EDITORIAL — Freeman: Successes came late, still coming

Published 12:11 am Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Derrick Ford Freeman’s three-year tenure as mayor was shorter than he intended but marked by genuine achievement, especially in its closing months.

Much of what the mayor touted is nearing fruition: a rebirth for downtown Port Arthur, construction of residences downtown, greater life in what was the core of the city and an influx of federal dollars after massive destruction from Hurricane and Tropical Storm Harvey.

There’s been a continuing tip to private enterprise, too, to City Hall working in complementary fashion with industries that supply much of the income that keeps the city running. Longterm, that focus on working with private enterprise is the more certain road for Port Arthur’s lasting stability.

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As mayor, Freeman encountered monumental challenges posed by Hurricane and Tropical Storm Harvey. Other mayors have faced deadlier storms — this is the coast, after all — but no American mayor has ever faced destruction like that presented by Harvey.

The 60 inches that fell on and flooded this city was an American record for rainfall; the previous high rainfall in the U.S. was 50 inches, six decades ago. That storm colored the remaining two-thirds of his first and sole term.

Freeman’s actions in the wake of the great storm were largely laudable, widespread criticism from within the city notwithstanding. Despite the personal trauma of his own family home flooding, despite much of the world’s focus falling on nearby metropolis Houston, Freeman made it clear to the rest of the world that our city had sustained enormous damages and needed help.

His message to the national media, and, by extension to the larger world, was that this city was underwater. In fact, some 80 percent of it was.

That message made it to Austin, where Freeman made strong ties to the General Land Office, which is the state agency overseeing much of recovery on the coast. Land Commissioner George P. Bush kept close watch on Port Arthur’s progress, frequently traveling here and getting work launched a year ago on multifamily housing.

The first home destined to be replaced in this area was in Port Acres; the family moved in a month ago. More homes are going up.

Motiva’s decision to move offices downtown — that means 500 workers, for starters — will likely encourage development by other private contractors. Landmark buildings, now decrepit, may be revived: The 1912 Federal Building and 1926 Adams Building, for sure; the 1912 A.E. Scott Building, most probably; the 1929 Sabine Hotel, perhaps. And more.

Some $17 million in infrastructure improvements are complete or underway this fiscal year; $70 million more in improvements are due over the next five years. If he takes the heat, he deserves some credit.

Freeman led our city cheerfully, honorably and well. For that, thanks are due.