Nearly four decades removed from witnessing the 1981 assassination attempt of President Ronald Reagan on the sidewalk of the Washington Hilton Hotel, Rehoboth Beach Commissioner Patrick Gossett said he can remember every moment of the incident.
"It's like it was this morning," said Gossett, sitting in the living room of his Rehoboth house.
At the time, Gossett, now retired, was working for Hilton in the sales and marketing department of the Washington, D.C. hotel, which he said hosted presidential visits regularly. There was nothing out of the ordinary that day, he said, until it was all out of the ordinary.
Gossett said the thing he remembers most about that day is White House Press Secretary James Brady, who would later own a house in Rehoboth, lying on the ground after being shot. Secret Service removed the president immediately, and Brady was basically left for dead, he said.
"That's the most vivid part of that event for me," said Gossett, adding that moment in history gave him some perspective. "Life can change in the blink of an eye."
Reflecting on his participation of that day in American history, Gossett said he also learned that after something unexpected happens, it's the job of the people in charge to change things so those problems don't happen again. He said shortly after the assassination attempt on Reagan, Hilton developed a security system using a sally port, which allowed important hotel visitors to enter and exit the hotel without having to step foot outside.
It's an example of problem solving Gossett used during his time as a Rehoboth decision maker. Problems need to be reacted to in an attempt to meet the needs of today, he said.
Gossett, 64, grew up in Washington, D.C., and said he vacationed in Rehoboth as a child, just like his mother, Betty, did before him.
"We'd come in October and Grotto Pizza was just about the only thing open," he said.
In September, after nine years on the planning commission and nine years as a commissioner, Gossett will be stepping down. He said he's not running for re-election because, after nearly two decades, he feels comfortable he's done what he's set out to do – left things in Rehoboth in a better place. He points to City Manager Sharon Lynn, the recent implementation of the Munis system, the new city hall and the recently completed outfall.
"After 18 years of service, I've got other things I'd like to work on. Other opportunities have come up as I've gotten a little older," he said.
Gossett also said he wasn't too interested in the act of running for re-election.
"The last couple of elections, there's been lot of grandstanding instead of governing," he said.
Like many Rehoboth property owners, Gossett and his husband, Howard Menaker, split time between west of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Rehoboth. In Rehoboth, the couple, married for nine years and together since 1979, have an old beach house on Dover Street that used to be Rehoboth Avenue neighbors with the building that's now home to Back Porch Cafe.
Looking over at Menaker, Gossett said he joined the planning commission to help preserve Rehoboth for the next generation.
"We don't have any kids, but this is such a beautiful area," Gossett said. "I wanted to help preserve the character of the city."
Gossett said he never considered himself a representative of the gay community. He said there have been times when the gay community would have liked him to be their for-sure vote, like when there were public urination problems near Poodle Beach because the city doesn't have a nearby bathroom, but Gossett said, "I don't care if you're gay or you're straight. If you're breaking the law, you're breaking the law."
After nine years on the planning commission, Gossett said running for board of commissioners was the next obvious step. He said he wanted to move from making the to-do list to getting the list done.
He said governing moves at a glacial speed. Not everybody agrees with each other, and not everybody agrees about what the next issues are that should be tackled, Gossett said.
Gossett said he would like to have seen city code overhauled, beginning with separate code for the city's five distinct neighborhoods – the wooded northern portion, the commercial area, the residential area closest to the Boardwalk, the area near the elementary school and the area west of Bayard Avenue. He said he would like to see density and setbacks be customized for each area.
For example, Gossett said, the Pines area is completely different from the Country Club area. Right now, it's one size fits all, he said.
Gossett was chair of the personnel committee when it was tasked with finding a new city manager, which it did with Lynn. It was a great opportunity for the city to meet the needs of the community.
The previous city manager, Greg Ferrese, was a great ambassador for Rehoboth, but all the tools weren't being used," said Gossett.
Gossett said he's happy to see the city implementing Munis, a management system designed to track everything under one roof.
He said prior to Munis, the city had about 14 different databases for things like utilities, taxes, parking and voting. He said if a person had to make a phone number change on their utility bill, it might have been changed in the other databases, but it might not.
"It's the same system as Sussex County," he said. "Now everything will be under one central database."
Looking back on his nearly two decades of service in Rehoboth, Gossett said he's proud to have been a person more interested in the behind-the-scenes goings-on of city hall. He said he tried to provide property owners and visitors with the things they expected – clean streets, a great police force, well-trained lifeguards, street lights.
"People want to feel safe, clean and protected," he said. "If there's a better work environment, the results are better."