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LETTER: Former Mayor on What it Takes to Serve

Former City of Rye Mayor Joe Sack (2014 – 2017) writes about what it takes to serve. He reminds the Mayor and others in public service “an office holder also needs humility” and that office holders will be judged “by the strength you show in respecting the views of others, even in the face of adversity and personal loss”.

(PHOTO: John Carey with Mayor Joe Sack during his campaign in 2013. Credit: Andrew Dapolite.)
(PHOTO: Former City of Rye Mayors John Carey (left) and Joe Sack (right) during Sack’s campaign in 2013. Credit: Andrew Dapolite.)

By Former City of Rye Mayor Joe Sack

When you are in office for a while, there is a risk that you start thinking that you are more important than the position itself.

It can be too easy to forget that you are just a temporary guardian of the office, and that you should treat the job in trust for the next person who will hold it.

It is possible to lose sight that this is public service, that you are truly a servant of the public, and that you must put the public’s interests ahead of your own.

Yes, politicians can have big and fragile egos. No doubt, there is a healthy dose of self-regard in those who run for election.

But above all else, an office holder also needs humility. Especially when nobody is perfect. Especially in a business where at least half the people will often disagree with you.

When you are a public figure, you should not seek only praise and glory. By definition, you should expect that your brand will suffer. And that is part of the price you pay for putting yourself on display.

Your reputation will be judged not by how strongly you assert that you are right, and others are wrong. But rather, by the strength you show in respecting the views of others, even in the face of adversity and personal loss.

In another era, not too long ago, it was always good advice and practice to “be Presidential.” Today, in Rye at least, let us hope that expression has not lost its true meaning.

The walls of both the old City Hall (the Square House) and the current City Hall are adorned with the portraits of Rye mayors from times gone by. And this is in part an honor for their service.

But the gaze from each portrait serves another more important purpose — which is to remind all those who might be deemed worthy enough to sit up on the dais, that they remain under the watchful eye of the community, and that they ought to heed their own place in the succession of those who came before, and those who will come next.

There was for many years in Rye an annual “Square House” meeting, where the City Council would host a gathering of Rye’s elder stateswomen and statesmen, as well as Rye’s current members of our volunteer boards and commissions, together with our dedicated City staff.

I always welcomed this yearly celebration as equal parts Old Timer’s Day, All Star game, and class reunion.

Because of Covid I presume, this rejuvenating tradition has fallen off. Perhaps now is the time to reinstate this meeting, so that we can all remind ourselves that, at the end of the day, we are all on the same team.


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