Thursday, October 25, 2007

Vickie Pearson

Summary Paragraph: In which Menin remembers a hero of his.

On Mary Baker Eaton's blog today, she has written about as fair a representation of who I am as I could have asked for.

One point that could bear some clarification is that normally, School Committee terms are for four years. This is my third city-wide election, after having served six years. The School Committee elected four years ago experienced an unusual, and tragic event that had longer term implications than anything I've seen in Newburyport politics in the 19 odd years I've observed.

Topping the ticket (as I recall) was a force of nature by the name of Vickie Pearson. Towards the end of the campaign, she was diagnosed with cancer. By inauguration day, she was sworn in sitting in a wheelchair, off the stage, where all of the other elected candidates sat. To my shame, it never occurred to me that I, all of us on the School Committee, should have been sitting down there with her.

By our second meeting, maybe even our first, Mrs. Pearson succumbed to cancer. The enormity of this tragedy for the family is unspeakable, and I wouldn't even try to talk about that. But I will talk about what the community lost.

Vickie Pearson was the single most unconditionally respected citizen of this community. She was one of those rare individuals who literally changed the mood of everyone she came into contact with. Not only was she transparently genuine, she was a great listener, a thinker of deep and powerful thoughts, and a merciless consensus builder. The latter skill had to do with the sheer magnitude of her charisma; refusing to sit down to a parlay at her request made you feel like Scrooge.

I have no doubt that she would have been the strongest, wisest voice on the School Committee. She would have moved us beyond foolishness, kept us focused, and kept our eyes on the prize. Maybe she would have served one or two terms on the School Committee, and the pressure would have been brought to bear on her, her husband believes, to run for Mayor. And she would have been the Mayor that all others, past and present, would have been measured by.

By Charter, the job of filling a vacated seat on the SC until the next scheduled School Committee election, fell to a joint convention of the City Council and the School Committee. To cut to the chase, Steve Coles won that appointment, and served until 2005. Four seats were available in that election, three four year terms and the two year balance of Vickie's term. Because of the retirements of Dick Sullivan and Laurie Naughton, and the announced candidacies of Dana Hooper and Gordo Bechtel and Steve for the four year seats, and in keeping with the trend of often uncontested races, I chose to run for the balance of Vickie's term, and drew an opponent. I felt strongly that Dana, Gordo and Steve had a great deal to bring to the table, and I wanted to do anything I could to maximize the likelihood of their winning. They won.

I won, also. I won the last years of Vickie's seat.

Normally, we don't ascribe any particular slot with the person elected to it. Especially in city-wide races. It's just a slot, separate from the individual who is attached to it by coincidence of election

Not so with this seat, with me. Every meeting, I would ask myself "what would Vickie have done?" when I engaged in debate, and made votes. The stupidity and acting out is mine, the advocacy and the passion, the urge to articulate student centered planning and accountability and transparency and focus is much more "the Vickie" part.

For me, this will always be Vickie's seat. If I'm re-elected, she will always be at every meeting, cutting through the b.s., helping us to be constructive and consensual. I've always tried to do that, and I know how to do it; but it takes a spark of energy, a tug of communal responsibility to set it in motion.

Make no mistake, that spark is Vickie. The least political politician, and the best public servant who never served in the office the City wisely elected her to.

While walking Ward Six, I met Vickie's husband. We chatted for a while, and I told him that I had chosen to run for the remainder of her term, and that it meant more to me than just a seat at the table; that Vickie, in her short time, had provided a clear set of standards for public service that I worked very hard to measure up to. He thanked me and wished me luck.

Folks, I knew Vickie Pearson, and I'm no Vickie Pearson. But as an admiring student of hers, there hasn't been a day in the last two years that the phrase "what would Vickie do" hasn't been part of my thinking.

Regardless of the outcome, this will always be Vickie's seat.

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