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Ferruccio Lamborghini. (Photo: Wikipedia).

The O’Toole Chronicles: Was it Worth It?

By Kevin O'Toole, January 17 2023 12:01 am

Ferruccio Lamborghini was enjoying the fruits of a very successful professional career as a world-renowned designer of trucks, tractors, and of course, incredible sports cars, when he had dinner with his son, Tonino, who posed a simple question: Was it all worth it?

A little background is needed: Mr. Lamborghini was born on April 28, 1916 to two grape farmers in the town of Renazzo di Cento, province of Ferrera, in the Emilia Romagna region. A young Ferruccio was drafted to serve in the Italian Royal Air Force where he went on to be a skilled mechanic. He left the service and was intent on being a successful businessperson who would make the lives of farmers easier and more profitable. From there, Ferruccio gave birth to a number of successful businesses, including creation of the uber luxury sports car – the Lamborghini.

Ferruccio was married three times and had two children. Ferruccio immersed himself in work and was obsessive about building the perfect vehicle. Apparently, during these pursuits, he ignored his family and friends and lost contact with loved ones.

Here is the rub.

As mentioned above, the father sits down for dinner with his son and is detailing the success of his burgeoning enterprise and that he was going leave his estate to his children and siblings upon his death. Tonino wasn’t really excited about the business or his inheritance plan, instead he let his father know that he missed his grandkids’ birthdays and he wasn’t a part of their lives. Then he lowered the boom and asked his dad if it was worth it. Most of us would be rocked by this question, but the famous auto designer played right through it.

Now you may be wondering what this has to do with anything related to our world. Well, it’s January 2023 and presumably some of you are recruiting candidates, being recruited to be a candidate, or knee deep in petitions.

I can litter Bloomfield Avenue with the names of politicians who have obsessed over politics and all but ignored their family and profession, and 10 times out of 10, it didn’t end well for any of the parties involved. Whether it was a Governor who was barely in office before they were off running for President, a Senate President who thought Drumthwacket was calling, a County Executive who ran for county office and a moment later was looking at a U.S. Senate seat and a gubernatorial run, an Essex County Mayor who was pressing to be a state wide player or dozens of state legislators who all wanted to run for Governor — it usually ends badly. Don’t try guessing names, but if you must then remember I go back to the 1980s in this business so the names may not be as recent/obvious as you think.

Assemblyman John V. Kelly gave me advice in 1986 that it was ok to play in politics, but don’t let it interfere with making a living, and never let it interfere with your family life. Timeless advice.

I took that advice seriously and always focused on building my law practice without being dependent upon politics and I always made my family my priority. I’m proud to say I didn’t miss my kids’ practices, concerts, doctor’s appointments and I was never one to hit every political event — as a matter of fact I was criticized by staff and supporters alike for not doing “enough” as a politician. While I know those comments usually came from a place of good intention, I didn’t pay much (any) attention to them.

Today, you can look at any legislator’s calendar and it will be jammed with events, many on the same day and usually every day of the week. When is it enough? I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be attentive and do your job; but at what point does the work-life balance become unhealthy for you and your loved ones? Running out mindlessly to every single ribbon cutting seems a little silly and goofy. Are you going to lose that election because you missed the annual get together at the local gin mill for retired taxidermists in your district? Probably not.

I can tell you that as I continue to counsel many legislators, and despite their prestigious positions, they are barely eking out a living.

The only advice I can pass along, as you’re circulating petitions and raising money for your campaign, is to work just as hard at creating a balance between your family/your job/your politics as you are at just your politics. If you don’t, then don’t be shocked when your child asks you one day if your lifelong obsession with a lapel pin was worth it? Or worse yet, there’s nobody around to even ask that question.

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