It’s hard to believe that the Ray LaHood era in the 18th Congressional District is nearing the “finish line.” When you walk or run in an event to raise funds for charity, or in serious competitions like the Steamboat Classic, you always look forward to the finish line. And Ray and I have done that a lot in the past decade! The finish line means the race is over—you can catch your breath and feel good about the exercise and camaraderie. But there is one finish line I’m not looking forward to, and that is when Congressman Ray LaHood bows out of almost 36 years of public service, the last 14 as our congressman.
Now don’t get me wrong—I am confident that Aaron Schock will maintain the strong tradition of representing this district in Washington with the same dedication that Ray has demonstrated. And I look forward with an optimistic spirit of working with Aaron.
But Ray LaHood is a truly unique individual. As I reflect on his approach to representing us in Congress, I think of three fundamental principles—integrity, value-based leadership and maintaining hometown relationships.
Ray has never wavered from his belief that integrity—honesty, ethical behavior, decency towards others— is at the core of his being. The other night at a wonderful Easter Seals Tribute Dinner to our Congressman, he acknowledged that his parents instilled in him the basic belief that integrity and honesty are at the heart of every trusting relationship. And I happen to believe that this ethical dimension so appropriately characterizes Ray LaHood’s success in Congress—working with both sides of the aisle, the administration and, of course, in representing those of us “back home.”
Very closely related to integrity is a leadership style that is clearly founded on principles such as a belief in the dignity of the individual, a never-compromised adherence to the rule of law and commitment to our nation’s cornerstone of democratic self-government. I’ve seen Ray interact with folks of all backgrounds and political and religious beliefs, and he extends the same handshake of friendship and fairness that he does to those of us who are privileged to know him on a more personal basis. He handled some pretty tough assignments in the House of Representatives, serving in the Speaker’s chair during times that challenged the very center of our nation’s constitutional basis of rule of law and democracy. He did it so well.
The one principle of Ray’s approach to “his job,” as he calls it, that means the most to me in my capacity as mayor of Peoria is his steadfast commitment to close, ongoing relationships and involvement in the affairs of his hometown. We are so fortunate—and it is not a common denominator among congressmen—that our representative is home every weekend; hosts meetings in his office early Monday mornings before heading back to Washington; is on the phone in any spare time, solving problems and getting folks to discuss problems with one another; and giving sound advice to locally elected officials.
You can go about anywhere in Peoria and see the results of Ray’s close partnership with those of us in Peoria government to improve neighborhoods, support cultural enrichment and advance education and healthcare, strengthen transportation and law enforcement, and most importantly, build human bridges of understanding and collaboration in constructing a better quality of life. Peoria is his hometown and he never forgot it.
While Congressman LaHood is nearing the ‘’finish line” in his current assignment, I am confident he will continue to be involved and help our community move forward. The really good news is that he will be here even more than he has been the past 14 years when Congress was in session. Peoria will continue to benefit from Ray LaHood. It always has and always will.
Thank you, Ray, for helping me accomplish my job, but more importantly, thank you for your friendship and for just being you! Peoria is a better community because of your involvement and commitment. iBi