34-year-old set to become city’s 41st mayor
By Shane Nicholson
DOWNTOWN – “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new mayor of Rockford!” exclaimed an aide to a small crowd of family and friends Tuesday night.
And with that, Tom McNamara took a makeshift stage in a packed room for the first time as the presumptive leader of his hometown.
“I wouldn’t be here without all my family, my beautiful wife, and all the people who made this possible,” McNamara said, choked up by the moment.
The 34-year-old son of former mayor John McNamara, in attendance, had just moments before said that he was going to wait all night to see if he’d overcome challengers Rudy Valdez, Brian Leggero and Ronnie Manns.
It didn’t take that long.
At about 8:30 p.m. in the penthouse loft of the Prairie Street Brewhouse complex, his campaign staff signaled that they were done with the race they began last July.
They weren’t without cause: by the time all of Rockford’s 86 precincts had reported their tallies, McNamara had lapped the field, collecting more than 68 percent of the vote, out-running even his own campaign’s in-house polling.
The current 3rd Ward alderman made his way down to the first floor at 9 p.m. to address a packed house in the brewery’s ballroom, greeted by a standing ovation from a raucous audience as he made his way to the podium.
“One of my co-chairs and my father told me to bring two speeches, so I’m happy we don’t need this one,” McNamara exclaimed, tossing his conciliation speech aside.
“I want to thank all of my opponents in this race,” the mayor-elect opened. “I think it was a clean campaign; a campaign about the issues.”
One of those issues, the Amerock hotel project, was absent from McNamara’s address, but he alluded to the lingering city-shaping development, saying he was ready to get back to work first thing in the morning.
“We ran an incredible campaign that touched thousands of lives across our city,” said McNamara, thanking his staff and the hordes of volunteers that carried him to victory. “The work isn’t ending here tonight.”
The Democrat laid out some of the most important items of his agenda, highlighting the need to fight a plague of domestic violence in the city, and to find new solutions to combat recidivism among youths and repeat offenders. McNamara said a continued community discussion was the only way forward for the city.
“I think what I’m most proud of tonight – one of the things we talked about at every single event – is to raise the level of dialogue in our city. Getting beyond the politics of east versus west; us versus them.”
McNamara took a moment to thank the outgoing Mayor Larry Morrissey for his work and dedication to the city before raising his supporters in one final rallying cry.
“We want to make Rockford what we know it can be so it can reach its full potential,” he said. “Rockford needs you to stay engaged. Rockford needs you to stay involved.”
And McNamara closed his remarks, asking his constituents for a simple favor: “Hold me accountable.”
By the time he was afforded a quiet period of reflection outside the Brewhouse at the behest of our photographer, the mayor-to-be had collected double the votes of all his challengers combined.
In a candid moment, the facade of Candidate McNamara was finally shed by the banks of the Rock River. “I’m just glad it’s finally over,” he joked through a smile.
But the work is just beginning for the next leader of Rockford, finally across the finish line of a race that began last summer. The man who carried every precinct in town was ready to take the office atop the City Hall building.
Now he waits to find out if Rockford is ready for him. If the vote totals Tuesday night are anything to work from, the overwhelming message from his constituents is “yes.”