By Peter Lane
I was unfortunately unable to attend the recent memorial service for the late former Democratic Rye City Mayor Warren Ross. I do, however, want to take an opportunity to share some political and personal recollections of Warren; a thoughtful, highly intelligent man (he was, in fact, brilliant in his modest and unassuming way) of great integrity who I considered to be very much a “class act.”
I was the Republican Party chairman when Warren was first elected to the Rye City Council in 1985 and then as mayor in 1989. While I never believed politics should become “personal,” I consider it to be a “contact sport” and I never shied away from exchanging “political hits” when I thought it appropriate. (One of my favorite political quotes is from the late, long-time political commentator, Jack W. Germond, who was fond of reminding us that “politics ain’t beanbag.” This translates to the real world guidelines that politics is not for the “thin skinned” and we who participate in it are supposed to be grown-ups.)
While I’ve always believed that I have never crossed the line from the “political” to the “personal” (and I have Obama-like faith in my political judgment), I am aware that we all have different sensibilities. Thus, my pragmatic guidelines, and assumptions, notwithstanding, I always hope that the subject of any of my particular comments won’t feel himself or herself to have been victimized by a never intended ad hominem attack.
All of this sets the stage for my anecdote about Warren. My good friend, judicial role model and mentor—his feel for the pulse of our city on this very pro-active, “hands-on” bench was unerring—Tom DeCaro was due to retire as the Rye City judge at the end of 1991. That was a position that had long been my professional goal and the one that I very much hoped to be appointed to after Tom stepped down. According to our City Charter, the appointment is made by the mayor with the approval of the City Council. I was, however, early in Warren’s term as mayor still the Republican chairman, so it fell to me to engage with him politically. I did that in a series of “shot for shot” exchanges in one of Rye’s then weekly newspapers. I wore only the chair’s “hat” and my political gusto was unrestrained by my ambition to don the local judge’s robe in January 1992. I could only hope that Warren would follow the same guidelines that I did and would not be a political “grudge holder” when the time for the appointment arose.
At some point, shortly after our local version of political “point-counterpoint” had ended, I resigned as the Republican chairman, although I remained a member of the Rye City Republican Committee. This turned out not to be the wisest political move that I ever made since as chairman it would have been easier to protect my “flank” against other lawyers from my party who also coveted the soon to be open judgeship.
Late in 1991, Warren diligently began personally interviewing those of us who sought to be considered for the appointment as the next Rye City judge. (My best recollection was that there were some four or five candidates, so it could not have been an easy or brief task for him.) When my turn came, I made the best possible affirmative case that I could for my appointment and then answered his questions. He asked some thoughtful ones, including how I might interact with the community for its betterment in an extra-curricular (i.e. outside the courtroom) fashion. Fortunately, I had given that some prior thought and shared with him my intent to partner with the middle school and speak with the students about the fact that they were entering an age bracket where the legal consequences of some actions that might merely have resulted in a summons to the principal’s office in elementary school were about to become potentially serious. That must have resonated with him in a favorable way since he made mention of it when he announced my appointment to the press.
What we did not do was to allude to our past political exchanges. That would have been extremely inappropriate (not to mention incredibly stupid on my part).
What Warren was well able to do was to put those exchanges (and my role as a former political adversary) in perspective and to treat those considerations as irrelevant to the task at hand. He appointed the person who he thought would be best for the job to the bench, period. I have been in politics long enough to know that not everyone in his position would have done the same thing. He started me on what was to become a highly gratifying and fulfilling 18-year career as a judge. I will remain forever grateful to him for having the willingness and the strength of character to do that.
Peter Lane is a retired Rye City Court judge and current executive director of the Rye City Republican Committee. The views expressed are his.