In a bleak moment Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas provided something remarkably valuable: steady leadership.
A killer storm appeared to be headed for Galveston County. Hurricane Katrina had just ravaged New Orleans and the Mississippi Coast.
People were scared.
During those tense moments Thomas did at least two critically important things:
She was honest about how dangerous the situation was. She looked people in the eye and in a memorable phrase told them that the news was not good and that everyone was going to have to take action.
She did not show fear. Instead she calmly outlined plans to get people off the island.
It was a masterful performance — one we’d like to honor by naming her The Galveston County Daily News’ Citizen of the Year.
Many people who live in the area had friends call from other states during those bleak hours. As the storm approached people worried about the safety of coastal residents.
Invariably people from other states would ask: And who is that mayor we saw on TV?
Thomas represented Galveston well.
To a nation that had just witnessed the agonizing response to Hurricane Katrina Thomas’s calm in the storm was remarkable.
After seeing thousands trapped in the Superdome in New Orleans in the attics of flooded homes it was reassuring to hear someone say that convoys of buses would be rolling to take people to safety.
Maybe that knack for handling storms is in the genes.
Her grandfather I.H. Kempner played a huge role in rebuilding Galveston after the 1900 Storm.
The family leaders of I.H. Kempner’s day taught their children it was their obligation to serve the community particularly those who are less fortunate.
Thomas has used the office of mayor as a bully pulpit to speak up for those who are in danger of being forgotten or left behind.
Thomas’s commitment to giving the poor and the elderly a chance to escape the storm was one example of that. Another was her challenge to community leaders to help young people on the island who she said are now without hope.
She pointed out that two-thirds of the children in Galveston schools qualify for free- or reduced-price-lunch programs. She challenged leaders to think about providing those children with training and opportunities that would lead to good jobs.
The development and growth the city has seen in recent years has been a good thing. It’s characteristic of Thomas that she would want to see those who have not already seen the economic benefits get a fair share.
Thomas’s leadership in a crisis is well known. But it’s important to remember that she’s also shown leadership in looking at the community’s long-range future.
It’s a remarkable record. We congratulate her as our Citizen of the Year.