Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey announced late Friday at a news conference that he will not seek re-election.
The three-term mayor appeared with his wife and children, saying in a prepared statement that while the work was hard and sometimes confrontational, he was honored that so many believed in him and thanked his supporters. He added he believes he leaves this community knowing it believes in itself.
An assembled crowd of officials then applauded before the mayor took questions.
Had he run, Morrissey would have faced his toughest re-election challenge yet. Three candidates have already announced they are seeking the seat. Republican Council Member Pam Connell was the first to declare her candidacy, followed by Independent community activist Rudy Valdez and Democratic Council Member Tom McNamara, whose father once served as mayor.
Morrissey’s tenure will be remembered as one where he led Rockford through its most difficult days economically, the city hit hard by the Great Recession and the loss of manufacturing jobs, which also eroded the city’s tax base and caused city officials to significantly raise property tax rates to compensate.
The mayor who sought ‘Excellence Everywhere’ will also be remembered particularly as being focused on development in the downtown area, including the re-development of West State St., S. Main St., and the N. Main St. corridor with its unique if somewhat accident-prone two-lane roundabout, and the beginning of popular downtown events like ‘City Market’. The latest downtown success story is the indoor ‘Sports Factory’ sports complex by the river.
He continues to champion the building of a downtown hotel complex in the old Amerock building, a push that has included frequent trips to China along with developer ‘Gorman and Company’ in an attempt to secure investors.
In recent years, however, Morrissey also found himself embroiled in several controversies. From his standing behind of longtime and unpopular Police Chief Chet Epperson until his retirement last year to his support for the controversial South New Towne public housing complex against the wishes of residents from the surrounding community, and many council members.
Perhaps the biggest criticism of his legacy is that he’ll leave Rockford with an even bigger crime problem than he inherited, with the city’s own data showing violent crimes have trended up even while violent crime arrests went down. While the appointment of a new police chief is bringing new hope of reversing that trend, it also comes with a consensus by many that it is a change the mayor should have pushed for years earlier.
Much more on his remarks and reaction to the mayor’s announcement and his future plans tonight on ‘Eyewitness News Local at 5:00, 6:00, 9:00 and 10:00’.
Below are the full prepared remarks at Mayor Morrissey’s news conference:
When I was first elected in 2005, we established a new vision of Excellence Everywhere for Everyone. Now, in my twelfth year as Mayor, much has changed, but today we are still committed to that vision.
From challenges in public education and public safety, to challenges in public investment in infrastructure, to labor negotiations, affordable housing and race relations, I’m extremely proud of our City’s accomplishments. While navigating a very challenging economic landscape, we have stayed true to our vision and we have been fiscally responsible. We have built local, State, national and international partnerships that have put us on a strong trajectory for continued success.
Internally, we have guided our work by developing and following our ACTION values, building an organization that is: Accountable, Customer focused, Team-driven, Innovative & Open, and Never gives up. We established our monthly RockStat management meetings supporting public transparency and accountability in our operations.
The Rockford Police Department, Rockford Fire Department, and Rockford Fire Ambulance/EMS services all became accredited agencies during my administration, demonstrating our organizational commitment to build and maintain disciplined management systems that extend beyond personalities and politics.
We also took on serious challenges that caused conflict at times; but we did so in order to keep our commitment to our vision and values.
As a result of our work, we have been able to invest more in public infrastructure than at any other time in our community’s history. We have partnered with public and private sector organizations to rebuild roads and bridges; support commercial investments and new amenities; plant trees and build pathways; eliminate blight and beautify neighborhoods; grow jobs and improve our quality of life. And we are doing it throughout our community.
We are making these investments while remembering our commitment to support all of our citizens. By working together through collective impact, we were the first city in the nation to reach functional zero on Veteran Homelessness. By working together, we have supported the success of our community education partnership, Alignment Rockford. And working together, we are supporting a broad-based economic development collective impact partnership, the Rockford Community Partners.
And by working together with partners like RMAP, Transform Rockford and the United Way, we are building a Connect Rockford collective impact model to support public safety and a Healthy Rockford community health and wellness model to support health and prosperity for families and organizations throughout our community.
I am deeply thankful to the many individuals that helped me get elected to three terms as an independent candidate, which is no easy task. I am deeply appreciative of our incredible City leadership team and the many City employees that carry out our work each and every day. And I am deeply thankful to the citizens of our great City that gave me this incredible opportunity and are active each day in countless ways to improve our community. We would not be here, and our City would not be on this positive trajectory were it not for the active involvement of the many individuals and public and private organizations that believe in this community.
Most importantly, I am so very thankful to my family. My family was my foundation, inspiration and support when I first ran in 2001. My family has been there every step of the way. And my family has grown since my first election.
My family journey and City journey are closely intertwined. To my precious wife, Stacy, thank you for taking this journey with me. Thank you for your sacrifices. And thank you for being an incredible mother to our children. To Sophia, Dillon, AJ, and Seanna, you are our incredible blessing and the ongoing gift God gives us to remind us of His greatness and His active role in our lives. And to our baby, Michael Joseph, who was with us just a short time, we thank God for you each day and we thank you for the incredible gift that your life gives us every day.
As you might be able to tell, I am still extremely passionate about the work that we do and the people in my life that have supported this work. So it is with a mixture of pride, optimism, and sadness, that after examining the successes and challenges we have had as a community, and the blessings and challenges I have had in my family, today I am announcing that I will not be a candidate in next year’s election.
While I know there is more work to be done, I am confident that I can leave office next May with the City set on a strong trajectory for success. The direction we have taken and the systems we have put in place, combined with incredible, growing grassroots support will put the next administration in a strong position for continued success.
Rockford will be great because Rockford already is great. How do we know this is the case?
It’s not because we are perfect. In fact, just the opposite.
It is because we know we are imperfect, yet we are proud of who we are and proud of who we are becoming.
We know it because of the positive narrative that our citizens have embraced on a day like our recent August 15, Rockford (815) Day!
Yes, we still have crime, we still have poverty, and we still have potholes. But our positive city narrative is more powerful than any of those problems. It is powerful because it is being told by many diverse voices. It is powerful because it comes together not with one sound, but with many sounds moving forward toward success.
Our success comes not through unanimity, but through diversity. Through our willingness to engage tough challenges with incredibly different perspectives, examining different positions, reaching consensus, and moving forward.
Yes, it is messy. It is supposed to be messy. It is intentionally hard. But that’s how we get our civic muscles. We use them. In fact, that is the very essence of what our Country is all about.
I have and always will believe in Rockford. I believed in Rockford, when I first came back home, got involved in the community, and concocted a crazy idea about running for mayor.
And I am so honored that so many people believed in me and gave me this incredible opportunity.
Thank you for believing in me.
But, most importantly, I’m thrilled to be leaving office knowing that this community believes in itself.