The Language Of Reconciliation

“I believe we will soon see leaders using the language of reconciliation, of healing and unifying. Perhaps the noise of the present has been drowning out the voice of reason—the voice of the future that is still there.” —Frances Hesselbein, chair of the Hesselbein Leadership Forum at the University of Pittsburgh and former CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA.

I admire Frances Hesselbein.

I read her leadership themed email every day.

She is optimistic.

Leadership by definition is optimistic.

We have been missing the voice of the future for a long time in our community and that absence has created a tremendous amount of damage. When you stop focusing on the future it passes you by.  You tend to get bogged down in the mundane daily battles that blur with time and don’t add up to anything productive.

It’s the day after the Delray Beach municipal election—another bruiser that did little to elevate the conversation around town and a lot to take us further down the “hey, let’s continue to hate each other” rabbit hole that simply does not work.

So let’s congratulate Vice Mayor Shirley Johnson and newcomer Juli Casale on their victories and hope that in the midst of a huge national crisis, we are able to come together in Delray.

But before we move on and the election fades from our memories, we should do a brief post-mortem.

So what did we “learn” over the past two plus months of intense campaigning?
Here’s a brief primer in case you might have gone numb.

Election Narrative: All developers and all development is Bad—It doesn’t matter what the project is, it’s all no good. Developers are rapacious, corrupting criminals and somehow we’d be so much better off without them.

Reality: Without investment we’re dead.

Healthy cities need to grow their tax base. Healthy cities need to create jobs and they need to offer housing especially attainable housing so that families and young people have a way of becoming part of our community. We need good development, smart growth, attractive design and policies that promote economic and environmental sustainability. We didn’t get that discussion in this election cycle or in past cycles either to be fair. And until we have that conversation as a community, we are doomed to keep slinging a lot of lies and innuendo at each other. How sad for us. How unproductive. We need to do better and we can do better.

Election Narrative: Business interests— but especially developers —are a “special interest” and therefore not worthy of participating in our local elections.

They shouldn’t make a donation to a candidate who they think might be good for Delray; they can however continue to pay taxes and shut their mouths when it comes to endless approval processes and endless insults relating to the damage they are allegedly doing.

So it doesn’t matter that maybe you hope to exercise your property rights or whether you are following the city’s codes or acting on a vision…. say to jump start the Congress Avenue corridor or create a job or provide a home for a young family. The message is clear: how dare you. I’ve met a slew of developers over the years. Some were terrible. I mean lock the doors, check your wallets and take a shower after meeting them bad. And some were terrific.

Reality: In my experience, the good ones don’t want to buy anyone and would never do so. That’s one of the reasons they’re good.  They believe in their projects and their vision and are willing to take risks to make things happen.

They don’t mind tough standards as long as the playing field is level and the process is not endless. Candidates often decry “developer money” flowing to their opponents, but why would developers support candidates who base their campaigns on stopping development? Not bad development, all development.

Election Narrative: Endorsements are worthless and reflect poorly on the candidate who receives them.

So if the police and fire union endorses you, it’s only because they want bigger pensions and higher salaries. It can’t be because you have been supportive of police and fire or they think you’d best serve the people of the community they are sworn to serve and protect.

Reality: Never mind the fact that in the last contract negotiation they agreed to give up benefits. Never let the facts get in the way of a good mail piece.

Let’s pretend that it makes sense to portray our police officers and firefighters as mercenaries. Hey I get it, unions and all. But, I’ve known two-plus generations of officers and firefighters; they care about Delray and will do what’s right for the city when it comes to crunch time. If you think the best way to “deal” with them is confrontation you are wrong.

Election Narrative: Challenger vs. Corrupt Establishment

We can’t discuss issues in any kind of depth because we get caught in the endless spiral of attacks and counter-attacks.

So here’s how it goes: Challenger (usually inexperienced with little in the way of a civic resume takes on “establishment” candidate (which is code word for someone who has spent at least a few years working in the community or serving in office).

Challenger attacks record, character and integrity of their opponent. Opponent feels compelled to strike back and call the challenger inexperienced, a bully and a liar. And so it goes down into the gutter.

To be fair, in this particular cycle, several of the challenger candidates ran very positive campaigns—a few didn’t. All are to be commended for running because it’s a huge commitment.  I hope commissioners seek to put several of the candidates on boards where they can get experience and learn more about the city they seek to lead.

 

There’s a lot more to discuss. Campaign finance reform, an apparent disconnect between the stated level of spending and the amount of mail we receive, the divisions in our city. Especially the divisions and the need to move past issues once they are decided.

 

The re-elected, the newly elected, the incumbents and we the people have an opportunity here to heal those divisions or at least agree to disagree in a more civil manner.

Our first order of business is to make it through the virus—which is sure to change our world and our local community in ways we can’t even begin to fathom yet.

But this too shall pass—and we have a responsibility to each other to find a way forward together.

The election was close—and it was a split decision. Which means there is an opportunity for all “sides” and viewpoints to reach out and be inclusive.

 

 

A Better Way Forward

In a few days, voters will head to the polls in Delray Beach to fill two seats on the City Commission.

I’ve been observing elections in this town for 33 years now and friends can I tell you something? They are getting worse every year.

Nastier.

More expensive.

Devoid of ideas and vision.

It wasn’t always like this.

It doesn’t have to be like this.

And if we are smart, steps will be taken to change the tone of politics in our community.

Because make no mistake, these kind of campaigns leave a mark or should I say a stain on the soul of our community.

Delray Beach is at a crossroads.

The city needs hundreds of millions of dollars of infrastructure repairs and upgrades, sea level rise is a real threat to coastal neighborhoods, homelessness appears to be on the rise, our city staff has suffered from rampant turnover (the fire chief quit yesterday) and we seem to have stopped prioritizing economic development—as evidenced by an empty Office of Economic Development and ugly attacks on just about anyone who wants to invest in Delray Beach.

Despite the serious issues outlined above (and there are more) the three biggest issues in this election appear to be the positioning of a valet stand, how to handle traffic coming and going from a popular shopping center and the settlement of a lawsuit related to our Delray ATP tournament, a lawsuit– mind you– that the city was told it had no chance of winning despite spending hundreds of thousands of dollars. Your dollars.

We can and must do better.

Regardless of where you stand, we all seem to agree that Washington is an intractable mess.

The potential for change, solutions and innovation resides in our cities. But it seems our city is sliding more and more into the abyss of division and dysfunction. We are majoring in the minor when we have big rocks to move.

I’m sure the valet stand issue has merit and I know the traffic flow in and out of Delray Plaza is important to my good friends in Tropic Isle. But, there’s more to Delray, much more.

Where’s the vision?

Where’s the aspiration?

How will we weather climate change?

Do we care about jobs, attainable housing, and better schools?

