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Major scores big win in hometown election from Fallujah

15 Jun 2006 | Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva

Maj. Michael F. McNamara had better get good at juggling. He’s going to need it as Grand Forks’ newest councilman from Ward 2 – serving while deployed.

McNamara, a senior watch officer for Regimental Combat Team 5 here, was elected this week as a city councilman for his hometown. Never mind that he was busy helping win the Global War on Terrorism or the fact he wasn’t even in Grand Forks, N.D., to campaign.

“To think that people would think enough to elect you when you’re not even in the country is humbling,” said 48-year-old McNamara. “It’s all kind of unexpected.”

It’s even more unexpected for the fact “Mac” as he’s known, garnered 49 percent of the vote in a five-way race for the seat. He managed to do all that despite having to campaign from afar on what little spare time he had.

“At least half in my ward are pleased,” McNamara joked. “At least half that voted.”

McNamara registered for the race because he felt that average people weren’t being represented in his city. He campaigned on simple issues – revamping property taxes, changing the way the city zones areas and creating a strategic plan for the city so leaders are held accountable for their governing decisions.

“I felt the average person’s voice wasn’t heard enough,” he said. 

So McNamara set out to change it. He talked to people, set up a Web site, set timelines and enlisted his family’s help. He named his 19-year-old son, John, as campaign general manager and 16-year-old Patrick and 12-year-old Katherine pitched in. Even his youngest, two-year-old Colleen, helped his wife with the door-to-door campaigning.

“Susan strolled her down the road,” he said. “She’s a great doorbell ringer.”

“It was a huge family effort,” said Susan McNamara in a phone interview. “It was a family affair. Everyone was involved.”

McNamara didn’t sit idly by though. When his shift ended, he trekked to the camp’s phone center and started calling voters. He said some were surprised to get the call from Iraq, but it helped him connect with his neighbors.

“It turned out to be the best thing, hearing from the people from the ward,” he said.

McNamara even participated in a debate held by the League of Women Voters by telephone. It was then he answered question as to where his loyalties rested.

“They asked me, “Will you swear you’ll never deploy again as a Marine if elected?’” he explained. “I said no. If getting elected meant I’d never serve again as a Marine, I’d never do that.”

McNamara’s been a leader nearly his whole life, a trait he picked up from his father John McNamara, who was a Major League Baseball general manager for teams such as the Boston Red Sox and San Diego Padres. He captained sports teams growing up and ran for student councils. But he credits the Corps with his drive to serve.

He joined the Corps in 1983 and served as an infantry officer until he left in 1994. When the Global War on Terrorism started, he volunteered and served with 1st Marine Division at Camp Blue Diamond in Ramadi in 2004. 

“Here, you see the courage and unselfishness,” McNamara said of Marines he serves with. “You’re forever affected by that. And how do you honor that? I think you serve.”

So McNamara did serve his country – again. He deployed again at the request of RCT-5’s Commander Col. Larry Nicholson.

“Mac is special because he can get to the heart of an issue,” Nicholson explained. “He’s blunt and to the point. You get an honest answer whether you want it or not.”

Still, McNamara wanted to make a change in the community, where he’s made a home after moving there from California. There, he hosts a radio talk show on KNOX called “Mac Talk,” but during his second tour to Iraq, he decided he wanted to do more. He wanted to bring some of the Marine leadership traits to his city.

“I’d like to make my community better,” he said. “I’ll prove it to you every day, I’m worth your vote.”

That’s a trait, McNamara said, he learned as a Marine.

“We do that every day,” he added. “That’s this crazy organization that knows nothing but success. We’re leaders. We’re responsible and that’s the way it’s going to be.”

McNamara didn’t have a chance to watch the results on election night. He was busy pacing the floor in the regiment’s combat operations center, monitoring raids being carried out throughout the Fallujah area. Still, Susan did all the nail-biting at home.

“We were watching the basketball game and were on the internet and listening to the radio,” she explained. “We had it covered for him.”

While McNamara said he was humbled by the results, those close to him aren’t surprised. 

“He’s a leader all around,” Susan said. “I think the people respect him and think he’ll make a great leader.”

“I think public service is looking for guys like Mac,” Nicholson added. “I couldn’t be prouder. It underscores the quality of guys we have on our team. They’re exceptionally talented and Mac is among them.”

For now, McNamara plans on finishing his tour in Iraq and redeploying back to Grand Forks in early September. He’ll fill his duties by phone for the time being until he can take the floor in person and tackle his new responsibilities in true Marine fashion.

“I’ll prove it every day, just like I prove it to my Marines every day,” he said. “I think that’s resonated.”