Lewis reflects on his long run as mayor | Klaas

Pete Lewis - Reporter file photo
Pete Lewis
— image credit: Reporter file photo

As he begins his 12th and final year in office, Auburn Mayor Pete Lewis says he has unfinished business to complete before he officially steps away from City Hall.

Having accomplished many projects under his watch, Lewis would still like to see the emergence of a long-awaited community center, the creation of a veterans and human services center and the arrival of an Amtrak stop at Auburn Station.

While he may not be around as mayor to see those projects come to fruition, Lewis is confident his successor will get them done.

As Lewis sees it, the seed has been planted for an improved downtown to grow and for other positive development to sprout throughout Auburn.

Despite a stubborn recession that has weighed on the city throughout most of his time as mayor, Lewis is proud of his administration's accomplishments.

Much has been done, more work needs to be done, he says.

But Lewis recognizes his time is up. A Navy veteran, he has fulfilled his duty. Now is a good time to step away, leaving behind many feats, some failures and few regrets.

Lewis, who recently turned 67, announced last year that he would not seek a fourth term. Lewis is one of only three third-term mayors – Stanley Kersey and Bob Roegner are the others – in the 121-year-old history of the city.

"I love every day coming in. I love what I do, but I'm a step and a half slower," he said of the demanding job in a growing community. "And it's harder for me to get up early in the morning, knowing I have a 7 o'clock meeting, and knowing I'm going to have a 6:30 or 7 o'clock meeting at night."

As much as Lewis enjoys his work, it has taken its toll.

A typical day for the mayor is long, often stretching to 14 hours, and tightly scheduled. The 70-hour work week is always filled with problem-solving meetings, appearances, engagements, even impromptu gatherings on weekends.

The job is never done.

Counting on others

At first overwhelmed, Lewis learned to lean on his staff. When criticism rained down on him for his decisions, he found the support and reassurance of others who trusted his ways.

"I couldn't have done it without a marvelous City Council," he said. "I have this wonderful council and a special group of volunteers. ... Sure, not all my ideas were good, but we had a strong council that worked together to get things done."

Lewis and the council have done more with less. The ugly economy – coupled with the lack of state and federal help – has affected cities, large and small.

Auburn is no different.

During the recession, the City lost millions in revenue, yet limped along. The City stayed fiscally responsible, but on a leaner, tighter string. The City's general budget of today is 23 percent smaller, its total staff 12 percent thinner, than when Lewis took office in 2002.

For Lewis, it meant managing City services carefully while watching Auburn's population grow.

It also meant deteriorating roads, the loss of business and the frustration of those who claim the mayor and the City haven't done enough to restore conditions and good times.

The former banker understands dollars and cents but had to learn to confront and respond to the plight of the people.

It has never been easy.

"The hardest lesson for me was I came up as a banker. I knew finance cold. I knew how to balance things. I knew how to go out and find money," Lewis said. "The hardest part for me was dealing with all the people, and it really stretched me.

"It's everything I see every day that's tough," he said. "For me, it's really hard ... but it's been the best thing that's ever happened to me."

Lewis hasn't been afraid to go into many neighborhoods to address problems.

"I never felt I was a politician, but I've always known that people want to be heard," he said. "You can't always fix their problems ... but they at least want you to listen to them."

By listening, Lewis has gained a better understanding of how, with the right support staff, to help residents solve issues.

His time almost up, Lewis will leave office encouraged, but not totally satisfied. He will remain close to a city he has been a part of since 1980, perhaps serve in some capacity. He will devote more time to family and friends. He plans to do some traveling with his wife, Kathy, who has been an active volunteer in the community.

"We've really done together three times over what I ever expected to do," he said of his administration. "There are a lot of things I would like to do. But I'm a step and a half slower, and I think (the city) needs somebody new."

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