O’Brien saying goodbye to City Council

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By Chris Sardelli

Danny O’Brien is looking to the future.

Sitting in his Lancaster home and petting his 8-year-old miniature schnauzer, Arnie, the outgoing Lancaster City Council member is busy planning what to do with himself after Jan. 7.

That’s when O’Brien, 53, steps down from his District 6 seat after 12 years and his successor, Sara Eddins, is sworn in.

He expects there will be plenty to keep him and his wife of 30 years, Kathy, busy.

“My wife and I love to eat at different restaurants,” O’Brien said. “That’s a hobby of ours. I always get kidded at work. They say, ‘I need to ask Danny where I should eat.’”

O’Brien and his wife have traveled throughout the Charlotte area, dining at various restaurants and have sampled cuisine in other states. He recently realized they had visited at least six of Southern Living’s top 10 restaurants and is appreciative he’s had the opportunity.

After he leaves council, O’Brien hopes to continue traveling and experiencing different flavors.

A dedicated Elvis fanatic and golf aficionado, O’Brien also expects much of his free time will be spent either listening to the King or watching the Golf Channel.

Both are hobbies he had pushed to the side in recent years.

Though already planning for the next step in his life, O’Brien recalls many important moments from his 12 years on council.

He has served on City Council for three terms, beginning in January 1997. He became interested in running for office only after a neighbor encouraged him to do it.

Pat Willis, mother of Lancaster County Administrator Steve Willis, lived next door to O’Brien and told him one summer day he should run for the District 6 seat.

“She said, ‘You need to run for council,’ so I did and, of course, I won my first election,” he said. “It’s a good feeling. But until you’ve ever done it, you don’t quite know what it takes.”

O’Brien traveled the neighborhoods in his district – friends and family by his side – knocking on doors and introducing himself to prospective voters. He said he thoroughly enjoyed the political process.

Two years after winning the seat, O’Brien was talked into running for mayor, but he lost the election to Joe Shaw.

“Joe was so well liked in the community, but the process was fun,” he said. “I got to meet a lot of exciting people.”

Some of O’Brien’s favorite moments from over the years include council’s work to renovate downtown Lancaster, as well as when council approved the purchase of new equipment and fire trucks for the Lancaster Fire Department.

Seeing the progress the city has made and knowing it’s financially sound is something he will carry with him after he leaves. He said he and the rest of council always made a concerted effort to keep each district’s interests in mind.

“It is absolutely rewarding to look back and see the financial status the city is currently in,” he said. “We’re in great financial shape and that has not come from burdening the taxpayers.”

O’Brien announced earlier this year he would not be running for reelection. His day job was demanding much of his time, including many out-of-town trips, so he decided it was time to leave council.

“Personally, I believe you get in, you serve your time, you get out and you let other folks participate, people with fresh ideas,” he said. “There are folks out there that serve for a number of years and do a great job, but for me it was just time.”

As for any future plans to return to local politics, O’Brien says “you never know.”

If anything happens, though, he said it will probably be after he retires, in another eight to 10 years.

“Who knows? I may get back in, if the right thing presents itself,” he said. “Local politics is where the rubber meets the road.”

Along with O’Brien, Bill Sumner and Audrey Curry will also be leaving City Council in January.

All three were recognized at one of the last council meetings of the year, and were presented with an engraved plaque that included their terms of service.

With a combined total of over 34 years of service, the mayor said he’s sorry to see them leave.

“They were very dedicated council persons,” Shaw said. “They expressed themselves in an orderly manner, got along real good and a lot of good things happened on council.”

O’Brien said he’ll remember the relationships that were formed with his fellow council members over the last few years.

“I think the thing I’ll take away from my time on council, over the years we’ve all had some rough moments, some pretty tense times, but we’ve all grown to appreciate one another,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we don’t have disagreements or heated debates, but we always walk away friends.”

Contact reporter Chris Sardelli  at csardelli@thelancasternews.com  or at (803) 416-8416