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St. Catherine of Siena Church in Cedar Grove, New Jersey. (Photo: St. Catherine's).

The O’Toole Chronicles: Redemption

By Kevin O'Toole, May 02 2023 12:01 am

Well, you almost had me fooled
Told me that I was nothing without you
Oh, after everything that you’ve done
I can thank you for how strong I have become

Praying, by Kesha

This world of politics is crazy and nutty. Unless you have lived it, really lived it, you don’t, and won’t, fully appreciate the complexity and bizarre permutations that exist. This alternate universe is one that few understand and fewer actually thrive and survive in.

The late Steve N. Adubato once described the political world as one where the real world is inside out and upside down. In his own unique way, to further drive home the point, he would state that on the political stage, day was sometimes night, a yes vote could be an eventual no, and a no vote, possibly a yes. Still following?

In my political retirement, I have taken advantage of time to dissect the big WHY an individual runs for office, and the large HOW a person succeeds in politics.

I have said in the past that many individuals in politics run because it fills some void in their life. Others do it for ego, to serve the public, to help themselves, or reasons they may not even understand.

I can say firsthand that I ran for local office because I really wanted to be a difference maker, and, I must admit, that I also ran because I thought that holding elected office would somehow validate me and give me a sense of purpose that was missing.

There was a time that I truly thought I could only find meaning if I held an office. At one point in my 20’s, the prospect of me holding office, or worse, being denied an office, was going to define my entire life. Each election in the 1980’s and 1990’s would be life-altering and have dire consequences if I came up short. I know it sounds stupid now, and it even started to sound misguided and naive until I matured in my mid-to-late 30’s.

I ran to create a sense of purpose; to be a contributing part of society. For some context, at a young age I was heavily involved in my community. At the age of 18, I was a local volunteer firefighter, at 20 I was a legislative aide to a State Assembly Member, at 21 I was appointed to serve on the zoning board and rent leveling control board, at age 22 I was a volunteer coach and a volunteer for a number of charities. Yet, I still felt this yearning to run for office and chase this sense of acceptance and validation. Sounds goofy I know.

Speaking of goofy, try this one. I recall as a legislative aide in 1986, as I was watching the Assembly Members gather and assemble at their desks on the floor, Speaker Chuck Hardwick gaveled the opening of the session. I was in the vestibule by the Speaker’s rostrum and my boss, Assemblyman John Kelly, told me that my parish priest, Monsignor Salterelli, was asked to give the invocation. As I greeted the Monsignor, he shook my hand and then put his hands on my head, said a brief prayer, and said that sometime soon my time will come and I will join the ranks in the Assembly. I was speechless and felt the enormity of that moment.

As this man of cloth predicated, less than a decade later, I was elected to the Assembly in 1995. I cannot say it was divine intervention that got me to the Legislature, but something significant transpired that day.

Back to the point of the column.

When I came to the point when I said it was time to move on, the need to be validated and accepted had long dissipated. I served at the state level and it was a sheer joy as I tried to help as many constituents as possible and make good public policy.

As I wrote earlier, I do think elected officials are chasing something.

My purpose of this column is to remind officeholders (present and future) that you should be doing this because you have a desire to help people and make a difference. If you are looking for that title to provide you with validation, that is a fool’s errand.

I’m proud of who I am
No more monsters, I can breathe again
And you said that I was done
Well, you were wrong and now the best is yet to come

 Praying, by Kesha

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