Or is it all about development and traffic?

We act—if you believe the election mail pieces and social media chatter—as if all development is bad, no more is needed and that somehow we can resist change and pretend that property rights don’t exist.

Let’s talk about those issues shall we?

I get it, people hate traffic and congestion.

They also fear over development and losing the charm of our village by the sea. So do I, as do most of the people I know on both sides of the local divide. But we are not having meaningful conversations on these issues. We are yelling past one another. And it is getting us nowhere.

All candidates say they have a cure for traffic—but the truth is they don’t.

Personally, I find I can get around Delray pretty well, but I can’t say the same for Glades Road in Boca Raton or I-95 which can be parking lots.

Is Atlantic Avenue congested? You betcha. A lot of people worked very hard to make it so. You know what the opposite of congestion is? Empty streets and empty storefronts.

So sure, it takes some time to cruise the Avenue, but if you want to zip around town, please use our grid system, it works pretty well. We made a choice years ago to create a bustling, dynamic and vibrant downtown and we pulled it off.

There are trade-offs when you do that; especially when you succeed and Delray succeeded.

A pretty cool little downtown has been created and it has endured through the Great Recession, hurricanes and all sorts of political shenanigans.

So we may have to slow down– especially in season. We may get caught in traffic if we decide to take Atlantic from Swinton to A1A.

Next time you get annoyed—and I get annoyed too sometimes— consider all the jobs that have been created, all the tax dollars that have been generated, all the great businesses that have sprouted and think about how much more your home is worth than the days when this town was known as “Dull Ray”— a time when you could have gone bowling on Atlantic and not hit anything because it was empty and depressed.

So yes, the bridge will go up every 15 minutes or so, but guess what? It does go down and we will make it across. Parking may be tough—but that’s what they call a good problem to have. It means that people are flocking to your city’s central business district ringing cash registers and supporting the local economy.

We can add more parking infrastructure and pay for it too– if we want too. We can move toward solutions on issues big and small if we insist that our elected officials stop focusing on politics and each other and start focusing on serving the community. All of the community—not just their base of supporters.

As for development, I can understand the concern. But I think the way we are having this conversation is all wrong. All we have to show for it is years of frustration and anger.

Here are some facts to frame the situation:

Things change, it’s the only constant.

Property gets developed and redeveloped.

Owners of property have rights to develop that property within the rules set forth in our codes.

We do not allow tall buildings like our neighbors in Boynton Beach and Boca Raton do. But we do allow buildings that are 54 feet in height in some areas of our downtown.

I have never seen a developer get a height variance. Never.

I have never seen them get a waiver for density either.

I have seen developers create ridiculous inconveniences for long periods of time during construction and that’s something that needs to be looked at.

We had one project that took up a block and a half of parking for a decade right smack in front of small businesses and right now we have a hotel project blocking half of Pineapple Grove which damages a lot of very cool independent mom and pop businesses. There has to be a better way.

There also has to be a better way to discuss development and a better way to disagree on the issues without burning each other’s houses down.

We have to elevate the conversation and not make development a zero sum game where either the investor or the residents lose. We can create win-win scenarios but it will require us to agree that we must be civil when we discuss development or anything else controversial in our community.

Just because you favor a project does not mean that you are on the take or corrupt, it might just mean you like the project and feel it’s needed. Conversely, if you oppose something you are not necessarily a NIMBY, unless of course you oppose everything then maybe the shoe fits.

All I know is right now, everyone seems miserable and I think we need to reframe how we discuss these issues.

We have had a few spectacularly crappy developers come to town. They tend to not build their projects, because they don’t have the requisite skill set to do so.

But we have also had some really talented developers work in Delray, a few who have chosen to live here. While we have had a few developers who have acted like strip miners, taking every morsel and giving little to nothing back, many have been extraordinarily generous with their time and their philanthropic donations.

They have created some pretty special projects too. They have contributed to the vibrancy and to the tax base while taking spectacular risk.

If we chase away all development and treat every project as if it will kill Delray–we can count on taxes increasing and needed projects and services not being funded.

We desperately need— and I believe we desperately crave —real discussion on things like design (example: should we have modern homes on historic Swinton Avenue?), traffic flow, floor area ratios, density and uses.

Right now, there is a one way conversation taking place on social media and in the campaigns that tends to be lacking in facts, context and balance. Discussions about our CRA are especially nauseating because that organization has been invaluable to Delray Beach. I admit to bias on that front, but if you scratch beneath the surface on just about everything that has been accomplished in east Delray over the past 30 plus years you will find the CRA as a driving force for good. Has the agency been perfect? Not on your life. But subtract the agency from the Delray story and our story looks a whole lot different and I would argue a whole lot worse.

But everything begins and ends with the five people we elect to the commission. Get it right and good things happen. Get it wrong….well you can figure it out. Either way, we have to improve the tone of the town.

I make this statement based on watching this stuff for 33 years.

The fact that we are locked in a cycle marked by the politics of personal destruction ought to give us all pause. Because this becomes a spiral to the bottom.

Not only will good people not run for office, they will shy away from the process entirely which means serving on boards, volunteering for key non-profits etc. I would argue this is already happening.

Without casting aspersions, we are seeing some of the ripple effects of the nasty political climate in the sheer number of inexperienced candidates who are running for office in recent cycles.

I maintain and strongly advise that the job of city commissioner is not an entry level position. It is hard to be a good commissioner if you have not put the time in to learn about how the city functions, where it has come from and where it’s going.

You can be educated, sincere, driven and caring—but there is no substitute for time spent in the trenches. There are many candidates running this year that we have never seen involved in past visioning exercises, key boards and organizations. They are introducing themselves to the community in one breath and asking for your vote in the next.

It is important for candidates to have experience before they are given the keys to a $100 million plus budget and responsibility for major decisions that impact our quality of life and our future.

It is also important for the community to get to know the candidates. Do they play well with others? Will they show up at meetings, will they do their homework, can they listen? If they lose a vote, will they move on or will they declare war on those who disagree with them and spend their terms seeking revenge?

There’s simply no way of knowing if we have not seen how they approach community service.

By the way, there are examples for every terrible scenario I just listed—commissioners who are AWOL at key meetings and commissioners or their surrogates who hunt, harass and bully those with whom they disagree.

I am not advocating that we turn politics into some sort of genteel afternoon tea; that’s unrealistic and it never existed even in the good old days. So if you are a bully you should be called out for your behavior. If you have a past you probably should expect it to surface and if you have voted poorly or made mistakes you should be called to account.

Issues are fair game too.

Tough debate on the issues is fair, but we seem fixated on personalities, feuds and alliances.

Lately, I haven’t seen much substantive debate. So I really can’t tell where the candidates stand other than they oppose taxes, crime, traffic and developers. I don’t see any real solutions or any new ideas.

We need both.

