Man of the House
State Representative Jim Miceli passed away on April 21, 2018. Jim's passing represents the end of an era in politics, and the legacy and footprint he leaves behind in the communities he represented is massive. This is my attempt to capture what Jim meant to his constituents and to me.
Jim Miceli and I were riding in his black Lincoln Town Car. We had left his insurance office in Wilmington, MA and we were making our way up Route 38, past Rocco's, Ristuccia's and Silver Lake. We wound our way into neighboring Tewksbury and rolled past The Knights, Tew-Mac and the Town Hall.
It was 1990 and I was just 21 years old. Jim was running for re-election in a political climate that was, for its time, angry and anti-incumbent. Tewksbury and Wilmington formed Middlesex County's 19th District, but in reality, having served as their elected representative since 1977, Tewksbury and Wilmington were Jim Miceli towns.
Driving with Jim was always entertaining. He loved to talk about the people and places he served, and between bursts of accelerations and braking were distracted honks and waves at the people we passed. His limousine-like Town Car, with a red and white "Miceli" bumper sticker, was easy to spot and it was not out of the question for someone to approach him while sitting at a stop light. Jim would roll down his window, give his standard greeting of a remembered name, handshake and a, "Good to see you!" and then listen to their question, complaint or concern. Horns behind would sometimes honk in frustration as Jim gave them his time but he never flinched. "Call my office!" he'd say as he pulled away.
Jim Miceli was approachable and accessible.
Jim's frame was round and his arms were short, and because of this the steering wheel always sat high and forward, just above his stomach, with his hands in the low 8 o'clock and 4 o'clock position. When he made a turn he would do so in a series of short choppy motions rather than one sweeping one.
"Do you know what Tip O'Neil used to say about politics?" Jim asked me in his raspy voice. By some coincidental miracle, I had recently finished Tip's book, Man of the House, and I knew the answer, "All politics is local." "That's right!" Jim bellowed. "It starts here and it ends here," he said, taking his hand off the wheel and gesturing at the blurred landscape out his window. I always knew that Jim cared about his job and role as a politician, but it was at that moment that I realized that Jim Miceli knew his job was not to serve himself, but rather, to serve others - and did he ever serve his constituents well.
I saw this first-hand as Jim's legislative intern in 1988 and 1989, and again as his co-campaign manager in his 1990 re-election bid. Some State Representatives, if they were lucky, had a single summer intern. Jim Miceli strong-armed the leadership to fund five interns for his State House office, and we did not fritter our time away. We worked harder than the other interns because Jim made us. Our desks and work-space spilled out into the office hallway, and while other interns took advantage of being in Boston, we worked eight hour days on our constituent case-log, fielding calls from the District, helping people navigate the bureaucracy, writing congratulation letters, crafting Legislative and Governor citations, and chasing down the status of legislation. When scheduling conflicts arose, Jim's interns attended after-hour District ceremonies, meetings and office hours on his behalf. Interns were an important cog in the Miceli machine that got things done.
Jim used his influence and knowledge to help those who possessed little influence or working knowledge of government. Jim was a champion for the common man and advocate for the working woman. He worked tirelessly for Democrats and Republicans alike and refused to take "no" for an answer. Jim was the unstoppable force that smashed through a seemingly impenetrable bureaucratic wall for his constituents - to get a much needed bed at the State Hospital, appointment at the VA, or hearing at the unemployment office. Jim attended countless town meetings, funerals, weddings, wakes, ballgames and parties. Jim found state funding sources for fire trucks and land grants where others could not. He used his influence as a member of the House of Representatives to give voice to the voiceless. He ministered to the people in his district.
Jim Miceli taught me that government was good.
I used to marvel at Jim's ability to make people feel like they were the most important person in the room. He knew their name and looked them in the eye; he placed his hand upon their arm and leaned in close and said, "Can I tell you something," and then followed it up with a story or explanation, dropping a name and infusing a mix of folksiness, knowledge and candor. It was not uncommon for a citizen to approach Jim with a bee in their bonnet about a particular issue, only to walk away feeling satisfied; feeling like they had been heard.
Jim Miceli was a sincere, honest and accountable public servant.
Jim's legacy extends beyond state government. Hiring the minister's son and school committee-man's daughter to run your campaign was a smart move, and Jim was very good at reading people, knowing their strengths and challenging them to give and do more. My co-campaign manager from that 1990 election went on to become my co-conspirator. Just a few years ago I hopped up on the fire engine he was riding during a 4th of July parade, just to say hello, and he bellowed, "You and Deb are one of my greatest accomplishments!"
Jim Miceli would have won his re-election bid in 1990 without our help, but he always knew how to get more out of something. Out of a six month-long campaign he got me 25 more years, and counting, with the woman I love.
There are thousands of people and generations of citizens who owe Jim Miceli their gratitude - for an act done, piece of red tape cut, or word made on their behalf. Jim served the people of his district for over forty years and did not merely survive political waves or trends, but rather, he worked his way above them.
Jim Miceli never forgot that all politics is local. He remained a man of and for the people of Tewksbury and Wilmington, and as his communities and citizens begin to move forward, I believe they will not only appreciate all that he did, but we will look back and remember Jim Miceli exactly as he billed himself to his constituents on the campaign trail:
Representative Jim Miceli was a good man doing a good job.