Leon Panetta: It takes strong leadership to recover

Peninsula Premier Admin

MONTEREY — Former Central Coast Congressman Leon Panetta, who has also served as the head of the CIA and secretary of defense, says strong leadership is key to healing from crisis.

Speaking at the Monterey Peninsula Chamber of Commerce Annual Leadership Luncheon Monday via Zoom, Panetta specifically talked about leadership at the local level on the Monterey Peninsula to move past damage done by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In my long period of public service, I’ve seen leadership at its best and leadership at its worst,” said Panetta. “The good news is I’ve seen leadership work.”

The conference, usually held in-person, was virtual this year because of COVID-19 restrictions. It was available to both Chamber of Commerce members and non-members by link and registration. The Chamber, which works to advance the interests of local business, holds the luncheon annually as a “celebration” of members. Panetta spoke to the remote audience, giving insight on moving forward from times of ineffectual leadership.

In discussing leadership at its worst, Panetta pointed to recent years as an example. He said we “paid a terrible price” for bad leadership — that price being the uncontrolled spread of COVID-19, which he said not only threatened lives but local businesses.

The control of COVID was a centerpiece of the keynote address, which Panetta said would be crucial for moving past this moment of economic hardship. He criticized the current rollout of the vaccine, saying it has “not, frankly, been managed very well.”

In his talk, Panetta reflected on former times of economic difficulties in Monterey, specifically the collapse of the sardine industry in the 1940s. While it impacted working families, he said the community worked together to find other opportunities. He also recalled the threat off-shore drilling posed to the health of Monterey Bay, but the establishment of the Monterey Bay National Sanctuary will now “protect it forever.”

“If we can — as we did in our past — find the courage to work together, to fight together, to care for one another, we can again open up this community to great success in the future,” said Panetta.

Panetta went on to discuss the importance of keeping Monterey attractive and affordable to young people and working families as a place to settle and live. He acknowledged skyrocketing real estate prices have posed a barrier.

To keep the area “vibrant and vital” and from becoming a “large retirement community” Panetta said there needs to be diversity in the economy — from small businesses to agriculture. He further said there needed to be better opportunities for jobs by opening up the area to industries that are on the “cutting edge of technology.” Beyond industries, he also said small businesses are the “heart and soul” of a community and the Peninsula needed to be friendly to those opportunities as well.

“This can’t just be about Amazon or about large malls,” said Panetta. “It’s gotta be about small businesses that can survive.”

Moreover, Panetta called for more affordable housing.

At the heart of his lecture, Panetta called for unity from leadership going forward, starting with newly inaugurated President Joe Biden.

He said Biden will have to build a coalition of both Republicans and Democrats to move forward effectively. “If we have nothing but four more years of gridlock, then I think our country is going to continue to divide and be polarized.”

He further said continued failure to achieve across-the-aisle unity would “threaten democracy.”

“We’ve got a fundamental choice in this new decade that we’re in. Will we be an America, a California, a Monterey Peninsula that has a resilient recovery? Or will we be stuck in economic and social decline?”

He said it depends on strong leadership, at every level.

“The path we take will be determined by the quality of leadership we have or fail to have.”

Contributed by local news sources

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