Home>Feature>The O’Toole Chronicles: Knowing when to say when

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: Knowing when to say when

By Kevin O'Toole, February 03 2021 11:33 am

We’ve all seen the news that State Senators Tom Kean and Kip Bateman recently made the hard and emotional decision to retire from elective office.   Unless you walked a mile in those elected moccasins, you can’t readily appreciate the gravity and conflict of that decision and what goes into making it. This is particularly true when you are born into a proud and rich family history in politics.

Much like Tiger Woods or some other child prodigy, TK and Kip have been born and bred to live in politics. And after a lifetime of dutifully playing their part in the family legacy, the time has now come to call it quits in the family business – tough stuff.

I have repeatedly said that one of the toughest decisions you will make in politics is knowing when to say when.

In my case, I first held office in 1989, a first in my family, both Irish and Korean sides, I served in elective office without a break from 1989 to 2017 – 28 years for those math majors out there.  After what felt like a lifetime in politics, I made a decision in 2016 that it was my time to say when.

I remember telling close friends and most were extraordinarily supportive, one or two questioned my sanity and timing. A few supporters asked if I would retool and finally make that run for Governor. I remember some former opponents ruminating that there must be a reason for my announcement of retiring. Was it my health? Feds closing in? It was funny to watch.

The only word I would use to describe my emotions when I announced – liberating. Liberating from always being somewhere, doing something on schedule, and always BEING ON. I looked forward to kicking back and doing my own thing.

I’ve known some former officials who have lived with terrible regret about retiring. Many have confessed to me that they miss the action and want back in the game. The sad reality is some folks have allowed life to go by and their elected office became their only identity. I say sad but the word pathetic is not that far behind. As I’ve written before, one of the biggest pitfalls for elected officials is allowing the office to define you and your identity.

When you retire it opens doors to many other opportunities. You should be overjoyed and thrilled to do it. Recognize that as an elected official, you have a finite amount of time be effective.

To my former Senate colleagues, Tom and Kip, I say you have done your time. It’s now time to get liberated and enjoy your family, find your next passion and endeavor. There is so much more to this than just your name appearing on a ballot. Life is really cool on the other side.

P.S – As for that run for Governor, Senator Stack needs to stop putting my name out there. The only thing worse than running and losing would be running and winning – see retirement is liberating.

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