By Jim Hagerty
CITY HALL – It seems like forever ago that a young independent was sworn in as Mayor of Rockford after handily defeating the Democratic incumbent.
Actually it was. Twelve years ago to be exact. It’s been that long since Larry Morrissey succeeded Doug Scott, vowing to bring excellence to Rockford, starting with a downtown that housed some scattered holders on from the city’s glory days – but known for more for its blight, empty buildings and uncertainty.
Quickly given the moniker “Downtown Larry,” Morrissey pushed forward with a number of initiatives, some of which seemed to fly directly in face of a comfortable status quo. He rallied several public and private partners to bring development to Rockford, lobbying the state for tax credits used on a host of projects on both sides of the Rock River.
“I will not spend time recanting the work of 12 years in last few moments I have left in his position,” Morrissey, 47, said Monday before stepping down as the 40th Mayor of Rockford. “To do so would not do justice to the extensive work we’ve done. It would take far too much time. Instead, my mission is short and simple – to say ‘thank you.’”
Morrissey’s decision not to run for a fourth term came as the Ziock Building remained undeveloped and the controversial New Towne public housing project was going through the ringer of protests, public hearings and threats of lawsuits. Both eventually passed.
In 2015, Morrissey made national news when Rockford became the first American city to reach “functional zero” for ending homelessness among local veterans. Under the mayor’s program, homeless veterans are provided housing or sheltered in long-term treatment facilities.
Last week, he successfully championed the long-awaited Whitman interchange overhaul launch that leaders say will expand the downtown footprint to other areas of Rockford and bring 21st-century transportation standards to about 2.7 million cars.
The former mayor also spearheaded the Rockford IceHogs/Chicago Blackhawks AHL affiliation agreements; redevelopment of the Morgan Street Bridge; UW Health Sports Factory; and the Rebuilding Rockford road referendum.
Those successes did not come without pushback, however. Critics have long hit out at Morrissey and his administration, saying that a lack of communication out of City Hall threw up roadblocks to progress for citizens seeking to engage in the civic process.
But Morrissey seemed a man content with his place in the history of his city Monday night, just hours before he was set to hop on a plane.
“I am filled with a profound sense of gratitude for the incredible privilege each Monday night to take this chair on behalf of our citizens to be in a position of leadership in my hometown (for) the best job that God has given me and the support to try and move our community forward.”
Morrissey also ran a losing campaign for mayor in 2001 against Scott and Republican Denny Johnson. He will now enter his third career phase later this month when the former lawyer becomes a vice president for government relations for Marathon Health, the company that operates the City of Rockford’s wellness center.
“It’ll be different,” he told The Times last week. “I think it’ll mean more time at home – more quality time at home. I’m looking forward to that.”
But Morrissey has said over the past weeks that just because he’s stepping away from public office doesn’t mean he’s stepping away from his role as an engaged citizen.
“With many challenges we face,” he said, “we can’t expect to be perfect. Certainly no one is. But, we can make the commitment to one another that when we do our best work together, we can do things we can never do alone.”