Desperately.

I would add that we need aspiration as well.

If you’re ambition as an election official is to block every project, I’d like to ask what you’d like to see happen. If your unofficial tag line is “I’m in the boat, pull up the ladder” when it comes to housing projects, I’d like to know what we tell young families, police officers, teachers and our kids when they ask us where they can live in our city.

I’d like to know how you will pay for hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure repairs and needed services if you don’t build the tax base, down zone already underdeveloped corridors and pledge to cut taxes. If you think you can, you are either lying, terribly naive or you are a magician. I haven’t met too many magicians running for local office.

I think you get the gist.

Wednesday is the day after the election. That’s when—win or lose—we ought to begin a new and better conversation.

The current model isn’t working.

It’s not village like, it doesn’t address our needs and it won’t position us to seize opportunities or solve problems.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From City Hall To The White House

A good farm system…

Two mayors are running for president and if any of them makes it,  they will become a rarity: only Grover Cleveland and Calvin Coolidge went from City Hall to the White House.
The two mayors are Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana and Cory Booker of Newark, New Jersey.

If it’s possible, let’s put partisanship aside for a moment or two.
Can we do that?
Good.

Now let’s focus on whether being a mayor of a city qualifies someone for the most powerful position in the world.
The case against:
—it’s a big leap from City Hall to the Oval Office. One position deals with potholes and variances, the other deals with national security and the global economy.

—mayors move policy through their city council’s, presidents have to deal with 535 members of the House and Senate.

On the local level, if you have a good idea on Tuesday night and a few commissioners agree with you things start to move on Wednesday morning. In Washington, it takes an act of Congress to get action from Congress. Ideas may not even resemble what you proposed by the time it makes its way through committees and to the floor in both the House and the Senate. It’s a wonder anything gets done. Come to think of it, not much does.

Good mayors are used to getting things done.
The case for:
–Good mayors work on more than potholes, they are involved in economic development, education, civic engagement, urban planning, transportation and the health and safety of their communities.
They tend to come with a bias toward action and tend to look at issues practically and in a fact-based manner. They are not partisan. That’s a good thing.
–Most mayors develop a thick skin.
That will come in handy on the national stage. We are, after all, a nation of critics.
Mayors understand this because they can’t go anywhere without facing criticism—not the grocery, gas station, to their favorite social media hangout or to dinner without running into someone who seems to live for the chance to insult, berate or complain to you.
Truth is, most people are nice and very sweet. And that’s what makes being a mayor worth it. But if you are in the arena (and mayors are) you will suffer your fair share of slings and arrows–mostly from the cheap seats, i.e. people who don’t have ideas or contribute.

Of course, as President, the Secret Service won’t let you mingle too much with the people. Which is sad but understandable. Mayors can’t hide, but neither can presidents.

Now I’m of the belief that partisan politics is for the birds.

Nothing gets done which is anathema to good mayors who always have a bias for action and decision making.
So I’m thinking that the idea of a mayor as POTUS is not such a bad concept.

Good mayors know how to promote their cities, grow their economies, bring people together, solve problems and serve the needs of constituents. Those are skills that translate.

We’ve had a haberdasher (Truman), a slew of lawyers (I will resist the lawyer jokes), a couple of generals, a community organizer and a reality TV star.
I’ll take my chances on a mayor.

But only a good one.

A Leadership Opportunity Emerges

The winning bidder’s project is called Alta West.

When you go to the few neighborhood hangouts that are left, talk often turns to local happenings.

So when I ventured downtown after the CRA decision to award six acres of land to a local developer recently, I was asked what I thought about the project. The short answer is I don’t know, because I haven’t really been following the drama.

I didn’t spend five hours or so watching the video feed, didn’t go to the usual social media haunts where armchair “experts” opine (often without any facts) and didn’t talk to any of the players involved. As a hometown guy I just hope they picked the best project. That’s their job.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion on the big picture.

I do.

And as an armchair quarterback myself these days I don’t mind sharing.

The day after the vote my friend and neighbor Commissioner Bill Bathurst posted a cartoon on Facebook that kind of sums up America these days. The cartoon depicts a large group of people walking along a path toward hate, division and intolerance and only a few walking down a path labeled critical thinkers and the truth.

So even though I don’t visit the political pages on Facebook anymore,  I can’t help but bump into the noise that is out there. Some of it is really good analysis, but a great deal of it is angry diatribes and the settling of personal scores. Unfortunately, what’s best for the community gets lost in the commotion.

So here is my armchair analysis, based on nearly 32 years of following things in Delray. All provided with the proviso that I have never looked at any of the projects submitted to redevelop the CRA property on West Atlantic Avenue.

First and foremost—we are flying without navigation; therefore I don’t think we have a unified vision. If we do have one, I don’t see it.

We used to have one back in the late 80s, 90s and early 2000s. But we’ve gone a long while without a blueprint that the community can agree on. And if there is a vision—say the Set Transformation Plan for one important part of town (but not all of Delray)—it doesn’t help if the city is not on board. Visions drive goals, budgets and ultimately accountability. How can we evaluate our progress, if we don’t  know where we’re going? Sadly, personal scores fill the vacuum when leadership fails to provide a forum for the community to create a vision.

Look no further than Washington D.C. to see what happens when there is no unified vision.

The place simply doesn’t function.

So even when we agree that we need to have comprehensive immigration reform, fix our infrastructure and improve our health care system we don’t have a framework or a methodology for doing any of it. So all we see is partisan warfare, skirmishes, sound bites, gridlock and dysfunction. When something does get done, we’re actually surprised. Which is really sad when you stop and think about it.

This level of dysfunction is why people are angry—because all they see and hear is pettiness and empty sound bites—not the critical thinking, fact based decision making and yes compromise that is needed to solve problems and seize opportunities.

In the last few weeks, there have been a lot of articles about mayors running for president and some have declared their intention to do so or are considering a bid.

Why?
Because—in theory anyway—mayors are supposed to be problem solvers. The best use their “soft power” to convene people and focus attention on issues that need to be solved or opportunities that their cities should pursue. That’s what effective mayors do. Mayors that matter.

Ineffective mayors divide or simply hide by “keeping their own counsel” or just placating their base and ignoring the rest of the community’s stakeholders.

The awarding of an RFP after years of property aggregation, planning and a laborious RFP (request for proposals) process should be the cause of celebration and excitement.

After all, private investment is coming to an area that needs it.

Jobs will be created.

Property values will increase.

New businesses will take root.

It’s opportunity.

But I’m not sure that’s what I’m seeing. There doesn’t seem to be any excitement or pride in the process that led us here.

Of course, I could be wrong. But it seems that several of the decision makers were less than happy with the process and the politics—even those on the prevailing side.

There’s a large group of stakeholders who celebrated that one applicant wasn’t chosen but didn’t seem to be happy with the outcome either.

