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ID: 06-002
December 4, 2006
North Bethesda, Maryland

Inaugural Speech by County Executive Isiah Leggett
 

Thank you so much for that very kind and special introduction.

Friends, I stand before you here today both extremely honored and humbled. From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank all of you --- all of the voters of Montgomery County who placed their trust in me.

I also want to thank my many friends and supporters who worked so very hard for months for giving me the opportunity to serve you as County Executive.

I especially want to thank my wife Catherine.

All I can say is that sometime, somewhere, I must have done something great to deserve you. You are my partner, my very best friend, my true love. You always are there for me to believe in me and my work, to lift me up and inspire me to carry on. Thank you.

And, as I look out in front of me, I see so many people who have made contributions to my life and that of Montgomery County.

But specifically, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank someone who is very special to all of us. This is the man to whom we all owe an enormous debt of gratitude. In my dictionary, if you look up “dedicated public servant,” it will say quite clearly, “see: Doug Duncan.”

Friends, please join me in giving a hearty thanks to my friend and predecessor The Most Honorable, Doug Duncan. Thank you, Doug, and your lovely wife Barbara.

Also, many of you are well aware that I have had the unique opportunity to work for one of our nation’s premier educational institutions, Howard University. I am so deeply indebted for the encouragement and support I have received over the many years from its leaders, mostly especially President Swygert, Dean Schmoke, and the entire Howard University family. In addition to educating me and also employing me, the University has also allowed me the opportunity to put into practice one of its core objectives: to train leaders to make a positive impact on our global community.

I love Montgomery County, this place so many of us call home. This is our home; the one in which we have a vested interest, the home where we want people to feel comfortable and achieve the American Dream. This is our home where the goal is to ensure a quality education, a clean environment, decent and affordable housing, and safe and secure streets- regardless or race, religion, age, ability or disability for each and every Montgomery County resident.

These services must not be confused with privileges. Indeed, they are basic rights—rights that should be afforded to all residents—rights that our County should help provide to everyone living here. You have chosen me to be the head of our government for the next four years, and I will do everything in my power to make you proud of my leadership.

We have many, many challenges and opportunities ahead of us. And, I am ready to meet them head-on. The late Senator Adlai Stevenson once remarked that, “the future belongs to those who accomplish most for humanity.”

I believe that together we will accomplish a great deal for our county and successfully take ownership of our own destinies. We have to—our children and community depend upon us to do so.

I have always considered my service in Montgomery County -- whether as Chair of our Human Rights Commission, as member of the County Council for sixteen years, or service in other public sector roles – as a privilege. I believe this is the type of contribution all of us should pledge in order to help improve our society.

President Kennedy once said that “our success or failure, in whatever office we hold, will be measured by four historic qualities: Courage, judgment, integrity and dedication. And with God’s help, they will measure the conduct of our government.”

Well, each of these four qualities was engrained in me at an early age. I definitely would not be here today but for the love and support of my family. My mother raised 12 children under some very, very difficulty circumstances. And while she, herself, had little “formal” schooling, she placed a very high value on the importance of an education, and always reminded me of it. She taught me never to give up, and always to be true to myself and others. She forever will be my hero. In fact, I am certain that she is looking down on us right now and smiling broadly.

It is now time to look ahead, not back. Under my leadership we will travel a course for our future using a very clear, concise and well- drawn roadmap to achieve our objectives.

However, please indulge me first -- the “professor” in me just cannot resist providing a brief history lesson. So, allow me for a moment to take a very short journey back in time: The year is 1776.

In that year our Founding Fathers signed the “Declaration of Independence” with the words, “All men are created equal,” and that all have the right to "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."

Let’s just ponder for a moment those very powerful words. In that same year, Montgomery County was formed when the existing Frederick County was subdivided three ways. The eastern part was named after Revolutionary War General Richard Montgomery. At that time, agriculture provided the economic base in Montgomery County. And who do you think played a significant role in making our agriculture base successful? Well, right here, right where we now live, it was slave labor.

In fact, in Montgomery County, Josiah Henson, the slave who wrote about his experiences in a memoir, became the basis for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

In 1860 the only schools in the county were the private ones which were built originally for Caucasian students. It was not until twelve years after that in 1872 when schools for African-Americans were added.

Now, If you would just take a moment and fast forward and look where we are today! The reason for our gathering here at this time is but one stunning example that illustrates just how far we have come, and the timelessness of what those beautiful words written in 1776 really mean.

And while we still might have “miles to go before we sleep,” we are blessed to be living here together in the year 2006 -- 230 years since that historic day. And today, as I humbly stand before you, we again are making history.

So, if our forefathers and “mothers” were here today, how do you think they would view us? Well, for starters, they might be enormously proud—but hopefully, not surprised.

Montgomery County is the most populous jurisdiction in the State with a population of close to one million people, making up 18% of the Maryland’s population. We are home to the largest percentage of college-educated residents of any community in America with a population over 50,000.

