Tom Bracciano said he already was out of high school before he learned the value of a good education.
It was 1979 and Bracciano was in the U.S. Air Force. He had signed up, he said, after getting laid off from his previous job just days after he broke up with the owner's daughter.
"I realized pretty quickly that the guys with the bars and stars on got all the salutes, and the only difference between them and me was that they had a college degree," said Bracciano, one of nine candidates for the Lawrence City Commission. "I saw where the first lieutenant was sleeping. It looked like a hotel. I was living in the barracks."
When Bracciano's hitch as an aircraft mechanic ended in 1983, he knew what he needed to do. He came back to Lawrence, where he had lived since childhood, took a job as an elementary school custodian and began taking classes at Kansas University.
It was a good career move. Now, as division director of operations and facility planning, Bracciano is one of the higher-ranking administrators in the Lawrence school district. He thinks his experiences provide him good background to be a city commissioner.
Bracciano said he was uniquely positioned to understand and relate with city staff members because he also is a staff member to elected leaders.
"I understand that when it comes down to planning for government agencies, it is extremely difficult because every two years you have an election that can change the direction of the governing body," Bracciano said. "It helps me that I've been on the other side of the table. I understand what it means to change direction."
Bracciano said one of his top goals as a commissioner would be to create a planning process that promoted more long-term consistency.
"It is going to be very difficult, but I want to try to get a planning process that will survive changes of elected officials but still be flexible enough that it doesn't take the power out of their hands," Bracciano said.
It is a needed process, he said, because he is convinced the city's population is becoming overly divided, whether it is about growth versus no-growth, east versus west or a number of other issues.
"I think we're seeing more people focus on our differences instead of what ties us together," Bracciano said. "We have to find the common ground, because people really do want to work toward the common ground."
Bracciano, 46, said he was used to handling such difficult tasks. In recent years, he has been in the middle of contentious debates about school consolidations and boundary changes.
"People want you to run government like a business until you actually start running it like a business," Bracciano said. "The biggest difference between business and private enterprise is the ability to react. I understand that. It is like the old saying: 'Government is like an aircraft carrier. If you want to turn, you have to make a real wide turn.'"
On other issues, Bracciano said he:
- Supported economic development efforts that resulted in a variety of jobs, not just high-tech positions. "The school district and the university are the two largest employers, and we're a town fast approaching 100,000 people. We can't continue that way. We need other industries. We need to bring in other employers, or we really will become a bedroom community."
- Supported the city's smoking ban, though he said the issue would have been less divisive if a referendum had been conducted.
- Believed roundabouts were an effective traffic-calming device for some existing neighborhoods. He has concerns, though, about a proposed roundabout at 19th and Louisiana streets that would be adjacent to Lawrence High School.
- Supported a new multisport athletic facility that would serve the city, universities and school district.
Bracciano said he also thought his job as an administrator with the school district would prepare him well for at least one other challenge city commissioners are sure to face -- tight budgets.
"The last thing I would do is look at increasing taxes," Bracciano said. "I don't know what it is like to have money. I work for the schools. I don't know what it is like to have money at work or home."