Maybe that’s the world today, but I refuse to accept that cynical view. The beauty of local government is we don’t have to act like the nitwits in Washington whom I believe history will judge very harshly, we can decide to do better. We can decide to be better. It’s a choice we can make.

That’s the leadership opportunity.

Fact is, this RFP should not have taken several  years to award. That fact alone is indicative of the dysfunction that has invaded our politics right here at home.

Again, I’m not involved in this issue and don’t plan to be. But it doesn’t mean that I don’t care or that I don’t have a voice that I plan to use.

I live here. I have an obligation and a right to care. But we seem to be stuck in a climate of division and paranoia. That’s the real issue here and the one we should all care about.

I’ll give you a personal example. At some point along this multi-year RFP odyssey, a wannabe political lackey was calling around trying to sniff out whether I had a dog in this hunt. I can assure you the information the lackey was seeking was not in an effort to help.  The effort was an intelligence gathering operation designed to settle an old score or make points with some power broker they wanted to impress. Nowhere in this effort was there a desire to make sure that the best project possible for Delray would be chosen.

The lackey could have called me but didn’t. I assure you the conversation would have been short and probably not that sweet. But I would have given some needed advice: stop looking behind every bush and start getting things done for Delray.

Simple advice. You don’t have to be a management guru to figure it out.

But getting things done—once Delray’s calling card and the reason for any success we’ve enjoyed—is a muscle that seems to have atrophied on some key projects and in some key areas.

This isn’t a shot at anyone. It really isn’t.

But it is a call to arms so to speak.

There is a lot to be done here.

Such as the continuing redevelopment of West Atlantic Avenue and The Set. The operative word is continuing because those politicos who spout that nothing has been done can write or call me and I will be happy to give them a personal tour of the progress that has been made by a CRA that has been ruthlessly and unfairly been maligned by people who ought to know better.

Saying that nothing has been done is not only untrue, it is disrespectful to a whole lot of people who have rolled up their sleeves for decades and made some good things happen. I can give you a list if you need it.

Nobody has ever said that more investment or more progress wasn’t needed. But if we are to get unstuck we have to start from a basis of truth and respect.  We have to rebuild trust that I think once existed however imperfect that trust has been through the years.

We need to decide as a community that we want to get things done, function better and more efficiently and yes treat each other better. That doesn’t mean that we have to hold hands and sing ‘kumbaya’ on the grounds of Old School Square. Vigorous debate, critical thinking and accountability are essential ingredients.

We need to elevate the conversation in Delray Beach and just as important we need to put the community first and start to get things done—like we used to do.

 

 

The Restless Wave

“Maybe I’ll be gone before you read this. … I’m getting prepared. I have some things I’d like to take care of first, some work that needs finishing, and some people I need to see … I made a small place for myself in the story of America and the history of my times. … The bell tolls for me. I knew it would … I hope those who mourn my passing, and those who don’t, will celebrate as I celebrate ,a happy life lived in imperfect service to a country made of ideals, whose continued success is the hope of the world. And I wish all of you great adventures, good company, and lives as lucky as mine.” -John McCain in his new book “The Restless Wave.”

 
John McCain is quite a man. 
If we can put partisanship aside– for just a moment– and focus on our common humanity, our love of country and basic empathy we might be able to agree that Senator McCain is an extraordinary man who has lived an “imperfect” but remarkable life. 
Personally, I don’t share much of his politics, but I admire much about him. 
I admire his patriotism. I admire his sincerity and I admire his willingness to be a maverick and speak his truth to power. Even if  it doesn’t mirror party orthodoxy—especially when it doesn’t meet party orthodoxy. 
People respond to Senator McCain not just because he’s willing to “stick it to the man” –as one of my Leadership Florida classmates used to say– it’s because he can be counted on to speak his mind regardless of circumstance or consequence. 
John McCain typically does not go along to get along—and on the rare occasion that he did—it cost him. I’m referring to his choice of Sarah Palin as a running mate in 2008 when he wanted to choose his friend Joe Lieberman. 
His illness brings to mind my late mother’s struggle with cancer. She had lung cancer that spread to the brain and so I empathize greatly with Senator McCain’s struggle. 
Cancer is a horrendous disease. And when it enters your brain it’s positively horrifying. 
But like my mother, John McCain is facing his fate bravely, with strength and dignity. He’s become a model of grace to so many in an era where grace is in short supply but desperately needed.
Regardless of political persuasion, I think most of us could agree that our cities, counties, school boards, state governments and federal government would be better off if they were populated by elected officials who spoke their minds, were willing to buck convention and had something more in mind than their next election. 
When I was elected to the Delray Beach City Commission in 2000, I found a quote in one of the city related magazines we used to get. 
Being an elected official was “a job to do, not a job to have” it read.
The quote grabbed me and so I clipped it out of the magazine and put it in my wallet where I managed to see it everyday. 
I strived to live up to the ideal—even if at times I fell short. After all, as Senator McCain reminds us, we are all imperfect. 
Still, when newly elected officials ask for advice I repeat the quote. And I often follow with something former Mayor Tom Lynch used to say: “vote your conscience. Be willing to lose an election if it means doing the right thing.” 
Too many officials at all levels of government don’t live up to this fundamental ideal. Too many go along to get along, refuse to speak their mind, stay silent when they need to lead and then wonder why nobody respects them. Too many spend their precious time in office rewarding friends and punishing enemies. Then one day, it’s over and we are all left to wonder: what did they do to help the people they were elected to serve? In too many cases, the answer is not much. When they fail, we the people bear the brunt.
I may not agree with Senator McCain on many issues. But I sure do respect him. So do his colleagues from what I’ve been told by people who would know. 
We could use more politicians who stand for something (even if we don’t agree with that something), speak their minds, vote their conscience and understand that public service is a job to do, not a job to have. 

Threads

“If you don’t know why something is working when it is, you won’t know how to fix it when it breaks.” – Craig Groeschel

 

There’s a lot of writing about cities that refers to something called the  “civic fabric.”

Civic fabric refers to the framework/structure/material that make up communities.

The best leaders add to the fabric—they strengthen, invest in and tend to the framework that make places special.

The opposite of leadership is tearing at the fabric.

When you start to pull threads, you risk fraying the material and risking the structure.

For five years, in my opinion, we have torn viciously at the fabric—and as a result 30 plus years of municipal progress, civic pride and the marrow that makes our community special is at risk.

It doesn’t give me or others who feel the same way I do pleasure to write those sentences. And speaking truth to power certainly hasn’t been easy. Those who do pay a price…civic projects, causes, businesses, non-profits and friends have been hurt because they have not gone along to get along.

That’s OK.

It’s important to be able to look in the mirror and say you have stood up for your beliefs.

