By Dawn Krebs
PORT ST. LUCIE - Jack Kelly sits quietly in his corner office on the third floor of the Port St. Lucie City Hall.
He takes a long look around at the pictures of his family and friends. Then, sitting back in his office chair, he offers a half smile.
"Out of 165,000 people that live here, only five people get to do this," he said.
Mr. Kelly is referring to being able to represent the residents of Port St. Lucie as a councilman. This is the job he has held since he was elected in 2000. And choosing not to run again, this is the job he will step down from in just a few months, when a new face is elected to represent his district.
Back in 2000, Mr. Kelly remembers the people who convinced him to run for the first time.
"Up until then, I helped people run their campaigns," he said. "I like working behind the scenes. I credit former city council people and my friends for talking me into running."
When he first began speaking in front of the public, he knew he had to set himself apart.
"I did the blue-collar thing," he said. "When I spoke, I rolled up my sleeves and loosened my tie."
His efforts paid off, and he began his political career. At that time, the council seat was a two-year term.
In 2002, he suffered a massive heart attack that could have potentially ended what had just begun.
"I underwent open heart surgery," he said. "I didn't campaign at all, and the people still voted me in."
In 2004, he ran unopposed for the seat, which changed to a four-year term during that time.
In 2008, he was planning to run for the mayor's seat, but decided against it for medical reasons.
"The doctor wouldn't allow it," he said.
Instead, he chose not to take any money from anyone, running his campaign with less than $1,400 of his own money. He was re-elected and once again sat with the city council, this time as vice mayor.
Mr. Kelly has seen the city grow from the small city he moved to in 1990 with his wife and children to where it is today. Of all the decisions he helped with to focus and direct growth, the one he is most proud of is Crosstown Parkway.
"I campaigned for that," he said. "For a good four months, Don Cooper and I went to every homeowner's association meeting that would listen to us. We stood on street corners with signs."
The referendum passed with 89 percent of the vote, one of the highest in the state, and Mr. Kelly has the residents to thank for that.
"It was amazing to see the support," he said. "To get that vote was the most satisfying thing I have ever done."
But with successful projects also come regrets, and Mr. Kelly said his was the way he handled the annexation of 16 square miles of property into the city in 2004. The property currently includes the land parcels Wilson and Southern Groves and Riverland Kennedy. Just eight months before, the city had approved 13 other annexations.
"I thought I didn't do a good job," he said. "I could have had a better approach. I felt a sense of urgency because it seemed to be moving so fast. I probably offended people with my approach. I could have done a better job."
But of all the changes he has been witness to in his 12-year career, he says one of the biggest is the partnership with the county.
"The way we work with the county now, that's the biggest plus in the last 12 years," he said, citing the recent additions of the businesses Torrey Pines, Digital Domain, Tradition Hospital and the Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute.
"Even the regional involvement with Martin County has been tremendous."
But looking from past accomplishments to what has yet to be completed, Mr. Kelly had a small list of things he would like to have seen finished.
"I would like to see the city do a western watershed project, just like the eastern watershed project," he said. "Stormwater is a big concern."
He added he would like to see the completion of the Crosstown Parkway over the St. Lucie River and further development of the city center, where the Port St. Lucie Civic Center is located.
As for advice for whomever takes his seat?
"Always be consistent," he said. "If you're not, you're going to set a precedent that will come back and bite you. Also, always know your issues and remember - there are no small issues."
Overall, he initiated a number of things that continue to benefit the city and served on countless boards. He welcomed all of it and enjoyed the ride.
"I would do it all over again, in an instant," he said. "This was a huge honor for me, and I'll never forget it."