COEUR d'ALENE - In 1991, a "fortuitous screw-up" propelled Mike Kennedy toward a life in North Idaho.
Kennedy had just graduated from Southern Methodist University and was accepted to law school at Gonzaga University. After moving his belongings from Dallas, Kennedy said he sent his second deposit in to the university. However, he sent it in a month late and his enrollment was delayed for a year.
"But I never went," Kennedy said. "I got involved in community engagement and went and did an internship with congressman Larry LaRocco, which is where I met my wife. The stars were aligned for me to not go to law school."
The internship, a lifelong interest in politics and government, and the move to North Idaho propelled the New York native into local politics.
"In either New York or Dallas, if you had a bag of cash you couldn't get a meeting with the dogcatcher," Kennedy said. "But here in Idaho, within a month of living here, I had been meeting with a number of elected officials and I thought 'what an accessible place.'"
Kennedy added that he knew he had found a home in Idaho. The Northwest grew on him (it even got the diehard Yankees fan to occasionally root for the Mariners) and in 2006 he was elected to the Coeur d'Alene city council.
For two terms, Kennedy served on the council. During the last two he was council president, but January marked the end of his career in politics.
"I didn't stay," Kennedy said. "It's like making sausage; it's not a particularly pretty process."
You're a Democrat in Kootenai County and were in a lot of highly contested elections and situations...
Interestingly enough I was actually a Republican in New York. I think I'm just a born centrist, a middle-of-the-road moderate. That kind of irritates some people on either flank but I generally believe that that's where stuff gets done.
How did you grow and learn from those experiences?
The eight years were some of the more fascinating times in my life. I absolutely learned more about (the town) than you can learn about a town in any other capacity.
I had to figure out how to compartmentalize a little bit. I had to say, "OK so this election lawsuit is going on but I still have to do my job and I still have a family and have to work at city council so just let that happen it will figure itself out."
There were a lot of very tough, high-profile decisions made while you were on the council. How did you make those big decisions?
A lot of the things that were actual big dollar issues were things related to our waste treatment and storm water - the least sexy and interesting stuff around, but the most important part of the job. I spent much more time focusing on and trying to understand those than the ones that got a lot more attention.
The anti-discrimination ordinance was simply the right thing to do. I understood the contention about it. But when the Human Rights Task Force Board asked us to consider it, I think it was the right thing to do and I hope the state follows suit.
You mentioned sense of humor and everyone I talked to before I came to interview you told me you're a very funny guy. Are there any particularly funny memories that really stick out during your time on the council?
You know, more often than not when the cameras were off and the meetings were going on, it was more about adding some levity in these times of working on these planning sessions for budgeting or whatever - that just gets grueling.
(Kennedy called the Press a couple hours after the interview in order to recount, through his laughter, the following story:)
While pondering my navel, I recalled the greatest absurdity and most fun scenario - the great chicken debate.
We were working on an ordinance and passed it, but we inadvertently made it so that - and there's apparently a large community of organic chicken raisers in Coeur d'Alene - people could only keep two chickens in their private residences. We had to fix it and go back on it, but I had to publicly get up in a meeting at one point and say 'I'm pro-chicken and I vote.'
So then it seems like it's been a pretty easy transition for you out of politics. You don't miss it? You don't yearn for those six-hour budget meetings?
(Laughter) I don't yearn for any of that. The thing I do miss is working with a lot of the staff that was there. I miss getting in there and solving problems because some of the things that were brought to us from our constituents were surprisingly engaging. They were legitimate questions that nobody had thought about or a problem that, when you applied decent smart people to it, you could get resolution.
What's your background with Intermax, how did you get involved with the company?
Instead of starting a competitor, Intermax was interested in selling and we (Kennedy and his two partners, Steve Meyer and Paul Allen) bought the business. I loved technology and had been involved in software, but this was different because it was an Internet provider, it was more of an infrastructure project.
We're essentially a utility company in many ways and our product is access. Our product is information and access to the larger world. We're not as big as Frontier or Time Warner Cable, but we try harder, we're hungrier and we're growing. It's fun to create jobs and it's fun to grow from a company with three people to now having 25 families that are contributing to the community in all their own ways.
I know you guys just did the WiFi for McEuen Park. What was that like for you since you obviously played a big role in getting the park going?
It was a donation, and we did that mostly because I know that if you're going to go out and build a state-of-the-art beautiful place like we did, it ought to be technologically state of the art.
When Steve Griffitts brings a company to town that's possibly looking at relocating, they're going to stay at the local hotels. They're going to go down to McEuen Park to show their families what this community is all about and I think we need to have a technological edge.
We believed in the park, we believed in the project and we wanted to support it.
What are some of your personal goals for the future, as well as professional?
I'm going with a singular focus on this business right now. I really would like to see this company double in size in the next five years, I think it's possible.
For me, getting my kids through the Coeur d'Alene public school system, graduating and off to whatever they want to do is the focus.
Someday I might want to look at running for office again, it was a wonderful eight years. But it's just not on the horizon right now. A great friend of mine is a former press secretary and he said that he had been encouraged to run for office himself. His wife had a great line that I have now stolen because it was absolutely true of my wife as well, she said 'on the day you file, I file.' I keep that in mind, but she was immensely supportive and frankly the kids got to see a little of the picture of what public service is all about.