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Kevin J. O'Toole, the chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is a former New Jersey State Senator. (Photo: Kevin J. O'Toole.)

The O’Toole Chronicles: Keeping your word

By Kevin O'Toole, January 25 2022 12:01 am

In politics, much like in life, the art of keeping one’s word is fast becoming something of a relic of the past.

I can’t tell you how many times in Trenton I witnessed promises and commitments made and promises and commitments broken. What I can tell you is that each and every time I heard a “Trenton Promise”, it was said with such clarity and conviction.

As I rewind the tape of each broken promise, the only issue is to discern whether the promise was intended to be honored, but upended because it was just being said, from the beginning, to nail down a vote with a full understanding that it would never be kept.

I remember being schooled in the 1980’s from Trenton legislative legends on both sides as they would lecture us on giving our word – how sacred it was and that it was never to be broken.
Those of us who worked as staff would take these pearls of wisdom as if they came from Mount Olympus. Those teachings have remained with many of us to this day.

This training about the value of always keeping my word was first instilled in me by my dad.  I recall my dad telling me, as I worked for him at the tender age of 7, that you don’t promise something you can’t deliver. He went on to add: “if you say you are going to do something – do it.”

Rather straightforward words that have guided my life.

I will save for another moment the list of 100 times I can count that politicians or their staff broke a commitment or promise made in “stone.”

Lesson of the day: If you give your word on something, honor it as your mentors and parents would want you to.  For a more illustrative example of the meaning of giving your word in politics, see the 1996 movie “City Hall” with Al Pacino playing a New York City mayor and the term – Menschkeit – is discussed as the space between a handshake and the honor and character of the political players.

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