Good evening everyone and thank you for coming out tonight. I would like to thank Mark for that very gracious introduction. I would also like to thank Leo and the Raneri family for hosting tonight and hope everyone has had a chance to enjoy the food. Lastly, I want to particularly thank Amy and my family, and now our puppy Kinley, for their support. I was writing the speech out on my computer last night and Amy peered over and commented, “It says ‘Good evening everything”, so she’s been really helpful in that regard. Mark, I also appreciate your highlighting my discipline but Amy has seen me eat ice cream, so I’m not sure she agrees with you there.
A few months ago when I first started entertaining the idea of serving the Town on the Board of Selectman, I had a great handful of reasons why I would be interested. I had spent the better part of my 3 years since moving back home to practice law volunteering for a handful of local boards and organizations, the North Attleborough Planning Board, the Hockomock YMCA, the Attleboro Land Trust, Sturdy Memorial Hospital, and Robbins Daycare, and it gave me a good view for the happenings of what was going on in the area and the efforts that were being made to address the issues that always arise. In my practice and service, I was often thanked for helping out and giving good guidance, for taking a hard situation and making it not so hard, for making what was bad, better. Well then, I thought, what if I took that skill set and applied it to the overall challenges facing the Town, maybe that can help turn some of what is bad, better. In truth, I entertained many thoughts of why I would not be interested in such a position, chief among them thinking to myself “I’m going to have to campaign.. and ask people for money.. and host a fundraiser”, and so here I stand tonight. I thank you for seeing me through this.
Besides a belief that I have a skill set that is suited to help improve the issues we face, the most important reason for my interest in this position is that I believe it is important. And I believe it is important because everyone I cared about always told me it was important. Growing up in our household there was always music playing, and if you listened closely to the words being broadcast over the stereo, they were always songs filled with social critique.
Bob Dylan sang of the times that were a changing, John Lennon pleaded to give peace a chance, and John Fogerty explained to us flatly why some people were born fortunate, while others were not. I didn’t know what it meant at the time when I heard Liam Clancy sing in his Irish brogue how the love of one’s country can be a terrible thing. As you grow older you’re better able to tie the symbolism of those songs with your own life experiences. In our context here Bruce Springsteen takes on new meaning when he laments Main Street’s white washed windows and the vacant stores, where it seems like there ain’t nobody that wants to come down here no more. There are board meetings taking place in our town today to address such real life issues, with the lamentation sung not only by the Boss himself, but by a townspeople desperately desirous for a vibrant downtown block. Inspired by the music that our civic work was important, I held a belief that perhaps I could play some role to help ensure that the song we sing strikes a more positive chord.
We learn of the real importance of our little old New England Town Meeting form of government from Alexis De Tocqueville, a French Aristocrat who in the early 19th Century journeyed to America to study why the American form of representative republican democracy had flourished here, while every where else in the world it had proven futile. The difference here in America, he noted, was our unique commitment to civic engagement. As his primary example, De Tocqueville paid particular attention to the old New England Town Meeting form of government as the most pure form of democracy, the model for which all other forms of representative democracies around the world could be built. He noted that a government so closely related to the people not only held that government more accountable, but it in fact provided an education to those citizens in our democracy at large. Where the day to day administration of our local town government is done by the citizenry itself; an assessor to establish taxes, and a collector to collect them; a town clerk to record the meetings, the minutes, and maintain the records of the town, a commission of the schools to ensure its children are taught, and a constable to ensure the duties of police are executed faithfully, partaking in these local democratic functions builds better citizens for our democracy at large.
But here we sit, more than 200 years removed from De Tocqueville’s work to find that our little old New England Town Meeting form of government is in a spasm, and under siege from a multitude of directions. What once was hailed as a model form of representative democratic government has become outdated and outmaneuvered. In a world where you can get a package delivered in one day to your doorstep in the click of a button, it takes many moons to receive a permit for work. In a world where we each make our own multitude of daily decisions on how to run our lives, we are told that “sorry, but this decision is made by that person, but that other decision is made by this person, and for the final decision to be made, we must first make a decision about deciding”. Our financial house remains under siege as well, still feeling the tremors of the earthquake that was 2008, and not yet realizing our full capacity of an economic re-growth. While we must answer all these calls to update our outdated mode of government, to streamline decision making, to make our local government more efficient and effective, and to get our financial house in order, we must primarily heed the lesson of De Tocqueville’s work, that a local government made up of a people who are pro-actively and positively engaged in our civic life can be the model around the world for how democratic government is to function. A strengthened civic engagement at the local level is therefore our primary task.
As trends in our way of life, from our economy, to our social and civic life, to our jobs and to our consumption habits have become more nationalized and then globalized, there has been a pendulum swing back to re-establish the primacy of local services. We have seen it in the local food movement, where a hodge-podge mix of amateur foodies, soap, bread, and jam makers decided they could deliver a better service in the form of a farmer’s market than the national behemoth food chains who did not have their best interest at heart. We saw it with community banks providing a better banking service than their national counterparts. Is there any question that our local YMCA doesn’t deliver an exponentially greater social service to the community than any of the national franchise gyms around? Is there any question that North Works, or Porto Bello, or Table at 10, or Bella Sarno, isn’t a better dining option for you than any franchise food chain you find on Route 1? In our civic life, we must reject the negative trends in our national political discourse, and prove that the civic engagement taking place in a dingy old Town Hall basement is more civil, more enlightening, and delivers a better democratic service and debate to its constituents than any of the nightly talking heads on CNN or Fox News.
With 2008 serving as a bellwether, I believe there has been a re-birth in the strength of these local services as a counterweight to negative national trends, and to that end I believe we are on the cusp of re-establishing the heart of our downtown as the model of economic vitality and our Town Hall as the model of democratic functioning once again. Take a drive around, after its decades long suffering of blow after blow of the mall, the strip malls, the box stores, and now Amazon, in our downtown you’ll now see old abandoned buildings being torn down and replaced with new housing and mixed use developments that will breath new life into our restaurants and shops. It is the greatest evidence we have seen in a long, long time that Main Street’s white washed windows and vacant stores are coming back. When it happens, I hope I have a view from a seat in a dingy old Town Hall basement, and so I ask for your vote come this April 3rd. Thank you all and have a great night.