At an awards program dedicated to civility in government, presenters and honorees Thursday evening bemoaned the lack of civility in government today and the need to restore the integrity the honorees represent.
“When Bill (Hughes) sat down with you, he listened,” former Vice President Joe Biden said in presenting the Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award to U.S. Ambassador William J. Hughes at the Hughes Center Honors program at the Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club. “He reached agreement and moved the process along. It is only through consensus that the United States can continue to function.”
Biden and Hughes worked together in Congress when Hughes was in the House of Representatives and Biden was in the Senate. They became friends riding the Amtrak train to Washington, D.C. together, talking about not just policy, but family.
“Those hours were precious because we got to know each other,” Biden said. “Back in our day people (in Congress) knew each other and respected each other.”
“That invisible moral fabric that holds this country up is something you’ve always known,” he told Hughes.
In accepting the award, Hughes said it was Biden’s pledge to clean up the Brandywine Creek in Delaware that inspired him to run for office to clean up the ocean. The two also worked together on many crime bills that addressed such issues as the sale of armor-piercing bullets and assault rifles.
“I view my 50 years of success as a labor of love,” Hughes said. “Thank you for the opportunity to serve my community and my country. I’ve loved every bit of it. A willingness to compromise made it possible to create good public policy.”
N.J. Senate President Steve Sweeney, who presented awards to state Senator Diane Allen and Kathy Whelan, the widow of the late Sen. Jim Whelan, who died in August.
“He was so excited to be getting this,” Whelan said. “Stockton was very important to him. We enjoyed looking out the window and seeing the dorms go up (on the new cams in Atlantic City.”
Sweeney continued the theme of civility, cited Whelan’s class, dignity and humor and Allen’s willingness to work together even though she is a Republican and he is a Democrat.
“It is bittersweet for me to lose Diane (who is retiring),” he said. “We are losing someone we could work with, someone who cares about the people.”
Allen said government is broken right now, but can improve.
“It is important that you know there are still those who will work together,” she told the audience of more than 500 people. “Civility is something we must work for.”
Honoree and Stockton alumna Brigid Callahan Harrison, a Professor of Political Science and Law at Montclair State University, and political commentator, continued the theme of civility.
“In an era when we are encouraged to hate, it is so very important to honor legislators who are willing to reach across the aisle,” she said.
U.S. Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman said she is thankful for the opportunity to let her voice be heard.
“I try to get to know my Republican colleagues,” she said. “Hyper-partisanship is destroying our country. We are better than what we are experiencing now.”
The youngest honoree, 2017 Stockton graduate Maryam Sarhan, said she has been inspired by Stockton and her parents, who made the one-way trip from Egypt to America 16 years ago. She said Stockton President Harvey Kesselman has been a mentor who sets an example by passionately advocating for causes he holds dear.
“I will always cherish my time at Stockton,” said Sarhan, who was Student Senate president and a student trustee. “I hope to continue with opportunities for public service.”
Kesselman also thanked Sharon Schulman, executive director of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton, for her success and service to the center. She is retiring in January.
“Sharon has been a visionary for the center,” Kesselman said, citing not only the programs the center has sponsored, but the funds Schulman has raised to support those programs.
The Hughes Center Honors are awarded for professional excellence and a commitment to public service, civility and bipartisanship which reflect the life and career of Ambassador Hughes, who served as U.S. Ambassador to Panama and as a U.S. Congressman for 20 years.
For more information visit the Hughes Center website at: www.stockton.edu/hughescenter
Photo Caption: Stockton University President Harvey Kesselman, William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton executive director Sharon Schulman, former Vice President Joe Biden, Ambassador William J. Hughes and Hughes Center Steering Committee Chairman Edward H. Salmon.