After working for the City of Alexandria, Virginia for a decade — which because of it’s location (about a stone’s throw from Washington DC) included more than our fair share of power brokers as city residents, e.g., Senators, Congressmen, Admirals, Senior Staff members, and even a Cabinet member — you might think that I’d be immune to the effects of political celebrititus that comes from rubbin’ elbows with the likes of folks that are ordinarily only seen on CNN but truth be told I was pretty fired up last Friday (July 9th) to be meeting President Obama’s right hand man for Transportation Policy — Secretary of Transportation Mr. Ray LaHood. Throw in our very own Congressman Tim Ryan, a couple of state representatives and a roomful of local political dignitaries and you’ve got yourself a party — PARTA style.
Smiles were in abundance as Secretary LaHood and Congressman Tim Ryan paid Kent a personal visit to sign the $20 million check (Tiger Grant) for PARTA to build the downtown multi-modal facility. I don’t know if it was coincidence or preparation on our part (I prefer the latter but I’ll accept either) Kent was the first Tiger Grant officially to be signed by the Secretary of Transportation in the country. In my mind that’s worthy of a “We’re Number 1” chant — and we’ve got the goods to back it up.
Riding a PARTA bus around downtown Kent with the Secretary and Congressman Ryan, pointing out the redevelopment that is already underway and the rest we’ve got in the pipeline, I have to admit the entire experience felt a bit surreal. The magnitude of the odds that we beat to get to this point are enough to put most Vegas bookies out of business.
Little old Kent and PARTA (and I mean that as a term of endearment) managed to come out of nowhere to hit a grandslam in the bottom of the ninth to win the $20 million prize. Again, I say this with great pride, but it’s like a rookie ball farm club finding itself up against the Yankees and coming out with a victory. It’s the stuff Hoosiers was made of. Pick your favorite underdog makes good story and you’ve got a sense for how amazing it is that PARTA has $20 million to spend in downtown Kent.
On the one hand I know how much hard work went into preparing ourselves for this day so in that context it’s a great example of the adage that you make your own luck. And I also know how hard our political delegation worked, especially Congressman Ryan, going to bat for our hometown project when it really was nothing more than a pipe dream.
Dare I say it, it was Congressman Ryan’s earmarks that proved the deciding factor for us as those early investment of funds got us shovel ready before the Federal Government started buying shovels. As a result, we were first in line thanks to the Congressman so we owe him a great debt for having the courage to back a good project idea at a time when public criticism for the use of earmarks would have made it easier to quietly withdraw his support. Thankfully he fought the good fight and stayed true to his convictions, and it’s become a great example how government stimulus was designed to work.
I can’t wait for the next ceremonial gathering — the first when PARTA puts the first shovel in the dirt and the second when PARTA is cutting the ribbons and opening the doors to their shiny new building. I know that money doesn’t buy happiness but it sure feels good in Kent right now.