As the final days of his tenure ticked down recently, now-former city Mayor Harry LaRosiliere admitted to feeling a little bittersweet about leaving office after two terms. He says he’ll miss going into Plano’s municipal center and talking with the dedicated employees. He is thankful for having had a position that allowed him to touch lives and make decisions for community betterment. He will particularly miss working with young people through initiatives like his summer intern program.
What he won’t miss are the politics. It’s something he says has gotten more hyperactive with each passing year. Sometimes he says it felt like there was a group of people looking to fight him no matter what he did.
“It seemed like they are trying to have this fight and I’m not even in the ring fighting with them,” he says. “They’re fighting alone, like they’re shadowboxing.”
LaRosiliere’s path to Plano has been fairly well documented. He was born in Haiti and immigrated to Harlem when he was almost four. Him mom earned a living cleaning offices in New York City. He would often think of her when he returned to his municipal center office late at night and saw the cleaning staff vacuuming floors or taking out the trash.
“I remember talking to one custodian about what she did and how long she had been in the States. She said she was attending night school and learning English and had a daughter going to Plano ISD schools,” he says. “That was my mother. That’s what she used to do.”
His dad worked in a factory and drove a cab on weekends so that LaRosiliere and his sister could afford a good education. The future mayor would go on to study geology at City College of New York. A year into the master’s degree program he left to start a photography business.
For almost eight years, he specialized in baby portraits. A larger company eventually bought him out. As he puts it, his company had become just enough of a thorn in his competitor’s side to make the deal possible. It didn’t make him rich, but the buyout allowed him to pay off college debt and get his life on more level footing.
While contemplating his next move he read a book called “What is the Color of Your Parachute.” It talks about careers and finding a passion for what you do. LaRosiliere realized that his passion was helping people. This led him to become a financial advisor, the job he still holds today.
“On a personal level, it opened up my eyes to my calling that I wanted to help the world,” he says. “I just had to define what my world was.”
That definition became more clear following a 1991 incident in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. An Orthodox Jewish man driving in a funeral procession struck two Black children with his car. One died and the other was severely injured. Controversy arose after an ambulance rescued the driver while the children were still injured at the scene. Accusations flew, leading to violence and riots.
LaRosiliere felt that then-New York Mayor David Dinkins was passive during a moment when he could have been great. He vowed that he would one day become a mayor. It was a line that his then-girlfriend, Tracy, now his wife, didn’t put much stock in.
Reflecting on the Crown Heights incident now, LaRosiliere said that being mayor has given him a more sympathetic view of Dinkins compared to 30 years ago.
“Looking back, I understand there may have been things he wanted to say due to circumstances,” he says. “It’s interesting coming full circle. The reality as mayor is that it’s not that easy. There’s a little more nuance to it.”
When LaRosiliere came to Plano in 1994, he and Tracy had a three-year plan. They were going to live in the area for a few years, then head back east.
“That was kind of the game plan, but then we fell in love with the community,” he says.
The couple had two daughters who grew up with a dad always involved in public service, first in the city council, and then as mayor. His oldest daughter, Brianna, has now graduated from University of San Diego, while the younger, Maya, is a junior at Colgate University. The fact that their dad no longer holds office doesn’t really matter to them, and he thinks Tracy will like having him around more.
As mayor, LaRosiliere says he tried to make each decision with integrity, good intent and plenty of information. One of his first decisions was boosting Plano’s visibility. He got involved with initiatives like the U.S. Conference of Mayors to purposely shine a light on the city.
“When I got elected, the first conversation I had with then-City Manager Bruce Glasscock was that we were no longer going to be the best minor league team,” he recalls. “We were going to put ourselves on a national platform and compete with any city in the country, or the world for that matter.”
He believes this strategy paid off with numerous companies moving to our city. Several national lists ranked Plano as one of the best places to live in the country during his tenure. By nearly every economic measure, the city has thrived over the past eight years.
LaRosiliere downplays the impact of being Plano’s first African-American mayor. When asked about its significance during his first campaign, he would typically respond that his goal was being the mayor for all. Since the country had already elected a Black president, he says he didn’t think being a Black mayor was that big of a big deal. Once in office, his perspective began to change as he learned how much his achievement meant to many people.
“I realized the importance of it. It wasn’t about me, it was about the position,” he says. “When I went out to schools and saw young girls and boys of color, I realized that me being in this position actually meant something to them because they saw something that they were not used to seeing.”
Another lesson LaRosiliere says he learned was to speak less and listen more. He’s always been enthusiastic about sharing ideas, but being a leader taught him the importance of listening to others first.
“You can still give your idea, but your idea can be so much better after you’ve heard everyone else because you might be able to bring in a morsel of their thoughts,” he says. “It doesn’t mean that you have to change your vision, but it does mean that your vision can be more inclusive.”
LaRosiliere says he has no plans for future political office. He considers being mayor of Plano his Mount Everest. The pandemic changed his perspective on work. Before, he could never see himself regularly working from home, but now sees it as more of a possibility. It’s also helped reveal that his biggest passion now is working with young people to help them open new doors. He plans to remain engaged in that arena, and may do some traveling as well. But no matter where he goes, he intends to remain here, in the city he now truly considers home.
As for his legacy, he will leave that for others to decide. He contends that criticisms don’t affect him. What he was most concerned about as mayor was making sure that his decisions were made with the intention of making our city better.
When discussing his most important achievements, he cites the economic advances and higher profile the city achieved during his tenure. He is also extremely proud of the Plano Mayor’s Summer Internship program, where nearly a third of participants have been first-generation college students. Despite having more opposition on the council the past two years, he says the experience made him a better mayor because he had to be more of a consensus builder.
LaRosiliere remains extremely optimistic about what lies ahead. He says leaders before him helped put him and the city in a position to thrive today. He does not doubt that today’s visionaries will ensure that Plano has a bright future for decades to come.
“Before I became mayor, I thought a mayor was the soul of a city,” he says. “What I’ve come to learn is that the mayor reflects the soul of the city, and that’s what I tried to do.”