But the temptation is there to capitulate or just throw in the towel.

After all, you might be granted approvals for your projects or initiatives, instead of seeing them litigated, delayed and ridiculed—even if you have a contract (Matchpoint), won an RFP (iPic) or played by the city’s rules (Atlantic Crossing).

My advice: don’t.

Don’t give up.

Continue to stand up, speak your piece and move forward.

If your favorite candidate won the election last night, congratulations.

Local elections can be brutal affairs.

The arguments are personal because we see the combatants around town—we live in each other’s neighborhoods, go to the same stores and restaurants and know each other’s friends and supporters.

But if you won, the work is just beginning.

Serving in local elected office—or any elected office—is a privilege and an honor. As is winning an election. But all it means is that you have a chance to serve and an opportunity to make a difference.

You’re on first base, you still have to get home. And we hope you do, because if you succeed the community succeeds. We all win.

If you lost last night, it’s hard.

I’ve backed many candidates who have lost. It happens. I’ve backed a few winners too.

If you backed someone you believe in, take pride in that. Because something as precious as your hometown should not be about picking winners, it should be about backing someone you believe in.

I believe in Ryan Boylston and was pleased to see a talented young leader with ideas and aspirations for Delray win. Our newspaper endorsed Adam Frankel and he won over an impressive debut from Eric Camacho who I hope runs again. We are also pleased to see Bill Bathurst, a lifelong Delray resident, get elected unopposed. Bill is a very nice man with a lot of ideas and a tremendous passion for Delray.

Many—myself included– were disappointed to see Jim Chard lose, but we want to see Shelly Petrolia succeed as our next mayor because cities do better when mayors succeed.

For those who are disappointed, my advice is to play the long game and stick to your beliefs, because over time it pays off.

My hope is that the new mayor and commissioners are servant leaders who engage, listen, unite, compromise and learn on the job.

Because the fabric begins to fray when favorites are played and rules are ignored, bent, spindled and mutilated to reward friends or punish enemies.

The fabric tears when a city’s volunteers and staff feel put upon, disrespected and disparaged; when City Hall becomes a place you fear rather than a trusted partner.

We are a city in need of healing. That’s my opinion and that’s why I backed who I backed.

That doesn’t change regardless of outcome.

To those who don’t feel that we are in need of healing, you ought to talk to the volunteers in this town or the employees who often can’t afford to speak out so they either remain silent or vote with their feet and leave us for other cities.

That said, I vowed after this election to take a break from some of the local sites on social media regardless of the outcome.

While I’ve never participated in most of them, I did look at one in particular run by good people. But when I found myself arguing with someone I grew up, I decided that it was a sign to cease and desist.

It’s not the folks I’ve never (or barely met) that bother me—how can they because we don’t know each other?

It’s when the people you do know start buying into a narrative that you know in your bones is false, that you need to step away because it’s no good for anyone.

I’m beginning to believe that social media is tearing at the fabric of our community.

I want to revisit this idea of civic fabric, because when you start to pull threads you don’t know which one will trigger the collapse.

Is it losing the St. Patrick’s Day Parade after 50 years? Is it telling every craft brewery to look elsewhere?
Is it calling the CEO of a publicly traded company who wants to come here that he’s an “amateur?”

Is it referring to the founder of Old School Square as “that woman?” Or is it telling your police officers and firefighters that they are replaceable?

I’m not sure. But I know those are examples of pulling threads—ripping at the fabric.

I want to see leaders who lift us up. That’s their primary job, even when (maybe especially when) we see things differently.

 

 

 

Leadership Is The Most Important Currency

Tina Turner was right.

A couple of years ago, a good friend of mine sent me an article about one of my favorite subjects: leadership.

 

There are a lot of articles and books about leadership and to be honest a great many of them miss the mark, but this particular article was one of the best I’ve ever read on the subject and I feel the need to tell you about it especially as voters go to the polls in Delray and Boca on March 13.

 

Basically, the author argues that there are two styles of leadership: a “hero” and a “host.”

 

The hero leader takes everything on by herself; he or she assumes all responsibilities and wants to be seen as the savior; the hero per se of the story.

 

Inevitably, hero leaders fail, because nobody– regardless of talent, intellect and energy level–can do it all. No man or woman, as the saying goes is an island.

 

Once the hero slips, we are quick to abandon them as yet another in a long line of people who failed to live up to their promises.

 

So what happens? Well, invariably we look for a new and better hero and the cycle continues building cynicism every step of the way.

 

We have all seen the hero phenomenon play out in our lives, whether it’s a hot shot CEO who is going to come in and turn it all around or a candidate who is going to get under the hood and by sheer force of will fix what everybody else has been unable to mend.

 

It’s the story of American politics at every level of government.

 

Which is why so many of us are disgusted right around this time of year as we cope with a barrage of expensive and slick campaign ads telling us how (fill in the blank) is going to fight for the people and fix everything from crime and taxes to schools and  traffic.

 

But the crop of heroes will fail. It’s inevitable.

 

So are we relegated to an endless cycle of failure, frustration and phonies? Or is there a better way?

Fortunately, there is a better and much more effective leadership style—that of the host, not the hero.

 

The host is a collaborator, a motivator, a convener and an alchemist who brings people and resources together to tackle problems, meet challenges and seize opportunities.

 

He or she doesn’t try to do it alone and does not pretend to have all the answers.

 

Rather, they believe in the wisdom of the crowd and in hosting conversations and problem solving exercises that really and truly move the needle.

 

I happen to think this is the best leadership approach possible. Not only does it involve people, but it challenges them to think and work together. And when they do come up with solutions , there is automatic buy-in because they were part of the process. They were engaged, someone bothered to ask them what they thought and trusted in their abilities to figure things out.

 

Can this work on a local level?

Absolutely, Delray Beach is a prime example of a community that re-invented itself through visioning, and extensive and ongoing community engagement beginning with the Atlantic Avenue Task Force in the mid-80s, Visions 2000 in the late 80s and 90s and through the Citizen’s Downtown Master Planning Process in the 2000s. And then we stopped.

 

We get in trouble when we veer away from that formula either through failing to engage residents or having elected officials think they are heroes who can do it all, and let us know about it later.

 

Can it work on the national level?

Well, that’s a trickier beast to deal with. But perhaps it could… if presidents saw themselves (and more importantly) we viewed them as above partisanship and if somehow they could lead by “hosting” rather than dictating policies. But this only works if Congress can get over its hyper-partisanship and remember they are there to do a job and get things done for Americans; a simple concept that seems to be hopelessly lost at the moment.

 

Regardless, next time you see a mayor beating his chest, or a gubernatorial candidate promising to save Florida remember the host and hero dynamic and ask yourself when the last time someone succeeded without being a host.

A Man For All Seasons

A painting of Churchill by his granddaughter.

