Commentary: The servants reflect and remember

By John Krull
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS – As voters all over Indiana go to the polls, I talk over the air with four men who, among them, have been on the ballot more than 25 times.

John Krull, publisher, TheStatehouseFile.com

John Krull, publisher, TheStatehouseFile.com

Column by John KrullFormer U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Indiana, and former Indianapolis mayors William Hudnut, Stephen Goldsmith and Bart Peterson have run for every office from prosecutor to president of the United States. They’ve won some. They’ve lost some.

We planned to talk about an office they all shared – Indianapolis mayor – and we did that, but we also talked about something deeper.

We discussed the sacrifices and the satisfactions of serving as an elected official.

Because they all served.

All four men say being mayor is a wonderful job but that doesn’t mean holding the office comes without costs.

Lugar was elected mayor when he was in his mid-30s. He was married and the father of four young sons. He says when he took the job he didn’t realize the impact it would have on his family. He tells me about a time not long after he was elected the first time when people threw garbage on his front lawn.

Explaining to his wife and his children that such moments were part of serving the city, Lugar’s tone suggests, was not one of the more pleasant conversations he’s had in his life.

I ask the mayors how they managed to balance doing their jobs and dealing with the other parts of their lives.

Goldsmith says he has to start by acknowledging the balance he achieved was “imperfect.” He says he figured he would have the job for only four or eight years and he needed to devote himself to the responsibilities of the office. As he speaks, his voice is tinged with regret.

Peterson says it could be difficult to be at dinner with his wife or his daughter and have someone interrupt them. The folks who stopped by their table, Peterson says, always wanted to say something nice, but even accepting the compliments meant taking time away from his family. Even family vacations, he says, could come to an abrupt end if there was a tragedy in the city.

That’s the thing about being mayor, Peterson says – the job is 24/7. It never ends. From the time a person takes the oath until he or she leaves office, the responsibility doesn’t ease, much less end.

As he says that, the three other mayors murmur agreement.

If the job was that demanding – and, in many ways, that invasive – why did they do it?

Because they wanted to serve.

They all answer that the job gave them a chance to help people.

One by one, the mayors tell stories about individuals in Indianapolis who just needed a boost, a helping hand or a second chance to build a better life. They say the big-picture challenges of plotting a course for a major city – Peterson says just figuring out the complexities of the city’s budget can be a fulltime occupation – that those small, intimate moments in which they are able to help a single person seem like treats, special rewards for doing a hard job.

I ask, given the all-consuming nature of the office, if it was hard to leave it behind.

Lugar says it was day or two after he left office before he realized his time as mayor was over. Peterson says he woke up the morning after his last day wondering what to do because, in his eight years as mayor, he hadn’t ever awakened without having a long list of responsibilities awaiting him.

Hudnut says he doesn’t cry easily.

His last night in office was different. He’d spent 16 years as mayor, loving both the work and the city he served. As he and his wife packed up his office, he cleaned his desk and filled the boxes to cart his stuff away with tears streaming from his eyes.

The job, former mayors Lugar, Hudnut, Goldsmith and Peterson say, became a part of them, like blood and breath. It exhausted them but they loved it.

Because it gave them a chance to serve.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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