Column: Limited Edition

"The world is run by those who show up"

It would be good to be more like Kevin.

I only talked with him a few times before he got sick. He seemed far too quiet and too young to have had so many successes. Plus, he was always skinny despite devouring at each Michigan Historical Society meeting what seemed to me to be an inordinate number of raisin oatmeal cookies.     

“The world is run by those who show up” was the motto he adopted in dedicating his life to improving health care for the people of Michigan. He worked tirelessly to ban smoking in the workplace, increasing childhood immunization rates, advocating for AIDS education and better end-of-life care. Although a Michigan State graduate, his adage seems particularly applicable to Ann Arbor.

Kevin was a public advocate who extended his motto to “Show up, be hard on the issues, soft on people.” President Obama may have unknowingly adopted Kevin’s motto with his grassroots campaign that produced a record number of voters who, despite long lines, showed up last November 4th. This renewed interest in showing up was beamed around the world later that evening from Grant’s Park, and again at his inauguration in January.

Kevin’s public policy attitude is also alive and well in Washtenaw County. A while ago, an older gentleman (my age) at Knight’s restaurant complained to me about our liberal city council persons. I asked him if he voted in the last local election and he said he doesn’t bother anymore and hasn’t in some time. So who is to blame? Actually, it takes relatively few votes to elect a person to council in several of the city wards. The activists rally their troops and show up.

Over the past two or three years I have found myself doing a slow burn at several city council meetings as one activist presenter continually misrepresented the facts in pressing her  anti-growth agenda. To me it seemed to be more of a personal attack on anything and everything that was fair and reasonable. After the meeting she came over and said to me, “I wish you were speaking for our side, this is going to be a close call.” Upon further reflection later in the week I realized that there was nothing personal in her diatribe at all. It was just local politics and she was going hard on the issues. I didn’t particularly like her then because I didn’t understand her. Kevin would never have made that mistake.

When I look at the composition of our city and county government, I believe we have pretty good people working for us and have had for some time. At a Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners meeting last year I showed up for the first time ever to speak on behalf of a developer. Before the meeting, one commissioner said he supported the project but couldn’t vote for it for political reasons. He asserted, “Don’t worry – you’ve got the votes and the board is going to do what’s right. If it was even close, I would cross over.” This commissioner will likely be re-elected as long as he runs because he is and always will be, despite political necessities, soft on people, particularly when it means jobs.

I have been in Ann Arbor since 1960. To my knowledge during that entire time Washtenaw County has been free of the political corruption and malfeasance that has plagued Detroit and a few other communities in Michigan. Maybe that’s because many of its residents and most if not all of its elected  officials are as concerned as Kevin was – and they show up.

(Kevin A. Kelly, age 52, died on Dec. 15, 2008. He was the former Michigan State Medical Society Executive Director. His efforts and contributions on behalf of charitable organizations outside of MSMS are far too numerous to mention within this column.)

One Comment

  1. March 3, 2009 at 10:04 am | permalink

    Just to be a devil’s advocate, is it automatically a good thing that local governments are typically run by the people who show up? Often, that is the people who have the strongest emotional investment and the most free time. That doesn’t necessarily correlate to the good of the many.

    It would be simple to change the law to levy stiff fines on those who do not vote. Most other democratic nations have stricter laws on that score than we do. Why not have the run world by all those who are affected by the decisions?