And we encompass nearly 500 square miles of land, and an annual budget of about four billion dollars.
Just look around us at the great accomplishments we have achieved. The Scriptures – Deuteronomy to be exact -- tells us that “we all warm ourselves by fires we did not build and drink from wells we did not dig.”

As did the leaders before us, we must use their energies and triumphs, and go, as it is said in Exodus, “From Strength to Strength” by drawing on the rich and vital traditions and accomplishments of the past and present.

Montgomery County now, in her own right, is the vibrant urban center that we call home.

Thanks to many individuals including Jim Gleason, the late Reverend Charlie Gilchrist, Sid Kramer, Neal Potter and Doug Duncan and the other elected officials, volunteers, and government employees:

• We have a strong diversified economy and highly educated population;

• We have been able to preserve nearly half of our land as open and green space which positively enhances our environment;

• We have a school system that ranks among the nation’s best. And today, the halls of our world-class school system ring with the sound of children from 130 countries;

• We have great shopping, fabulous restaurants; and, we have a business climate that attracts numerous private sector and public sectors employers;

• And our cultural arts environment attracts a wide array of audiences from all across our Metropolitan Area and State: The American Film Institute, Olney Theatre, Strathmore Hall, Round House Theater, Imagination Stage, The Silver Spring Stage, The Rockville Little Theater, The Writer’s Center, and the vast numbers of art galleries, theaters, local orchestras, musical, theatrical and dance groups—the list goes on and on. And it is this atmosphere that creates the vibrancy that makes our County such an exciting hub in which to live.

It is no wonder that Montgomery County was once rated as the “MOST ENLIGHTENED COUNTY IN THE NATION.”

But we know that our story does not end here. We do not live in a “Camelot”. Although we have many terrific accomplishments to boast about here in the county, in my opinion, these are not the things that make our county great.

I believe that our county’s greatness comes from our commitment and compassion to reach out to those among us who are most vulnerable. A community is great when it has the commitment to help those with special needs, the homeless, and the elderly. And certainly we are even greater as a community when we truly work to achieve a more inclusive society that welcomes people from all corners of our world.

There very well may be other communities that appear indifferent about these vexing problems, but a great community like Montgomery County should always do what we can reasonably do to assist the truly needy in our midst. We should remember that we all do better when we all do better. In many ways we really are our brothers and- sisters- keepers.

As always, with enlightenment comes the burden of responsibility. How do we preserve and increase all of the good things that we have, and at the same time, cure the ills we are facing?

Many, if not all, of our problems, actually are the results of some of our successes. As our County expands and grows, so too do the problems and challenges associated with growth. It is up to us to ensure that the amenities we have come to enjoy and perhaps sometimes take for granted, will remain and expand. We must ensure that they are made available to everyone who lives here. And that, my friends, is a major crux to a myriad of problems that have been tearing us apart.

The way we respond to this problem will help determine whether this County’s future is one that will work for all of our residents.

It was clear during the campaign that we have many problems to solve. We agreed on what those issues are. So, let us be clear, unmonitored growth, traffic congestion, and lack of affordable housing, certainly continue to plague us. What we did not agree on is the manner in which we solve these challenges.

For example, when it comes to development, too often in the past, we have asked the wrong question. We have simply asked, “What do we have to do to approve this project?” Instead of, “Should we approve this development project and how will it best serve our community?”

I strongly believe the question you ask can determine the answer you receive.

The message in this past election was crystal clear: voters simply want slower growth; they felt the pendulum had swung too far the other way, but they want growth. They want proper procedures to fairly address their land use concerns, but they want growth. And they certainly do not want anymore Clarksburgs to happen ever again, but they want growth.

I want to assure you that we have no intention of stopping progress. Properly planned growth is essential for our future. But we need sufficient infrastructure to handle what we already have in place and what has been approved.

I believe we should wisely direct our growth and “catch up” in order to move forward. And, we will do so with all of the new state-of-the-art technology, and with the great minds and resources which are readily available to assist us. We will talk with and learn from other similar communities. We will share our successes and failures and learn from one another.

More importantly, we should not and will not stand still and rest on our past successes.

There is a beautiful Japanese proverb that says: “We can stand still in a flowing stream, but not in the world of men…,” and WOMEN!

We have many difficult challenges in the county to address. The frustration of sitting in traffic is not anyone’s idea of how they would like to spend their precious time. We all want better programs and an improved service delivery system from the county. Nobody wants to worry if their children are safe in and out of school. Nobody wants to worry about whether or not their trash is going to be collected, if and when the potholes on their streets will be repaired, or what will be the response time in an emergency situation.

No matter what the income level, race or ethnicity, we all want the same things for our families and ourselves. We share the same objectives. Simply put, all people want is to improve the quality of life here in the county.

