Like most Americans, I will never forget where I was and who I was with on September 11, 2001.
On that morning, I happened to be at the Palm Beach County School Board office working with a team to help expand opportunities for students in the area.
I had a television behind me when I began to notice everyone’s astonished faces, so I turned to see what was happening. I looked and couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
A plane had crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. Then, as we watched the news broadcast live trying to make sense of what just happened, a second plane crashed into the south tower. At that moment, my heart sank as my phone started ringing immediately from City Hall.
From there, my mind was a blur as I went into leadership mode. What I do remember is that most of my job in the weeks and months that followed that terrible day, had to do with comforting my neighbors and those in my community.
I can tell you that that was difficult – providing comfort to those around me while I, myself, was dealing with my own emotions – was an incredible challenge but as a local leader, there was no choice but to lead.
As we learned more about the cowardly attack on our nation’s soil, people became afraid. Questions such as “How did this happen?” and “What is next?” hung in the air of the entire country.
Closer to home, the questions also included “Will it happen again?” and “Could it happen here?”
I cannot tell you how hard it was to have, not just my young family look to me for answers, but my neighbors who had placed their trust in me to lead as well.
This is both the honor and the immense responsibility of our local leaders – that among many other things, they serve as the face of their community.
September 11 changed so much in America but the one thing it didn’t change is the fact that, for better and for worse, local leaders are the ones we look to for answers. Local leaders are the ones we know and it’s all too easy to forget, that they are also human.
We Are Stronger Together
At the time, I was involved with the Florida League of Cities and even served as the president of the association a few years before. The support network I had built with other local leaders at that time was a true lifeline. It reminded me that I was not alone.
The National League of Cities had also taken action. NLC teamed up with state municipal leagues across the country and established the Always Remember 9/11 Fund which helped support public employees affected by the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Minnetonka, MN Mayor Karen Anderson, who was NLC’s president during that time, then created a special working group, co-chaired by Dallas, TX Mayor Pro Tem Mary Poss and Dearborn, MI Mayor Michael Guido that engaged New York City and surrounding areas’ local government departments in the creation of an action plan for hometown security. The action plan, along with other resources, were made available to cities across the country the following year, providing support and knowledge to local leaders.
A new sense of cooperation and solidarity appeared across the country along with the fear and uncertainty. And after 20 years, we continue to hold in our hearts and minds the selfless first responders, workers and brave strangers who lost their lives that day. We remember the generosity of our fellow Americans in a time of crisis.
We each have our own memories of September 11, 2001 and among mine – I will never forget the impact this day had on me as a local leader.