Nationally, the inaugural of our country’s first African American President might be seen by many as the top story of 2009. Or perhaps it is the epic debate and passage of a universal health care plan that is at the top of some lists if top stories of 2009.
Others may see more sensational stories like the death of Michael Jackson, the divorce of John and Kate Gosselin or the transgressions of Tiger Woods, as the biggest stories of the year.
Closer to home, here in Massachusetts, perhaps it is the passing of Senator Edward Kennedy or the indictment of former speaker Salvatore DiMasi.
Certainly, the economic news of the nation – from the declining real estate market, historic numbers of foreclosures and rising unemployment figures in the first half of the year, to the rebound in the stock market and the emergence of GM from bankruptcy – provided highlights worthy of consideration for story of the year in the United States. And, lest we forget, our nation is still fighting two wars with no end in sight.
But here in Winthrop, the story of the year is almost certainly tied to the improbable proposition 2 ½ override vote that was taken in late spring. Against a backdrop of a sagging economy, with unemployment figures hitting double-digits for the first time in decades, the citizens of town of Winthrop went to the polls and voluntarily voted in favor of a tax increase, in order to rescue essential municipal services and maintain the quality of life that had driven them to make their lives here in the first place.
Truly, the Winthrop story of 2009 was that impressive vote.
With that in mind, it is important to recognize the people who were such an important part of that vote. Though the passage of the override was due to the hard work of many people, the Winthrop Cares Committee, led by local businessman and veterans advocate Richard Honan, was the group that can take most of the credit for the historic victory.
Richard Honan and Winthrop Cares
Honan is the first person to point out that no one person alone was responsible for the 2009 override victory. He even acknowledges with some chagrin that his role in the campaign for the override has even cost him some business in town, from voters, and residents who did not agree with him or the Winthrop Cares committee.
Still, he told us that if he had it to do over again, he would. And, that is the essence of the man who helmed the town’s first successful override attempt. He has always been somebody who stands up for what he believes in and works for the betterment of the community.
“I felt we were up against the wall, as far as our town’s finances were concerned,” said Honan. “Services were already running at pretty much bares bones and development in Winthrop is pretty much non-existent. For my children and my grandchildren, I thought that we needed the additional taxes.”
Honan said that most of the negative feedback he has gotten from his role in the override has more to do with what has happened in the town since the vote.
“Look, I’m a small business owner myself, and I don’t really like the idea of raising taxes either,” he said. “But I really thought it was the right thing to do.”
Feeling the tax increase was needed and voting for it was one thing, but leading the charge to get it passed is quite another. So why did Honan, who has mostly been known as an advocate for veterans and a general willingness to help others decide to get involved in a political campaign?
“I knew they needed a fresh face, someone without a past history in politics,” said Honan. “And, because I care about the future of the town.”
Honan acknowledges that the application of extra money generated by the override might be questioned by some in the years ahead, but acknowledges that he has no control over that.
“The way I looked at it, it was our job, the Winthrop Cares Committee, to get the override passed,” said Honan. “The override was very specific about where the money would go in the first year. Beyond that it is in the hands of the town council, and the town manager. I don’t have any say in it.”
Honan also said he felt a personal responsibility to the service members he writes to and sends packages to overseas. For the past seven years Honan has been sending letters and care packages to sons and daughters of Winthrop who are serving our country overseas in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“What was I going to tell them? That while they were away we couldn’t keep the library opened? Or we couldn’t keep the senior center opened?” asked Honan. “In the end, I think we just did a good job of getting the message out, that this was our chance to send a message about what kind of town we want Winthrop to be.”
That message came across loud and clear.