An endorsement: Freeman has earned voters’ support
This week’s good fortune for Port Arthur, courtesy of Motiva, promises new life for a largely moribund downtown.
Motiva’s decision to move 500 workers to the corner of Austin Avenue and Fifth Street may provide the spark needed to revive that dusty part of town. It was a great day for Port Arthur, which needs great days.
So we tossed a verbal “softball” to Mayor Derrick Freeman, asking him to account for such success. It’s the kind of question that opens an interview, the sort of opportunity for veteran politicians, especially chief executives facing election, to tout their administration, vision, hard work and accomplishments.
What Freeman returned was a heartfelt, thoughtful recollection of how the city had landed this development coup, complete with praise for the city’s professional planners, City Hall staff, the Port Arthur Economic Development Corp., the City Council and thanks to Motiva. It came with an invitation to other corporate citizens to follow Motiva downtown.
Missing in Freeman’s response were these words — “I,” “me,” “my” or “mine” — notable omissions from a mayor who faces four opponents May 4, when Freeman seeks a second, three-year term.
No public leader is completely self-effacing; to enter public life demands a strong sense of self. Chief executives must be confident enough to steer their ships, cheerful enough to overcome setbacks, resolute enough to weather storms, encouraging enough to keep everyone focused. As mayor, Freeman has been all of these.
Mayors — good mayors — must love their cities. They must identify with constituents and put them first. Freeman does this routinely.
In Port Arthur’s form of government, mayors are by design “weak,” which means they represent but one council vote. The city manager runs the show, day to day.
But mayors are the public faces of their cities, most identified when things head south. When 60 inches of rain fell on Southeast Texas in August 2017, when 80 percent of our city was submerged in floodwaters, people looked to the mayor, who faced a challenge that might have cowed Noah. To the rest of America, he was Port Arthur.
Freeman’s representation of this city during crisis was courageous and exemplary. His own home flooded, he empathized with those imperiled. Stuck in the shadow of flooded Houston, he made Port Arthur’s case to a wider world, seeking public and private sources of help for his city. He never quit or even slowed down.
He also guided a sometimes contentious City Council with an even hand, giving everyone generous time to participate but, ultimately, guiding and encouraging councilmembers past crippling, dead-end divisions that have marked previous administrations.
Perfect? Hardly. But none of Freeman’s opponents could have done this better or would have tried harder. He has earned a second term. For the good of Port Arthur, the voters should give him that.