Sunday, August 24, 2008

Remembering Al McWilliams

This past week I have been thinking a lot about my friend, the late mayor Albert T. McWilliams. Had he lived, Al would have been 55 years old this month. Although I know that he is in a better place, I continue to have the feeling that he left us much too soon. Al was the friend who paved the way for me, who opened doors when others tried to slam them shut. Al was a man of great integrity, and I believed deeply in his ability, trusted his judgment, and valued his trustworthiness. He supported my desire to become a public servant and helped to shepherd me through the political process; he was a fearless leader who put his political career on the line out of his genuine love for the city.

What would Al say about the state of affairs in Plainfield today? What would he say about the closing of Muhlenberg hospital and the failure of political leaders who stood by and watched as the state pulled the life support and transplanted the organs of this 131-year old patient into another patient, who shared responsibility for its asphyxiation? What would Al say about the city’s stalled economic development? What would he say about the current state of stagnation and about the lost promise? Al, like so many other Plainfield residents, would be appalled, I think. He would be heartbroken to see his vision for a Plainfield that is thriving and respected by all become a city crying out for leadership.

Al was a leader who always got in front; he knew he could not stand aside in a fog pretending to be leading. He, like all good leaders, knew that leadership occurred from the front. A case in point was his vision for a Medical Enterprise Zone along the Park Avenue corridor and his support for the demonstration project that had promised an infusion of over $100 million in state funds to the Muhlenberg campus. The Medical Enterprise Zone was his brainchild, and he was an ardent champion for the Demonstration Project. To the astonishment of many, Al’s dream for a Medical Enterprise Zone was abandoned by his successor and, unfortunately, Plainfield lacked the political muscle at the state level required to deliver the demonstration project. This has resulted in what could now be described as a catastrophic failure, which has led the closing of Muhlenberg.

As mayor, Al McWilliams would have taken the bull by its horns; he would have mobilized the community from the very onset of trouble (not at the eleventh hour), to put pressure on the state and our legislative representatives. He would have met with other influential state legislators to get their buy-in and to seek their sponsorship of legislation in an attempt to save Muhlenberg. Al would have exhausted every avenue; he would have turned over every stone and his actions would have been transparent to the people of Plainfield. He would have apprised the community of his efforts and he never would have left them guessing as to where he stood on this issue. Al would never have buried his head in the sand for two years and pretended not to have known of Muhlenberg’s problems.

Plainfield was the city that Al McWilliams loved; during his two terms as mayor, he brought it back from the valley of despair to the pinnacle of hope. He jump-started its economic revival with the Park-Madison building, which was to serve as a downtown anchor, complemented by the redevelopment of the former Tepper’s department store building into a thriving mixed-use facility. He transformed the appearance of the central business district.

Al developed more than just our downtown, however. He developed people and gave them opportunities to use their talents in the service of Plainfield without demanding their souls in exchange for his support. This was the measure of the man whom we lost much too soon.

Happy 55th birthday to you, my dear friend, Albert T. McWilliams.


Anonymous said...

I am glad to see you blogging Mr. Mapp. Congratulations on winning your primary. Your remembrance of the late mayor is right on point. What would Al say, indeed? I do wonder. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on what next steps we can take to get our city back.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Mapp, I have no use for the current administration, however, I must ask you how it is you can look at the outcome of the former Tepper's department store and call it a 'htriving' mixed-use facility? From what I see when I pass by that area, it is nothing but more 'affordable' housing units in a town that needed economic this what you consider 'thriving'?

Anonymous said...

I miss him, too. I am so glad you are politically involved, Adrian. Thank you!