This week we received official confirmation that we obtained another grant: this time to help build an elevator at Town Hall. I love Town Hall. It does not look like some leafy, traditional Romanesque building out of a Harry Potter movie. It’s more mid-century modern, like something out of a Mad Men episode. At its center is a big staircase, leading to the courtroom, with huge windows up above. It looks especially pretty right now with the flood lights and Christmas wreath we hung.
A barrier to democracy
No matter how aesthetically pleasing the ascension to the second floor is, it’s difficult, even impossible, for some people to get up that staircase. I’ve literally helped carry people up the stairs so that they could participate in Town Board meetings. It was an unfair hardship and prevented access to far too many people—a literal barrier to democracy.
The new elevator will change that
Who should get the credit for this significant change to Town Hall? The Town Board all voted for it. The elevator represents how much we can accomplish as a Town when we work together. But there was another person—outside the Town Board—who also deserves special recognition: Deputy Supervisor Jim Sharpe.
Grant money is like a wet fish, slippery and hard to hold onto unless you know where to grab. Deputy Supervisor Sharpe knows how to grab that fish and wrangle it into the boat. Every time I thought we lost the money for the elevator, he came through with a solution, a phone call, or an idea. He has done this on other projects, but the dance he performed to save the elevator money was fascinating. He used a mix of charm, force, and ingenuity that was some combination of Lola Montez and Fred Astaire. Thank you, Jim, for your hard work.
My right hand man
When I became Supervisor, I asked some of my fellow Town Board members to be my Deputy Supervisor. Each person I asked told me no. I was in a desperate need of a backup. So, I asked Mr. Jim Sharpe. Even Jim said no at first. He didn’t want the recognition. I had to persuade him to take the official title, instead of just working tirelessly for Grand Island behind the scenes.
I did not know him before my election, but we quickly became friends. I thought he would make an excellent choice given his years of service in various organizations—from President of the Chamber of Commerce to Republican (that’s right) Councilman for eight years. Jim knows almost everyone on Grand Island. If there’s someone he doesn’t know, his wonderful wife Cyndy Sharpe probably does.
Jim has been a godsend to me. First, he works for free, and works harder than most people with six-figure salaries. He is often there from 7:00 a.m. to midnight, even though he doesn’t have to be. He’s like the Phantom of Town Hall: always working on something. For example, I’ll see him there on a weekend, and I’ll ask, “What are you doing here?” He'll say something like, “I wanted to organize the bottles in the break room.”
He keeps me grounded
Even more important to me than Jim’s commitment is his judgment. He has tried to temper my worst tendencies and encouraged my best. I often think, “If only I had listened to Jim we would not be in this mess.” I want to push; I want to fight. Jim wants to talk, to understand, to empathize, and to build. Jim is also great because he empathizes with me. Not so long ago Jim was once a hard-driving, optimistic, and forward-thinking official. He has told me on many occasions, “Nate, I was you. But you can be better than I was.”
Several times over the last year I have been asked if I was interested in running for higher office off Grand Island. Each time I said “No.” But recently an opportunity came before me that I felt interested in and excited about. As I considered it, I came to Deputy Supervisor Sharpe. And I said, “I never thought I would do this, but it would be pretty exciting, huh? Think of what we could accomplish!” I will never forget Jim’s face.
He’s dedicated to the Island
I assumed that this man, who has been passionate about Grand Island politics for so long, would jump at the chance to help manage a large-scale campaign. I was wrong. Instead, Jim said to me, “But what will happen to Grand Island?” I cooled my excitement and watched as he got back on the phone and continues smoothing out the wrinkles planning of a boat trip for some elderly veterans—another thankless project that he has thrown himself into with the gusto of a young man seeking his fortune.
Jim loves Grand Island. Because he cares so deeply about Grand Island I feel a duty to constantly improve as your Supervisor. He is a mentor and a friend. Every time I see that elevator I will think of him. I know we will never have a better Deputy Supervisor than Jim Sharpe.