We went to see a magnificent exhibit at the Society of the Four Arts last weekend.
“A Man for All Seasons; The Art of Winston Churchill” features paintings and notebooks from the legendary British leader.
Churchill took up painting in his 40s and it quickly became a passion. It lifted his dark moods and he became quite prolific.
As you meander through the exhibit (and you should catch it before it closes Jan. 14) you can see Churchill’s growth as an artist. He just gets better and better.
And you marvel..
At his art.
At his sculpture.
At his writing.
Not to mention his speaking and his amazing mind.
It makes you wonder—do people like him still exist?
Where are the giants? Where are the leaders?
As we walked to the car– having spent the past two days or so being bombarded with what sadly has become a steady drumbeat of political claptrap in our society– we briefly discussed why many (maybe most) of our best and brightest shun political office.
And we are not just talking about president or prime minister, senator or governor. Lots of good people are avoiding running for local office too.
Now that doesn’t mean that there aren’t superstars who run or serve—there are.
But not enough.
And if we’re honest, we know why.
While politics has never been genteel, civil, nice or easy it just feels particularly nasty, unusually small and extra frustrating these days.
It’s the inability to compromise, the competing sets of “facts”, the ridiculous trolls running their mouths on social media (often devoid of facts, empathy, context, respect or personal experience). It’s overwhelming.
Winston Churchill would have related to today’s ennui.
He once said about politics: “In war, you can only be killed once. But in politics many times.”
And yet..we need the Winston Churchill’s to do what they do.
Lead us. Inspire us. Save us from despots and fascists. And yes..paint.  So that we can marvel at their genius.
So that we can remember that having adults in our midst makes all the difference…

The Marble Room

Departing Alabama Sen. Luther Strange.

It’s a steady drum beat.

Day after day.

Headline after headline.

Tweet after tweet.

An endless gaggle of TV talking heads and partisan hacks that make you want to gag.

But despite all the efforts to disparage, destroy, discredit and dismiss—not much changes.

Problems remain unsolved. Opportunities go unclaimed.

There’s a reason why the electorate is mad and it’s because very few politicians seem to get it.

Americans want results—not feuds. Americans want solutions not talking points, fundraising pitches and legislation that’s so arcane that only the lobbyists understand what’s really in a bill—or at least the parts they paid for.

Senator Luther Strange of Alabama is stepping down in the New Year. He lost a primary battle to Roy Moore—you may have seen a story or a thousand about Roy in the past few weeks. Last night he lost in a special election.

But before Strange left, he went to the floor of the Senate and gave a speech. I heard about his speech from a friend who lives in Alabama and so I sought it out online. It’s a good one. His message will probably get lost, but it shouldn’t. Because he diagnoses what’s wrong and gives us a path back to a time when people on both sides of the political aisle realized that ultimately they were there to serve the American people, not their party or their base but their country.

I thought I’d share Sen. Strange’s comments. In their entirety. I hope you read his remarks. Because the lessons we can draw from them—if we choose to listen—can apply to all levels of government. We need those marble rooms—that I hope you’ll read about below– in our cities, towns, states and counties. So put aside your partisanship for a few minutes, pack away your disdain for a few of the names he praises and try and concentrate on the message. We can sure use some marble rooms around here.

“Mr. President, I rise today to address my colleagues for the last time. After nearly a year in this chamber, I am both its newest member and the next to depart. As such, I have both the optimism of a young student and the battle scars of a man in the arena. Today, I’d like to offer my colleagues some observations from the perspective of my unique circumstances.

 

My fellow Senators and I come from different places. We were raised differently, and we have lived differently. In coming to serve in the world’s greatest deliberative body, we have carried and tested different notions of America.

 

There is, however, one reality that transcends our individual experiences. In this room, we are each humbled by history. The Senate has been a forum for some of the great debates of our Republic. It has shaped, and been shaped by, citizen legislators from every state of the Union. We are awed by the strength of an institution that has weathered great challenges, and the wisdom of those who first envisioned it.

 

As I rise today in that spirit, I’d like to shed light on a page of Senate history that bears great significance in our current political climate.

 

Mr. President, across the hall behind you is a space known as the Marble Room. In a building that is home to so many breathtaking historic sights, this alcove has a singular beauty, and a story worth telling.

 

As part of the 1850s expansion of the Senate’s chambers, the Marble Room began as a public gathering place, and has been frequented over the decades by politicians and protesters alike. When the Union army camped on the grounds of the Capitol during the Civil War, soldiers even used its fireplaces for cooking.

 

For over sixty years, the Marble Room was steeped in the life of the American citizen. It hosted meetings with advocates, constituents, and the free press. It became a very tangible example of our nation’s experiment in representative government.

 

In March, 1921, it took on a new, equally important purpose. The space was reserved by the Rules Committee as an escape for Senators from the crowded halls of the Capitol, and the windowless, smoke-filled rooms where they often gathered off the floor.

 

It became the place where Senators of all stripes would come to catch their breath and take their armor off. Some would nap, some would eat lunch, and all would end up forming bonds that rose above politics.

 

Today, the Marble Room is nearly always empty. This emptiness symbolizes something that worries me about today’s politics. It is likely both a symptom and a cause of the partisan gridlock that often dominates this chamber.

 

But the story of that room – the interplay between citizen and institution; between pragmatism and principle – is the story of the Senate, and in some ways the story of republican government in America.

 

Mr. President, what was once an incubator for collegiality and bipartisanship has become a glaring reminder of the divisions that we have allowed to distract us from the business of the American people.

 

We each remain humbled by the history of the Marble Room. We stand in awe of the traditions of this hallowed body. But too often we fail to let this history be our guide through today’s political challenges.

 

Mr. President, my time in the Senate has reinforced for me what it means to balance principle and pragmatism, to serve the people of my state honorably, and it has taught me how to navigate the turbulent waters of Washington.

 

I imagine that our predecessors who spent time together in the Marble Room wrestled with similar questions. After all, the issues we face today are not all that different. This body has been strained before – it has bent, but not broken.

 

Finding lasting solutions to our nation’s problems does not require reinventing the wheel. Our forefathers have done it before, and they’ve done it right across the hall.

 

 

Mr. President, I spent my early years growing up in Sylacauga, Alabama, about 40 miles outside of Birmingham. My first hometown is known as “the Marble City” for the swath of high-quality stone it sits on, 32 miles long and as much as 600 feet deep.

 

Sylacauga marble is widely recognized for its pure white color and fine texture, and here in Washington, we are surrounded by it. It is set into the ceiling of the Lincoln Memorial, the halls of the Supreme Court, and was used by renowned sculptor Gutzon Borglum to create the bust of Abraham Lincoln on display in the crypt downstairs.

 

Sylacauga marble is used in places infused with tradition and deep history. It is used to enshrine important landmarks. It ensures that memories of the past will stand the test of time to inform the decisions of the future.

