My wife Deborah and I were pleased that her strong efforts to revive the annual Inter-Religious Coalition of New Rochelle’s Martin Luther King interfaith Shabbat Dinner and Service at Temple Israel of New Rochelle, after a too-long COVID break, resulted in resounding success. Minister Mark McLean’s superb sermon — themed “Will you be my neighbor?” — is one that I will remember for a long time. Drawing on the parable of the Good Samaritan, we were given much to contemplate about who is our neighbor and what is our obligation to them. Minister Mark’s son, Imhotep, a classically trained tenor, favored us with a stirring musical interlude.
I woke up early Saturday and worked my usual shift at the Bethesda Baptist Church food pantry and, uncharacteristically having an automobile for the morning, also helped with delivery to the elderly and infirm confined to their homes. In any event, when doing some repetitive or frankly monotonous job like bagging fruits or vegetables, I do find a respite from the daily race to get things done by contemplating the future and talking with the other volunteers then and during “down” times in the process. And so, I did share a special plan that I have been working on recently that I’ll share with you at the end of this message. My friends there at Bethesda expressed a great deal of enthusiasm for that plan.
Later that day, Deb and I attended a funeral in the faith tradition that I follow, Roman Catholicism. The Mass ran on the long side and I’ll admit that my mind drifted to thoughts about how I would like to be remembered when I’m gone. Will I have done all that I could, with whatever talents I’ve been given, to improve the world in some way?
On Sunday, I enjoyed the service at “Sensational Shiloh,” the Baptist church up the hill from Bethesda, my first time back at Shiloh since the pandemic and since that wintry day on the steps of the church when we all leaned on each other in shock at the premature death of Pastor Hentz, who at the time of his death had just so recently become a partner with me and my office on issues of housing affordability and home ownership for people of color. The guest preacher this Sunday themed her message “Permission to Dream.” It was just a 35-minute sermon — not very long by Black Baptist standards! — but I’ll admit drifting along with the theme into thinking: Why not dream? Why not dream big?
On Monday — MLK Day proper — Deb and I were at the New Rochelle NAACP’s remembrance and celebration of Dr. King at St. Catherine A.M.E. Zion Church, the church down the hill from Bethesda. I was inspired by students as young as a fourth-grader from Trinity School who read excerpts of Dr. King’s writings. A first-year from Iona University took a selection, from a speech that Dr. King gave in 1968, four days before his murder, that I don’t recall hearing before in extended form, which clearly refers to the existential peril of the nuclear era:
It is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence. And the alternative to disarmament, the alternative to a greater suspension of nuclear tests, the alternative to strengthening the United Nations and thereby disarming the whole world, may well be a civilization plunged into the abyss of annihilation, and our earthly habitat would be transformed into an inferno that even the mind of Dante could not imagine.
Hearing that quote, my mind drifted to my lodestar for legislating, a papal encyclical called Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth). Issued by Pope John XXIII in 1963, during the darkest days of the Cold War, and just a few short months after the Cuban Missile Crisis, the closest the world has come to nuclear annihilation on a grand scale, it envisions a world avoiding “nonexistence” by actively working for peace. The document stands for the proposition that true peace will never exist without recognizing the worth of each individual and their rights to food, clothing, shelter, a means of earning a living wage, medical care, rest, necessary social services, a right to be accurately informed about public events, the right to good general education, and technical or professional training.
Whew! All of that is a long way around to saying that I’ve been doing a lot of thinking this past weekend, and for a few weeks before that, and speaking with a lot people in and out of government and in the various communities in New Rochelle about my next step now that I will not be running for another term on the Westchester County Board of Legislators.
I have decided the right fit for me would be the job of Mayor of my beloved City of New Rochelle. More importantly, and humbly, I suggest to you that I would be the right fit for the job, based on my many years of engagement and real work in and for the many communities of this City — North, South, East and West.
Accordingly, I am hereby formally announcing my candidacy for the nomination of the Democratic and Working Families parties for Mayor of New Rochelle.
County Legislator Damon Maher