One old guy to another, I told Jerry Wright I was happy to see him back in the game.
Which is not an endorsement of Wright’s recently announced run for the Rapid City Council from Ward 3. It’s more of a symbolic high five from a 68-year-old to a 72-year-old on the value of staying involved. Or, in this case, getting involved again.
And it makes sense to Wright, a former three-term council member who served as president for two years. Prior to that, he got around a bit, operating private construction and trucking enterprises before running the city’s solid-waste division for 23 years.
A lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve and Guard with overseas experience in Kuwait, Wright went back to school after he retired from his city job. He earned a doctorate focused on environmental engineering at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology almost a half century after he earned his bachelor’s degree there.
Which all seemed to beg the question: At 72, why not kick back and examine the golf swing?
“I still needed to do something worthwhile,” Wright says. “I don’t want to sit in the coffee shop and complain about things. I want to do something about them.”
Wright found high-profile examples of seniors staying involved.
“Look at the guys running for president who are over 70,” he says. “If they can do that, I can sure do this.”
“This” won’t be easy, however. He has formidable competition in former council President Jason Salamun and three-term Ward 3 Alderman Chad Lewis, currently council vice president.
There’s history here. Wright beat Lewis in 2011 for one of two council seats from Ward 3. But Lewis came back to win the other seat and they served together on the council.
“I know Jerry very well. He’s a good guy,” says Lewis, a 51-year-old private businessman, soccer and ski coach who can often be reached by cell phone at one of his kids’ events. Lewis plans to announce his reelection bid next week.
Wright returns the personal compliment on Lewis, and says he doesn’t plan to be an attack dog in the campaign.
“I just want to win on my own merits,” he says.
Like Wright, Lewis says he’ll focus on his own record and what he considers to be a proven commitment to the community.
“I just want to keep my head down and do my job. It’s all about trying to help people out, to create jobs and make life better for children and families,” he says.
Salamun, 42, has similar goals. He was elected to the council in 2016 and served during Wright’s last year. Then he served two years with Lewis, including a year as president during the successful push to get the civic-center bond issue approved.
But Salamun announced months prior to the end of his term that he would not seek another, at least not then. His seat was filled by Greg Strommen.
When he left the council, Salamun said he would someday return to public service. But with demands at his job then as a federal credit union executive he wasn’t prepared to commit to another expanded, three-year term.
Then last September he got a new job as chief of staff operations at the thriving Fountain Springs Church, which fits better with local government involvement.
“And I thought, ‘Boy, I’d love to continue my public service,’” Salamun says. “I’m not running because I’m against anybody. I just feel an obligation to serve. I feel like I certainly have more to give.”
All of which means that when Election Day comes around in June, voters in Ward 3 will have an unusually experienced trifecta of options — including the old guy, who is still a long way from sitting around the coffee shop, complaining about the world.
Kevin Woster writes a blog and offers radio commentary for South Dakota Public Broadcasting. He can be reached by emailing email@example.com.
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