 

In a small house in the Marble City, I was raised by a family that instilled in me a deep and abiding reverence for history and tradition.

 

My father was a Navy veteran and my only uncle, a West Point graduate killed in service during World War II, was actually born on the 4th of July.

 

As you can imagine, Mr. President, I didn’t need fireworks or parades to understand the significance of our Independence Day – the look in my mother’s eyes as she remembered her brother’s birthday was enough.

 

Forged in service and sacrifice, my family understood the blessing of living in America, and the price of passing its freedoms on to the next generation.

 

Thanks to this generation before me – the greatest generation – I grew up strong in Alabama. At a young age, I was introduced to the Boy Scouts of America. From volunteer troop leaders to the older scouts I would look to as examples, the Boy Scouts created an environment of selfless service. As a Scout, I learned to appreciate the institutions of American society, and my role as a citizen.

 

By age thirteen, I was an Eagle Scout traveling to Washington on a school trip to see this great experiment in representative government up close. As I tell every young person who has visited my office this year, that experience gave me an appreciation of the value of public service.

 

Mr. President, I often wonder, if we all approached our duties here with the unblemished optimism of a young student on a field trip, whether we couldn’t accomplish more in Congress.

 

Of course, the strength of this body and the remarkable foresight of our Founders run deeper than an elementary school civics class. For me, the next pivotal moment came as an undergraduate at Tulane University in the spring and summer of 1973.

 

Some of you may be surprised to learn that I played basketball in college. In between practice and part-time jobs, I found time to watch the newly-formed Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities begin its investigation of the Watergate scandal.

 

In that moment, our nation stepped into uncharted territory. The strength of our Constitution was tested like never before. Would the pursuit of justice overcome politics? Would the institution of the Presidency be forever changed? What are the responsibilities of citizens of a republic, when the republic’s institutions are tested?

 

It was during that spring semester of 1973 that I began to understand the tremendous power of the rule of law. It is guarded by representatives who swear to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

 

When my basketball playing years ran out, it was this realization that led me to go to law school. My new game would be learning the ins and outs of this system that ensured the rights our Founders envisioned. My new team would be my fellow students, who would go on to practice law and serve our nation at all levels of government.

 

Mr. President, as so many of our colleagues know, the path from practicing law to writing it is well-traveled. I was fortunate to travel it with the help of some of Alabama’s finest public servants.

 

As a young attorney, I first met one of them for breakfast in the cafeteria of the Department of Justice. When I realized I had forgotten my wallet, he paid for my meal. Jeff Sessions has continued to pay it forward to this day as a dear friend and mentor of mine.

 

Mr. President, Jeff Sessions is both a gracious statesman and a man of principle. It is not far-fetched to say that some of this temperament rubbed off on him from our state’s senior Senator, Richard Shelby.

 

Over thirty years ago, I was introduced to then-Congressman Shelby by my friend, former Secretary of the Senate Joe Stewart. As a young lawyer, I learned from a man fast-becoming a legendary legislator. He would become one of my most treasured friends, sharing many days hunting together in the fields of Alabama and elsewhere, and many more stories shared here in the halls of the Capitol.

 

Together, Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby represent the finest Alabama has to offer to our nation. Following in their footsteps here in the Senate is an honor I will forever treasure.

 

The example of these men inspired me to get involved in public service. As the Attorney General of Alabama, and Senators, they approached elected office with an unparalleled reverence for the rule of law.

 

I spoke earlier about the balance of pragmatism and principle, and in doing so I had my friends in mind. When I was elected Attorney General of Alabama in 2010, I drew heavily on their examples of principled conservative leadership.

 

Mr. President, in this body we are too often convinced that standing for deeply-held principles is incompatible with pragmatism. In the six years I served as Attorney General, I learned that this could not be further from the truth.

 

Serving my state in that capacity required balance above all else. I had an obligation to the people of Alabama who elected me to fight for the conservative victories they were counting on. I also had a solemn duty to rise above politics and follow the law and the truth wherever they led.

 

Make no mistake – during my two terms as Attorney General, I took every opportunity to defend the Constitution, the rule of law, and the people of Alabama against federal government overreach.

 

Together with other state Attorneys General, I worked to protect farmers and ranchers from an EPA rule that would turn puddles in their fields into federally-regulated ecosystems. We stood up against threats to religious liberty and the Second Amendment, and took the fight over an illegal executive amnesty program all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. On these, and many other issues, we stood for the rule of law and we won.

 

So, Mr. President, I don’t have to prove my commitment to conservative principles.

 

At the same time, I have a record of upholding the rule of law even when my own party goes astray. I have the scars to show for it. Over my six years in the state capitol of Montgomery, I assembled a nationally-renowned team of prosecutors behind a common goal: to root out public corruption.

 

This pursuit led to the convictions of several corrupt public officials in the state of Alabama, including a county sheriff complicit in human trafficking – the first successful prosecution of its kind in decades.

 

My team took on Alabama’s Republican Speaker of the House for ethics violations, leading to his removal from office and a prison sentence. As you might imagine, we didn’t make many friends in the political establishment by doing so, but we shored up public trust in our representative government.

 

For their commitment to fighting public corruption, my team has been recognized by the National Association of Attorneys General as a gold standard. I’ve personally had the opportunity to address my former colleagues from both sides of aisle who are focusing on the same goal in their own states. More than any fleeting partisan achievement, it is work like this of which I am the most proud.

 

When faced with crises, we rose to a calling higher than politics. After the tragic Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 decimated communities and ecosystems along the Gulf Coast, I was appointed by the Court as coordinating counsel for the Gulf Coast states in the historic litigation. My team won the trial and negotiated a $2.3 billion dollar settlement for the state of Alabama.

 

Our work on the spill case built consensus and found common ground. It brought together the interests of fiscal conservatives and environmental advocates, and we delivered results because it was the right thing to do. While victims of the Alaska spill in 1989 waited 22 years for settlement, the Attorney General’s office delivered justice and set a gold standard for responding quickly and effectively to the needs of Gulf Coast communities.

 

After all, Mr. President, the institutions our founders laid out in the Constitution are only as strong as the people’s belief in their strength. When America no longer trusts that its representatives are remaining true to their oaths, the entire system loses its value.

 

As the most recent Senator to take the oath, I remember the feeling of the Bible under my left hand. I remember reflecting on a verse it contains that has brought me peace in times of challenge. Proverbs 19:21 says “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”

 

I remember raising my right hand, here in the well where so many others have gone before – many of whom likely found it difficult to discern what exactly the Lord’s purpose was in that moment.

 

Each of them came to this body in the face of significant national challenges. Some faced violent conflict, others an economic crisis.

 

Our forebears would not be surprised by the issues before this body today. But I do believe they would be surprised, and discouraged, by the emptiness of the Marble Room.

