November 08, 2006

Reporter's Notebook

Those of us who spend our lives chronicling the happenings of local government for our collective publications spend hours in town and village board meetings, listening to elected officials talk the talk.

And, all too often, that's all it is. Talk. Hyperbole. Spinmasters doing what it is they do best to paint a happy face on the life-altering issues that matter most to taxpayers. Smiling for the cameras and making empty promises that remain unfulfilled until the next election year, when a flurry of campaign pledges pepper local signs and fill the pages of local newspapers.

Too soon, bright-eyed young journalists fresh out of college, carrying their brand-new degrees and a healthy dose of idealism, find themselves jaded and sarcastic, listening to public officials with more than a grain of salt and a few heaping teaspoonfuls of cynicism.

And yet, every so often, there is a moment. A moment in time when the truth is broadcast, clear as day, in front of our very eyes, an instant when hearts are bared.

Such was the case recently when Greenport Village Trustee Jamie Mills announced two things — that he would not be running for re-election, and that he would be running the New York City marathon this past Sunday for Fred's Team, a Memorial-Sloan Kettering group geared toward cancer research.

In a heartachingly human moment, Mills began to cry. With the trustee unable to continue, Mayor David Kapell read Mills' statement.

For Mills, who has long been known for his trademark humor, it was a defining moment. Many, of course, have known of his long tenure — 13 years served on the village board. But it is rare to find a politician as deeply committed as Mills has been for every second of that stint. The trustee has spent long hours paying close attention, with his unerring eye for perfection, to even the smallest detail, ensuring that every project is completed successfully.

When asked what projects he's deemed most important over the years, Mills stated that he was equally proud of them all. Whether it was quietly designing new stationery or envisioning and then erecting the village's new transient marina, Mills has done the job, and done it well, without a lot of talk or empty words. When Mills made a promise, he kept it. His word was something taxpayers could count on.

Even when he was stricken twice with cancer, Mills remembered his responsibilities and carried on, tackling his tasks with quiet stoicism. "You do what you have to do," he believes.

Despite personal tragedies — the loss of his mother and fires at both his home and business place — Mills has persevered. Keep a smile on: The words are ones he's lived by.

That night, Mills showed the world that he is human — caring and true. Moreover, his tears were a testament to the depth of his dedication not only to the Village of Greenport, but to running the race of his life, in honor of those who have lost their lives to cancer. His emotion was the honest outpouring of someone who has faced the dark specter of cancer and emerged victorious, striving to raise funds for research so that other lives may be saved.

Elected officials of Mills' caliber don't come around too often, if ever, in a journalist's lifetime. And even more rarely do they let us see their vulnerabilities.

And so, while Mills is stepping out of the spotlight for a while — he has said that, in the future, he may choose to return to public office — it is with sadness that we say goodbye.

When he does end his term in March, it is certain that there will be more than a few tears shed on his behalf, because the loss of such a politician's presence in the public eye is something worthy of lament.

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