Thank you for inviting me to speak tonight. It is an honor to be here. I had the privilege, as mayor, of hosting many of you when you visited the City of Baltimore. I was never quite sure whether the Institute came to Baltimore so often because we were national leaders of performance measured governance or because the size of our problems made yours seem more manageable,…
To Ambassador Foley – thank you for your introduction and for your important work in strengthening the bonds between our nations.
I’d especially like to thank Tom Hachey for his leadership of Irish Programs at Boston College, and wife Jane, of course, whose passion for the mission Institute matches her husband’s.
Let me also congratulate Dr. Niamh Lynch on your installation as our new Director and Chief Inspector Kathy O’Toole on your new appointment.
To Fr. Leahey and the Trustees of Boston College – I want to thank you for your vision and commitment to this project over the last ten years.
Programs like the Irish Institute often work through the darkest of times when the nay-sayers and cynics are the loudest – times when true vision and leadership rise to the challenge.
The Irish Institute
It is a happy coincidence that this conference convenes in the same 30-day period that a devolved government is finally established in Northern Ireland.
How satisfying it must have been to so many of you who worked together over the years to create a better Northern Ireland, to see leaders of the two largest parties sitting down together to share power and implement the will of the majority of people in Northern Ireland.
This was the moment for which so many leaders of NI along with President Clinton, Taoiseach Ahern, Prime Minister Blair and George Mitchell had worked tirelessly to bring to fruition.
Of course the real credit goes to you, the men and women who made time to attended the programs – on top of all your other daily pressures — who built long-lasting relationships and brought back to your organizations new perspectives and good ideas – ideas to avoid and some innovations from your observations and from the group dynamic which was always the most positive aspect of these programs.
Former Northern Ireland Secretary, Mo Mowlam clearly knew that when she asked the Institute to host a series of programs for the new Assembly in Northern Ireland in 1998 just before the Agreement was signed.
She had the insight to realize that after decades of direct rule, emerging leaders would need practical courses in the science of governance and the art of local problem solving – and while some meetings were held in Ireland and Britain, those locations had their limitations.
One of the most valuable aspects of the BC programs was getting elected representatives out of the pressure cooker that was Northern Ireland and into a different environment – far enough away from the canvass, so that the broader picture could been seen and examined.
There community leaders could talk about those practical issues honestly and openly without having to worry about how a very complex audience at a complex time might or might not understand the intent of the question or the offering of an idea or opinion.
Mowlam saw that what the newly elected members of the Northern Ireland Assembly needed was an opportunity to look at some models of good government and have constructive open conversations about the issues around which there is so very much consensus within the body politic of humanity.
It was a brilliantly simple concept and from the outset it worked very well.
In fact, that first program for elected representatives had many high level elected officials including newly nominated minister for Regional Development Conor Murphy, and spokesman on policing Alex Maskey, along with the Chief Whip for the DUP. These ground breaking and relationship building programs had but one goal — to bring people together to improve the service of Government for the people of Northern Ireland.
In my brief time before you tonight on the tenth anniversary of this forward looking program, I wanted share some thoughts with you as a colleague in government, as a friend of the Institute, and as a free citizen of this planet,… about 1) the indispensable importance of effective local governance 2) the power of relationship, and 3) the lasting things that unite us all and give us hope for a better future.
Having served as a City Councillor for eight years, as Mayor for seven years, and now demoted to Governor, I am more convinced than ever of the indispensable importance of local governance – Meaningful and lasting progress, the progress that leads towards true social justice is not possible without effective local governance.
There was a rather aloof governor of a state in the US whose staff felt that he needed to be seen closer to his constituents. The people, they felt, were losing touch with this governor who –like all governors — occupies that middle earth between local and national responsibilities. So they sent him on the road for a series of “town hall” meetings across the state. And at the very first town hall a very insistent woman stands up at the microphone the second the question and answer session begins. “Governor,” she growls, “I have several concerns: there’s a dead city tree breaking up the sidewalk in front of my house for three years. I keep calling but the crew never comes. Next I put out my recycling faithfully on the appointed day only to have the crew leave it there on my curb to haul back inside. And finally, local hoodlums and drug dealers have been taking over the park every night after dark – kids can’t even play there now because of all the beer cans and hypodermic needles.” After listening politely, the Governor says, “Madame, I’m afraid your questions would be better addressed to your Mayor…” To which the woman replied, “I figured as much but I didn’t want to go that high up at first.”
Effective local government is critically important. Consider if you will the powerful simplicity of FDR’s Fundamental Freedoms and core mission of every city or local authority.
In articulating that foundation, Franklin Delano Roosevelt told Congress some 60 years ago, “In the future days which we seek to make more secure, we look forward to a world founded on our fundamental freedoms.”
