Sunday, December 13, 2009

We will meet one way or another, with a clenched fist or an open hand

On December 1, 2009, I was sworn in for my second term on the Vallejo City Council. The controversy created by the Mayor's comments in the New York Times article (read last post) turned the Council chambers into a tinderbox, with intense passions erupting on all sides of the issue.

The original intent of the first council meeting in December following an election is for the city to say thank-you and good-bye to departing council members, and to swear in and welcome new and returning council members. It is also an opportunity for those of us who won the election to thank the people who worked so hard for us, who voted for us, who supported us. It is an important night.

But this year, the thank-you's definitely had to take a back seat to the controversy. Many of the people who came to see me and my colleagues get sworn in had to watch on a monitor in the lobby downstairs. The Council chambers had been filled up well before the meeting began. One of my campaign managers, who worked so hard and was so key in helping to get me re-elected, wasn't able to see the swearing-in and couldn't hear my speech amidst the shouting and loud voices out in the lobby. I feel like I missed the opportunity to say a much deserved, “Thank you.” So I'd like to share my prepared speech (it is by no means perfect -- it was scratched out at the last minute!) -- to make sure that everyone in Vallejo knows how proud I am to serve you for a second term, and honored by your faith in me. Thank you!

First, I’d like to thank the voters of Vallejo – everyone who voted, not just those of you who voted for me. And to those of you who voted for me, I am grateful and proud to have your confidence. I will do my best to live up to your belief in me. To those of you who didn’t vote for me, I will represent you the same as I will represent those who voted for me or contributed to my campaign. As John F. Kennedy said during his election bid – an elected official is responsible to all, and obligated to none.

I’d like to thank my campaign committee – they are an incredible group of talented, skilled, smart, dedicated, people with open hearts and open minds. I am here because of you. If I don’t thank my family, I’ll get in trouble. My mom couldn’t be here tonight, but my sister Denise, my two beautiful nieces Elyssa and Valerie, and my stepmother, Dinah, came out to support me. When I won the election, my stepmother sent me a very simple email telling me that my father would be so proud. I lost Dad when I was 20, so he never got to see his youngest child grow into an adult. I think he’d be proud, too.

I’ve been reading a lot lately about our great leaders in the United States. The founders of our country, presidents who led in times of great crisis, leaders of the women’s suffrage movement, the civil rights movement. I feel them here tonight, looking over our shoulders, seeing if we’re measuring up to the examples that they set for greatness.

The one thing they all had in common was a willingness to sacrifice for the greater good, to set aside their personal comforts and sometimes happiness, to effect great change; great change that we all here tonight are benefitting from. They truly defined what public service is supposed to be about.

I could pretend that winning re-election did not make me feel a brief moment of triumph. It’s been a rough four years in this city. I had to take stands on issues that made some powerful people very unhappy. It was uncomfortable at best, downright vicious at worst. That’s politics. I learned to have a hard head but keep a soft heart.

My first term was about shining the light of day on issues that we’ve kept in the shadows for far too long – unsustainable employee benefits, perks and salaries that Vallejo couldn’t afford when they were promised, and we certainly can’t afford them now; smokescreen budgeting that made everything look right and in the black, but hid very deep wells of trouble in the red; a city hall organization that needed more structure and accountability; a lack of effective, strategic planning, business recruitment and economic development.

Our problems are all out there now, visible for everyone to see. While difficult and uncomfortable, this was critical to our recovery. Admitting you have a problem is the first step in any recovery.

Now it’s time to solve these problems. I believe we can do this. But we can’t do it alone. City council members are simply citizens willing to work hard for their fellow citizens. The solutions to our problems lie within us, all of us, the whole city. On the campaign trail I heard many people talk about living here for 20 years, 30 years, 40 years and being frustrated at waiting for something to change, something to happen. Well, as I said then and I will say tonight: I challenge you to help us make something happen. Let’s not just sit around and wait for somebody else to do it. Let’s do it. Together.

So I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work. But before I do, I will say this. It’s time to stop the bitterness, the divisiveness, the taking of sides. There should only be one side right now, and that is Vallejo’s side. I am ready to let the negativity of the past go, to focus on a brighter future. Are you? As Carl Sandburg said, we will meet one way or another, with a clenched fist or an open hand. I am offering my open hand. Let’s go.

I’d like to close with a quote Margaret Chase Smith, the first woman elected to both Houses of Congress. She had a creed of public service that I subscribe to wholeheartedly. THIS is also my creed:

"…public service must be more than doing a job efficiently and honestly. It must be a complete dedication to the people and to the nation with full recognition that every human being is entitled to courtesy and consideration, that constructive criticism is not only to be expected but sought, that smears are not only to be expected but fought, that honor is to be earned but not bought."

I closed with Margaret Chase Smith because tonight we have made history in Vallejo. For the first time in our city’s history, a majority of our city Council is comprised of women. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a very nice milestone that should be noted.