ROCKFORD — Three-term Mayor Larry Morrissey will not run again for the city's top job in 2017.
Morrissey, 46, an independent who has been mayor since 2005, made his announcement this afternoon at City Hall.
"I'm just ready to move on to another chapter of my life," Morrissey said in an interview before the announcement. "It's not so much about being tired with the job, but I think there is an opportunity for me to take the experience I have and continue to do the kind of work I'm passionate about."He said he doesn't have another job lined up and will serve until May, when his successor will be sworn in.Morrissey's political future had been the subject of widespread speculation. The mayor, who won a three-way race in 2013 with 44 percent of the vote, had said he would decide around Labor Day whether to run for re-election.His decision not to run follows a tumultuous year involving an affordable housing development on South New Towne Drive, part of a plan to deconcentrate poverty at Fairgrounds Valley apartments on the city's west side by building 49 units on the east side. Neighbors were vehemently opposed the plan and comments from a divided City Council prompted the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to investigate potential fair housing law violations. Aldermen hired outside lawyers from Hinshaw & Culbertson to advise them on the issue, generating more than $200,000 in legal fees.The City Council approved a plat map that gave Gorman & Company, the developer, the go-ahead on the project. But at this week's official groundbreaking, Gorman CEO Gary Gorman acknowledged the risk the mayor took by backing the project."Larry Morrissey put (political) capital on the line," Gorman said. "He stood in front of people who weren't happy with him on one unpleasant night and said, 'I support this project. Unequivocally.' "Morrissey said the housing battle was not his Waterloo."Obviously, there has been a tremendous amount of acrimony, conflict over that," he said. "I'm very proud we're taking it on. We're not running away from it."Morrissey's career has been marked by his head-on style, a politician who was not afraid of challenging the status quo, whether it was union contracts with police officers and firefighters, fighting for pension reform in Springfield or backing embattled former Police Chief Chet Epperson despite little support from the rank-and-file."Yes, it is messy," he said of governing. "It is supposed to be messy. It is intentionally hard. But that's how we get our civic muscles. We use them. In fact, that is the very essence of what our country is all about."Morrissey, who practiced law before he was elected, said he wasn't planning on returning to the courtroom. But it's time for him to do something else."I still love the work, but I'm just not interested in running again," he said. "It's not that I couldn't do it; I just don't want to right now."I'm happy to pass the baton to others. My hope is that we've established a trajectory that makes it possible for the next mayor to pursue excellence everywhere for everyone."Three candidates have announced that they're running for mayor.Pam Connell, a first-term alderman from Ward 6, announced in May that she would run as a Republican.Community activist Rudy Valdez, a former manager at United Technologies Aerospace Systems who in 2010 was picked by Morrissey to be his educational liaison, said in July he would run as an independent.Third Ward Alderman Tom McNamara, whose father served as mayor, announced in July that he would run as a Democrat.Morrissey said that he thinks the next mayor faces two top issues — excessive use of force by police officers and the availability of affordable housing."At this point in time I don’t plan on endorsing any candidate for mayor," said Morrissey, who added that he will endorse ideas and left open the possibility of an endorsement later in the campaign.Morrissey is an advocate for livable, walkable cities. His focus on redeveloping the city's core earned him the nickname "Downtown Larry."His administration helped stabilize finances at BMO Harris Bank Center with the city-owned IceHogs hockey franchise as an anchor. The UW Health Sports Factory, City Market, and luxury lofts and apartment development happened under his watch.So did a referendum for a 1 percent sales tax to rebuild city infrastructure. The measure passed three times and the money was used as matching dollars to finance more than $100 million in projects that included reinvestment in aging gateway corridors to downtown such North and South Main streets and West State Street, Morgan Street bridge and remakes of Harrison Avenue and Airport Drive."As a result of our work, we have been able to invest more in public infrastructure than at any other time in our community's history," he said.In the next six months, Morrissey said, he'll continue working with downtown developers on hotel projects. Gorman wants to turn the Amerock building downtown from an empty factory into an Embassy Suites hotel and conference center that would cater to sports tourists, convention-goers and other travelers who prefer downtown environments. Joseph James Partners is turning the Millennium Center, 200 S. Madison St., into a 40-room hotel with a restaurant and other amenities. The company also continues to pursue a project at 134 N. Main St., where it wants to put a 76-unit hotel.Morrissey said he'll also work in Springfield on getting state historic tax credits restored for Rockford. Those credits have helped development in the central city.Morrissey, who was single when he was first elected and now is a married father of four, said, "I'd be kidding if it wasn't part financial" of his decision not to run. Base salary for the mayor in 2016 is $127,000.He said dealing with crime, poverty, violence, police use of force and other issues he faced as mayor have given him a unique skill set."As I’ve scanned opportunities out there, my belief is that I will find a position that will allow me to leverage a lot of the experience I have."I’m passionate about cities."Brian Leaf: 815-987-1343; firstname.lastname@example.org; @b_leafA look at Larry Morrissey's administrationInfrastructure: With the passage three times of referendum for 1 percent infrastructure tax, Morrissey’s administration had a pool of money it has used to leverage more than $100 million to rebuild major, aging transportation corridors.Downtown: A cornerstone to downtown development is the $24.4 million UW Health Sports Factory, developed in partnership with the Rockford Park District. It is expected yearly to attract 500,000 visitors downtown. Lobbying in Springfield by the city helped it become one of five cities to receive River Edge tax credits designed to make turning old buildings into loft apartments, stores and restaurants, and perhaps a 160-room Embassy Suites hotel in the former Amerock building, profitable.Public safety: Police services are being moved from one downtown headquarters to three district stations around the city where officers and supervisors can develop relationships with people in neighborhoods to help them fight crime.Police reform: The 2009 shooting of Mark Anthony Barmore, an unarmed black man who was shot by police in the basement of a church, accelerated change within the police department regarding use of deadly force. It also led to creation of the Winnebago County Integrity Task Force, led by Illinois State Police, to independently investigate all local officer involved shootings. Many communities nationally are forming similar task forces to investigate officer involved shootings in after a series of high-profile incidents.Veterans homelessness: By pooling resources and information with partners in a process called collective impact, Rockford became the first city in the country to reach functional zero on homelessness among military veterans.
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