Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch
Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch

It’s hard to believe President John F. Kennedy might have turned 97 today. I often wonder how much better America could have been if not for losing his idealism and courage so soon.

Though I was young when he was taken from us, I knew, as did many others, that this was a leader to follow.  Perhaps his greatest birthday present is the millions of people who serve the public because of him.

And, as I speak with my kids about President Kennedy this week, as much as I want to dwell on what might have been if he lived until the age of 97, instead I can’t help but focus on his optimism, his leadership, and the investments he made in America’s future.

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I tell my kids that President Kennedy had unmatched optimism. He had big thoughts, and spoke them loud while asking us to follow. At a time when racial discrimination was widespread in America, President Kennedy rightly professed that all people are equal, regardless of race or color.

“If an American, because his skin is dark … cannot enjoy the full and free life that we all want, then who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place?”  He led America in a new direction. He proposed the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act, which later became law.

When my kids see the latest world tensions on television, I tell them of a more difficult time when the Soviet and American nuclear arsenals were within a hairsbreadth of wiping much of civilized humanity from the face of the Earth. Kennedy’s brave leadership brought us back from the brink without losing American lives.

I tell my kids that sacrifice is not a dirty word. JFK said we all must sacrifice and contribute, and those contributions will make critical investments in America’s future. “Ask not what your country can do for you– ask what you can do for your country.”

I ask my kids to think like that still because “our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future.”

Kennedy said that “The torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans” when he became President. When he died, he passed it to us, and we now pass that torch of hope and optimism to another generation– not just in words, but in deeds.

Then, I tell them that’s exactly what we are doing in Bridgeport — the first city in Connecticut to elevate city employees up to the new $10.10 minimum wage, two years before the state’s mandate. We’re one of the greenest cities in America, creating hundreds of green jobs while installing green energy sources that will soon power more than 30,000 homes with zero and low-emission electricity. And, we’re creating additional jobs through the development of Steelpointe Harbor, which, once complete, will generate more than $18 million in tax revenue for the city.

I’ll end my conversation by reminding my kids that they can all have a little of President Kennedy in them.  And wherever they go, whatever they do, that courage and idealism will help make a better world.

Bill Finch is the Mayor of Bridgeport, Connecticut. He is also the President of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, and is Co-Chair of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Energy Independence and Climate Protection Task Force.

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