Politics & Potpourri – August 2015

Bill Barnettby Councilman Bill Barnett

I deliberated with myself going back and forth on whether to write this article about someone with whom I had major differences with for many years and that’s putting it mildly. Well, I don’t think anyone else will, and because of what transpired with his life in the last month I knew that I was going to do this.

The first time I became aware of Henry Kennedy was at a Council meeting shortly after I was elected Mayor of the City of Naples in 1996.

He signed a speaker slip so he could speak on a particular agenda item at that meeting, and proceeded to lambaste something that from all indications City Council was most likely going to vote on and approve. Henry didn’t mince any words during his allotted time, and despite his opinion Council passed it anyway. Well, for as long as I can remember and starting with that meeting in 1996, Henry very rarely if ever missed a Council meeting, or a chance to speak at each and every one of them on almost every subject that came before us. No item was too big or small for Henry to opine on, and if you happened to be on his bad side which many of us were constantly he would call us out individually and dare us to talk back to him because he was a member of the public, and never let us forget that.

Being Mayor most likely put a bullseye on me and Henry would come into my office regularly and share his political City feelings with me whether I wanted to hear them or not. I always tried my best to not bait him during Council meetings but quite candidly I couldn’t help myself from doing it. When Henry was upset with whomever our City Manager was at the time or a staff member he would criticize them with no mercy, and many times I would ask him to please address me and not question the staff member or manager directly, but he would do whatever he wanted anyway. In 1996, Mayor’s were only allowed to serve one four-year term, while Council members could serve two consecutive four-year terms. I termed out in 2000, and continued to watch the Council meetings until I was elected Mayor in 2004. Henry was still very much a part of those meetings and he and I really had some harsh words when I would cut him off when he went over his speaker time which was often.

In 2006, a referendum was passed by the voters of the City allowing a Mayor to be able to serve the same amount of terms that a Council member could, and I decided to run for another term in 2008. At a meeting in November of 2007, Henry went over his allowed time, and I told him his speaker time was up. He kept right on talking and I told him in no uncertain terms to sit down or he was going to be escorted out of Council Chambers. He begrudgingly did and glared at me ferociously. There was no love lost between us, and the filing date for someone to announce that they were going to run for mayor was fast approaching. It was December 14th, and one hour before I would have run unopposed Henry walked into the City Clerks office and filed to run against me for Mayor. He was so annoyed with me that he did it for spite and told people that. Well, it sure put a damper on my Holiday season, and our City Council elections were normally the first Tuesday in February so January was a big campaign month for Council members as well.

At the first public debate between Henry and myself he got up and said, “Everyone likes Bill Barnett, I like Bill Barnett,” and then proceeded to say why he should be elected and why he deserved to be elected. Well, I took his words and recorded him saying those nice things about me and put them in a radio spot and said in that spot “If my opponent says this about me why wouldn’t you vote for me?”

Well, Henry went ballistic. He threatened a lawsuit, but because he was a candidate and he did say those exact words, there was nothing he could do. He flat out told me a few days before that election that if I were elected Mayor he would not attend any Council meetings until I
was done. I won the election and true to his word Henry almost made it to the four-year mark but fell short of it by a few months. We weren’t
talking and when I ran for a Council seat in 2012 Henry basically left me alone. I’ll fast forward to 2014. For some strange reason Henry
started to acknowledge me publicly and became talkative with me in a positive manner and I responded in kind. It was as if all those years of
bad feelings had dissipated, and although he still annoyed me by some of his public comments I didn’t say anything. It’s now June of 2015.
Henry didn’t show up at our first Council Workshop or our Council meeting. We all noticed it, and asked ourselves where was Henry?

Nobody knew. Then at the next Council meeting when once again he was noticeably absent the word came to us that he had been admitted to NCH (Naples Community Hospital) and it wasn’t good news.

After the meeting that day I went to visit him and when I went into his room he had never looked more forlorn. He told me he had Cancer and it was bad. I didn’t know what to say and told him we missed him at Council, etc. The Mayor had come to visit him as well that day and we were stunned. It was June 10th, and I told him I would be back to see him. I was going out of town for a week on June 16th, and went back on the 15th to visit him. We spent about 20 minutes just making light conversation and although Henry was trying to put up a brave front I could tell that he had lost that fire that had driven him for all those years at all those Council meetings.

I left town and received a text a few days later that Henry had passed away. Henry could have been a Damon Runyon character.

He could tell some tall tales with the best of them, and at the drop of a hat you could perceivably be his best friend or his worst enemy.

He probably visited City Hall more than any citizen in Naples, he certainly attended more meetings than anyone else from the public did, and no matter what you thought about Henry there was never a doubt that in his own peculiar way he certainly cared about Naples.

Although he and I were probably at one another more than anyone else that I can remember I am going to miss seeing him and believe it or not, hearing him at that speakers lectern and just waiting for the Mayor to say, “Mr. Kennedy please finish your sentence, your time is up.”

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