It’s a small man who refuses to acknowledge a change.
Richard Ferreira remembers his father, Anthony, telling him this phrase as a young boy.
Ferreira made his father proud Wednesday night. He made Bonita Springs proud. He proved that he’s far from being a small man during an emotional City Council meeting.
Ferreira is a big man. He’s a hero.
He saved downtown redevelopment in Bonita Springs. The Imperial Landing project had one foot in the grave. Yet, the former police officer rescued a blighted area from a fiery death.
And the people rejoiced and sang his praises. A week after being booed, Ferreira rescinded his vote against the $40 million Antaramian Group development.
“That took great courage,” said fellow Councilman Ben Nelson as he gave Ferreira a big hug during a recess.
Call it a miracle. Call it the will of the people. Call it the day the city of Bonita Springs came together as one. Call it history.
“Last night’s vote was probably the most important decision in the history of the city,” Ferreira said Thursday morning after his first good night of sleep in a week.
Ferreira, a newly elected city councilman, listened to his heart. He listened to his father’s words of wisdom. He listened to his constituents. He listened to the passion of the people.
Ferreira watched Bill Hopmann, a former mayor in a small Arkansas town, break down in tears talking about the need for this development. He felt for Lori Nelson, who apologized to her husband, Ben the city councilman, for going against his wishes and professing her undying love for the controversial project. He even applauded the few who stood strong against the idea.
“There was so much energy in the room,” Ferreira said. “If that energy could be focused on improving the Old 41 area, it will be a great success.”
Truth be told, the people of Bonita Springs had already swayed Ferreira before he entered the packed City Hall.
Earlier in the week he received a phone call from a seasonal resident up in Minnesota. Ferreira didn’t know the man. And the man didn’t vote for Ferreira. The man didn’t even vote in the last election. But he wanted to make sure Ferreira, his district representative, was doing what was best for the city.
Ferreira said the defining moment in changing his vote came after a talk with a local 80-year-old woman. He calls her a politically savvy woman who was instrumental in getting him elected in March.
But four months later, she was worried about the fate of the city. This 30-year resident was worried about the fraction in the community after last Wednesday’s decision to nix the project on the Imperial River.
“She looked at me and said, ‘The bottom line is you have to listen, you have to listen to what the people want,’¤” Ferreira recalled.
The people of Bonita Springs weren’t the only ones who spoke passionately. Ferreira — the man who wouldn’t even say his name while speaking as a concerned citizen to the past City Council — spoke with a great conviction. He even shed a tear while defending fellow Councilman Alex Grantt, who faced personal attacks for voting against redevelopment.
But just because he cried or went against his campaign promises, Ferreira shouldn’t be considered a lesser man.
“It not easy for seven people to come together,” Ferreira admitted. “When you please everyone, you please no one.”
It’s even harder to bring a city together. And while a handful will be upset about the reversal of fortune, Ferreira answered the people’s wishes. He returned hope. He kept a dream alive.
Six years ago, Bonita Springs became a city. But July 5, 2006, will be remembered as the night the city finally came together and became one — thanks to one man’s courage. It should be celebrated in future years as Bonita’s Independence Day.
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E-mail Tom Hanson at bonitanews.com