 

 

Mr. President, the policy challenges we face are not new ones. This body debates a budget resolution every single year. Many years, it also faces questions of war and conflict overseas. At least once every decade or so, it faces some tectonic crisis of the economy.

 

As a lifelong student of history, I am reassured by stories of the grave crises that have been addressed on this very floor. In this chamber, the post-Civil War Senate ensured that the nation stayed the course of healing and reunification. In this chamber, the Senate put politics aside to defeat the rise of fascism in Europe, and guided the creation of a new 20th century world order.

 

On this floor, long-overdue support for civil rights was won, vote by vote. This struggle is held vividly in the memory of my home state. In the early 1960s, my elementary school outside Birmingham was segregated. By 1971, I was taking the court with three young black men – teammates, classmates and friends – to play for the state basketball championship.

 

As our nation evolves, the traditions and history of the Senate demand that this institution meet each new challenge, armed with the will of the American people.

 

And as I watched with the rest of the country, it was on this floor that the Senate restored faith in our institutions by delivering justice after Watergate.

 

The idea that the chaos and upheaval that we see today are somehow unique falls flat in the face of monumental history. Pundits and politicians alike are too quick to speak in superlatives, but chaos and change are nothing new.

 

The Senate was designed to endure, and rooms of marble are built to last.

 

Studying Senate history puts the issues of today in perspective, but it also sheds light on the true challenge of our generation – a newer, more serious threat to the future of this institution and its traditions.

 

You see, the Senate was designed to accommodate conflict and profound disagreement. It was not, however, designed to tolerate the entrenched factionalism that dominates today’s proceedings. It was not designed for the people’s representatives to hunker down in private rooms, emerging only long enough to cast votes.

 

There are a hundred seats in this chamber. Each was contested and hard-earned, but they are rarely all occupied. The cameras likely don’t show it from this angle, but many of them before me today are empty.

 

The less time we spend in the same room, the easier it becomes to view our colleagues on the other side of the aisle as obstacles instead of opportunities.

 

What do I mean by opportunities?

 

Mr. President, our generation of leaders will be judged by history on whether we strove to heal the divisions of this body and our nation. In pursuit of that goal, every member of this body is an opportunity to grow in understanding.

 

And yet, compromise has become a dirty word in American politics, and it’s a serious threat to our hopes of advancing meaningful policy.

 

It seems that reasonable Americans understand what we are called to do better than we do. A farmer in Alabama once told me that “if my wife sends me to the store to buy a dozen eggs and there are only a half dozen left, I’ll come home with a half dozen.”

 

On this floor, we have the power to bring home a half dozen eggs, and even make it a dozen for the American people. We have the power to be a profound force for good.

 

After all, compromise was baked into the Founders’ design. At the heart of our system of checks and balances is an understanding that no one branch, and certainly no one partisan faction, will get everything it wants, all the time.

 

From the very beginning, compromise allowed our nation to embrace both the republicanism of Thomas Jefferson and the federalism of Alexander Hamilton. The very structure of this body is a result of the Connecticut Compromise of 1787, which accommodated proponents of both equal and proportional representation.

 

The authors of this pragmatic solution, Roger Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth, are depicted on the wall outside this chamber, not far from the Marble Room, where their example of finding common ground would be practiced for years to come.

 

Mr. President, in the shadow of these founding debates, political voices today are arguing louder and louder about smaller and smaller things. It is easy for those outside this chamber to insist that they know what should be done. As long as we remain so deeply divided, these outside voices will always win.

 

When I leave the Senate, I hope to have lived up to the words of a different voice. On April 23, 1910, in a time of change, as the United States was coming to define a new world order, President Teddy Roosevelt delivered a now-famous message, which bears repeating:

 

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

 

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasm, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

 

Here today, our nation faces challenges like it did during Watergate 43 years ago, and like it did in the time of Roosevelt 107 years ago. When we have each left this great body, I know we would like to be remembered as men and women in the arena – as people who spent themselves in worthy causes.

 

I am convinced – the worthiest cause we can join today is a return to the collegiality, the pragmatism, and yes, the compromise, of the Marble Room.

 

 

Mr. President, as I leave the Senate, I am indebted to so many – to those who have helped me become the man I am today, to the colleagues who have welcomed me as a partner in the people’s business, and to the great state of Alabama which I have had the immense honor to serve.

 

I thank God every day for the blessing of my wife, Melissa, my children and grandchildren. Greeting every day assured by their love and support has made my work here possible.

 

I thank my staff in Alabama and here in Washington, who have risen to the task of serving our great state through troubling times. Their tireless dedication reminds me that there is a bright future within reach.

 

I thank the staff of the Senate serving here on the floor and in the cloakrooms, the U.S. Capitol Police, and all those who preserve, protect, and defend this hallowed institution.

 

I thank each of my colleagues for the privilege of joining them in service. The friends and working partners I have found here in the Senate give me great hope that in the right hands, this experiment in representative government will long endure.

 

I thank the men of principle who have served Alabama with honor for years before me – Jeff Sessions, for his example of deep reverence for this institution, and Richard Shelby, especially for his friendship and guidance during my time in the Senate.

 

Finally, Mr. President, I thank the people of my state. Alabama is a beautiful place, and millions of hardworking people call it home. As I look back on my career, I am most proud of the last seven years I have spent working on their behalf, both in Montgomery and here in Washington.

 

 

Mr. President, in preparing my remarks for today, I spent a lot of time in the Marble Room. I reflected on the stone that built it, and the bedrock of my hometown.

 

I thought about the lawmakers who frequented it years ago. I thought about the challenges they faced – their own principled stands and pragmatic negotiations. Most importantly, I thought about the common ground they found there. Off the record and away from the cameras, this space presents us with an opportunity to once again find balance.

 

Balance between principle and pragmatism in the Senate would reflect the very spirit of America, which is defined by balance.

 

The zeal for adventure that won the West and put human footsteps on the face of the Moon is balanced by a reverence for tradition and our founding principles – individual liberty, the rule of law, and the pursuit of happiness.

 

The entrepreneurial drive that built great cities and today drives innovators to ask “what’s next” is balanced by a solemn remembrance of the struggle and sacrifice that have paved the way.

 

The Senate is the sacred place that was designed to embrace this spirit of America; to lose the art of balance and compromise in this body is to lose something essentially American.

 

If we cannot find shared cause – shared purpose – in the quiet corners of that space across the hall, then we may never find it here on the floor of the Senate, where the critics are so quick to point out how “the doers of deeds could have done them better.” As I prepare to leave this esteemed body, I urge my colleagues, who will face many more challenges ahead, to take these words to heart.

 

For the sake of our nation, I urge them to return to the Marble Room.

 

Mr. President, I yield the floor.”