
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