Before becoming Rockford's mayor in 2017, Tom McNamara thought his biggest mayoral challenges would be crime and budget. Those remain at the top of his to-do list, but now alongside them is COVID-19. Every day, he makes decisions about the triple threat to Rockford's safety and economy.
"Decisions that get to me, all of them are unpopular," he said. "I mean the easy decisions are usually handled by staffs -- not just at the City, but staffs across the community -- so when decisions come to my desk, they are usually...certainly never easy; pre-COVID or during COVID."
The mayor answered questions frankly and with a touch of humor, something he says he learned from his father, John McNamara, who was Rockford's mayor from 1981-1989.
Speaking about his father, the mayor said, "He always says, 'Life's about two things: attitude and gratitude. You are the only one who can control your attitude and how you react to people.' And then he also said, 'Take time every day to be grateful for what you have.' So I would say attitude and gratitude are two things he always, always pushed to us."
When the mayor says "us," he is referring to his two brothers and three sisters. Tom is the youngest of the six and is very close with all of them. Prior to the pandemic, they would gather weekly at their parents' house.
"We -- us McNamaras -- like to get together and we do so a lot. Once a week we would have breakfast or dinner together and to not have that interaction -- that was like the core, the solace that you have for those two or three hours. I wasn't inundated with phone calls or emails or tweets or social media. It was...I got to be with my favorite people on earth, which is my family."
It's not just his parents and siblings who keep him centered. He says his own family at home makes it easier to stay focused on his attitude and gratitude.
"I have a wife I really don't deserve named Sarah, and I have two amazing kids; Olympia who just turned four and Malachy who just turned three." He continued, "When I come home after a really difficult day -- if people like me that day or don't like me that day -- my kids and wife love me. Or at least my wife says she loves me." He laughed for a couple seconds and said, "My wife is, was, and always will be the person who makes the call if I run again or if I run for a different office or if I quit. She will always make that call because she deals with it just as much as I do."
McNamara also credits city staff with supporting his efforts at City Hall. And he always tries to keep those efforts in perspective.
"I have the best team," he said. "Totally selfless, incredibly bright, hardworking leaders that I get to surround myself with every day at the City of Rockford."
McNamara's tone shifted as he talked about the widespread effect of the coronavirus. "There's a lot of people who feel alone. They're struggling because maybe they don't have a job, or their hours were cut back, or they're not living in a safe home and they are asked to stay at home," he said.
"My goal is to help them alleviate some of those challenges and put our city, and thus the citizens, in a position that when there is that day after COVID, we come out a lot stronger," he said. "And we use this 'Once in a 100-year Crisis' as a 'Once in a 100-year Opportunity' to right some wrongs, provide some more opportunities for citizens to grow personally and collectively -- to be that city of choice we should be, and know we can be, and we will be."