Yes, the bottom line is that all of us have the same agenda. The challenge here is in identifying the variety of ways to accomplish our goals, and then, select the ones that will best achieve them. We can. And together, we will do it. But it will be done realistically. Budget constraints are very real and we must be fiscally responsible.

The new challenge is one of creative balance. Namely, how do we generate the funds needed to provide new services and maintain the existing essential services? In other words how do we sustain, improve and build sufficient infrastructure, and at the same time, not impose undue financial burdens on our residents?

We will work on solving these problems together. But even together, we cannot operate in a vacuum. I believe that we must take a regional approach to resolve many of the challenges facing us. We will work closely with our State delegations, our new Governor, Martin O’Malley and the leaders in our neighboring jurisdictions. I will try to be a bridge bringing all of these leaders and organizations together for the common good of our communities. If Montgomery County is to be truly successful, so success must also be for our neighbors.

As I campaigned throughout the County during these past two years, I talked with many, many people who are making significant contributions to our wonderful community. Unfortunately, many of them are not able to take advantage of the beauty that they themselves help to create and maintain. They are our service industry workers, our teachers, nurses, bus drivers, firefighters, police officers—many of the people upon whom we depend each and every day. It is unacceptable that today many of the very same workers can not afford to live in the community in which they serve?   I believe that we must fully address our need to provide more affordable, special need and workforce housing in the county.

We also must expect and continue to demand a responsive, effective, fiscally responsible and efficient county administration. In order to accomplish these objectives government must be held accountable.

I agree with the late Senator Paul Wellstone who said:   “Politics is not about power. Politics is not about money. Politics is not about winning for the sake of winning. Politics is about the improvement of people’s lives. Politics is about doing well for people.”

For us to do well by those we serve, we must believe and visibly demonstrate that Montgomery County’s best days are still ahead of us. We will look at the challenges as opportunities that abound, and we are going to seize them.

How we respond will help determine whether this County’s future is one that will bear fruit for all of our residents.

You probably heard me say during the campaign that “I want to keep what is working; fix what is broken, and make certain that everyone has a seat at our table and a voice in the outcome”.

The real challenge for us in Montgomery County is how do we include more of us at the table without forcing aside those who are already rightfully there? The simple answer is to increase the size of the table.

I will make every effort to establish a highly inclusionary, transparent form of government. Those affected by our decisions must be involved from the very beginning, not when assumptions about projects have hardened into stone, and the train has all but left the proverbial station.

But please remember: We are not looking for “quick fixes.” No. We need long term solutions that work. We do not need temporary solutions that vanish with the first strong ill wind. We’re in this for the long haul. We have an obligation to our children and our grandchildren that we will do everything humanly possible to make and keep things right.

The legacy that we will leave to them has not yet been written. But we must work to make certain that it will be a good one.

There will inevitably be disagreements on this or that public policy issue. We can disagree without being disagreeable. For too long, the shouters have dominated the conversation. It’s time for us to banish from our lexicon, shorthand words and phrases such as “greedy developers” and “NIMBYs” that are designed to stop critical thinking , not move things forward.

To support your family by building development projects where others can live and work are not bad things to do. Likewise, it is not a bad thing to care about preserving the quality of life for your family and your neighbors- the quality of life that drew most of us here in the first place. That’s anything but selfish; it’s honorable!

I believe Montgomery Countians are sick and tired of what passes for a permanent political campaign and “gotcha” politics. We must move on and work together for the betterment of our county.

We have a great county, but we are changing. The real test for us is how do our leaders effectively manage the change. I believe that change is effectively managed through leadership that is intelligent; leadership that is thoughtful and deliberately: and leadership this is compassionate. Whether at the state, county or municipal level, I believe we have such leadership that will successful move us forward.

There are going to be many decisions made—some that will be obvious and easy, and many that will be very difficult, some popular and some not so. But I assure you, during my tenure as County Executive, we will make the necessary decisions and they will be the right decisions for Montgomery County.

The great orator and former Congresswoman from Houston, Texas, Barbara Jordan, enjoyed pointing out, “We might have gotten here on different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now!” So join me as I steer our ship on course that will hopefully leave a rich and enduring legacy for generations to come. I will steer it in a direction willing to be flexible if our course needs changing but firm in the overall direction we must go.

My friends, standing before you today, I pledge that our Administration will be one that is open and honest. You have placed in me two very precious values, your trust and your confidence. I will not abuse them.

Two hundred thirty years from now, I would hope that the County Executive- Elect for Montgomery County will be standing right here, outlining all of the wonderful elements that we, this administration during the beginning of the 21st Century, contributed to make this great County an even greater one.

I would also hope that the County Executive at that time could rightfully say that we were successful in this administration in making Montgomery County everything that she can be, so that we and all of those who follow can continue to say with a strong, clear voice, and a sense of great pride and conviction, “I’m from Montgomery County, Maryland,” one of the best places in the world to live.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to lead our county. Together, we cannot fail.

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