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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: The Next Generation of Politicians

By Kevin O'Toole, April 28 2021 12:01 am

I have long held the belief that our parents were the hardest working generation ever, and its unimaginable to me that their parents worked any harder — but by all historical accounts they did.  Be that as it may, many of us try and hold ourselves to the same standard as our revered parents, and most of will concede that we fall a bit short.

We attempt to assuage our guilt by assuring ourselves, and those listening, that while we might be operating at 80% of our parents in work ethic, grit, sense of responsibility, effort, and result, this will allow us to be more “present” in life instead of just waking up, going to work, coming home, and repeating the day again tomorrow.  This was the model of the last generation, you went to work or cared for the home – this old school method was the “American Dream.”

However, and I’m not telling you something you hopefully don’t already know, the collision of using old school tactics with this next generation is a disaster right out of the gate.  The trouble starts when we look at the next generation and some of us see a dilution of the characteristics passed down from generations before.  For many of us, we have a sense of panic rush over us. As we get accustomed to saying each generation loses something from the last. Kind of like in the Michael Keaton movie, “Multiplicity” – a copy of the copy just isn’t the same.

I’m sure you’re looking for the point of intersection with politics, here we go.

What expectations do we hold for the next generation of politicians that are brought up in the “participation trophy” era?

Those of us who worked our way up the political ladder have had our fair share of menial jobs in the political arena.  We drove the vans, erected signs, pulled down signs, handed out leaflets and campaign brochures, followed a candidate, researched tax and corporate records (you would be surprised how candidates or consultants work illegally out of a home and fail to pay proper taxes), acted like a prop for a campaign event, researched position papers and old votes, looked at newspaper archives on spools of microfiche (if you don’t know what this is, google it),  fetched coffee and meals for the team, and did whatever else was required — no questions asked and no instructions or coaxing was needed then. I truly believe that this was a rite of passage to handle the staff level work before making the leap to elected office. Somehow, I don’t sense that many of the next generation are willing or able to work up the ladder and graduate to actually running for an office. I hope that I am wrong.

Working your way up the ladder of a political organization should not be viewed as “beneath” you just because you have an MPA, it’s also not just a rite of passage; let me put it this way, even when you’re hired out of the management training program from Harvard, you end up spending some time on the assembly line at GE before you get to pick the drapes in your corner office.

“You know when you make a copy of a copy, it’s not as sharp as the original” – I certainly hope not.


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