The first is freedom of speech and expression – and then he said, everywhere in world.
The second is the freedom of every person to worship God in his own way – everywhere in the world.
The third is freedom from want – everywhere in the world.
And the fourth is freedom from fear – anywhere in the world.
In the City of Baltimore our mission statement proclaimed “to improve public safety in every neighborhood (freedom from fear); to make our City a better place for children to grow up (freedom of speech, expression); to make our City a place where jobs and opportunities are expanding for all (freedom from want).
To drive progress and to build trust as our City confronted some really big challenges of drug addiction, violent crime, failing schools and population loss, we started doing something revolutionary, something rarely done at any level of government – we started measuring outcomes and performance, not once a year, but every day. We started geo-mapping every conceivable service, problem, and opportunity. Why?…. Because a map doesn’t know whether a neighborhood is black or white, or rich or poor, or democratic or republican, but it does know where our problems and opportunities are, and we deployed our resources accordingly. And we made progress for all together.
While some may scoff at a vocation of attacking potholes, crime, trash and grime, we know there are some basic aspirations shared by all of humanity. There is no democratic or republican way to fill a pothole, no political ideology to picking up illegally dumped garbage, to removing graffiti, to cleaning an alley. And all children regardless of their parents party affiliation, deserve a healthy start, a decent home, and a place to play where they don’t have to dodge hypodermic needles or bullets.
Progress like this, progress accomplished by local government, progress which improves the quality of life in any neighborhood or on any block is truly omni-partisan in both its subscription and appeal. And God wants every partial victory.
As Robert Kennedy once said,“…idealism, high aspirations and deep convictions are not incompatible with the most practical and efficient of programs – there is no basic inconsistency between ideals and realistic possibilities, no separation between the deepest desires of the heart and of mind and the rational application of human effort to human problems.”
Effective local governance is that “rational application,” — an application that can only be truly rational when it is also truly local in its crafting, in its ownership, and in its operation.
Which leads me to my second point the power of relationship.
As the minority mayor of majority African American City, I have probably attended more Baptist and African Methodist services than any catholic public servant on the planet. (And as a Catholic it came as a great revelation that people of other faiths actually sing along with the music and hymns…) At the great Bethel AME church, Pastor Reid spikes a robust call and response when from the pulpit he proclaims – “if it’s not about the relationship,…” and the congr it’s not about anything.” The Relationship — between ourselves and God, ourselves and others, ourselves and time, ourselves and place, ourselves and this space we share with others.
Why do teenagers and young people today flock to “my space?” It’s not for solitude but for relationship; not for distance but for proximity; not for division but for connection.
During my years as mayor, id often have the opportunity to show my citizens their new performance measurement tool of the CitiStat room with its charts, graphs, timely accurate information, aerial photography and maps. Without exception, my presentation was always interrupted within ten minutes by the hand in the back and the question – “ Can you show me my house?” – why is that?
Is it to know that I matter to my government? Is it to know that my government works and therefore matters to me? Is it to understand what is around me? Or maybe is it because of a deep innate human instinct to better understand my relationship to the forces and people around me and their relationship to me. “Show me my house.”
Father David Hollenbach, one of your very own at Boston College, once said “the biblical understanding of freedom, portrayed in the account of the Exodus, is not simply freedom from constraint, but freedom for participation in the shared life of people…”
Thomas Aquinas wrote that “any seeker of a higher truth, or of God, must eventually and inevitably return to the idea of community.” In the words of Dr. King, the idea that “we are bound together in a web of mutuality,…”
The idea that we progress, not on the weakness, but on the strength of our neighbors. The idea that one person can make a difference and each of us must try.
If politics is the geography of ideas, then perhaps, through our deeds and relationships as individuals, we must become the dynamic coordinates of new geography – a newer deeper understanding of our actions in time, space, in community, and in relationship to one another in the march of progress we have the freedom to share,…
It is all about the relationship: our relationship to one another, our relationship to the truth — a truth that builds trust; and a trust that builds community.
My friends, the lasting legacy of these last ten years of work by the Irish Institute is not the transfer of best practices, or the prowess of professional administration, or even the development of sound policy. It is the power of relationship and the invaluable work that so many of you have done, one person at a time, to reawaken the hopeful history-trumping notion that there is more that unites us than divides us.
And among those things is our shared belief in the dignity of every individual; our belief in our own individual responsibility to advance the common good; and our understanding that there is a unity to spirit and to matter, and that what we do in our own life-times does matter.
So “will you come with me to the bower, will you walk upon the sand, will you dream of a new tomorrow, will you take me by the hand, this is not some song for ancient wounds, I think we’ve bound them all we can, this is a song for justice and for peace in Ireland.”
Congratulations to all of you. It’s been my humbling honor to have been able to share a couple of steps with you in your noble journey.