The Whine of 01609

At the last Blogger Coffee, Dave Goldberg proposed getting rid of district councilors in the Worcester City Council.  He said that one of the original purposes of having district councilors was that it would be easier to unseat an incumbent.  (I don’t know if that was true, but he was an adult at that point in time, and I wasn’t, so I’ll trust his memory.)

I told Dave that when he moved to South Podunk, he lost a right to have a say in whether or not we should have district councilors.  But it made me recall that one of the other reasons for having districts was that there were too many councilors from the West Side and not enough representation from the other sections of the city.  I decided to create a map to see if this is still the case.

Below is a map showing where each councilor lives.  The green balloons are district councilors; the blue balloons are for at-large councilors.  (GoogleMaps doesn’t have political lines, so you’ll just have to imagine the borders of Worcester yourself.)

What I found most interesting was that the scatter of district councilors roughly matched the scatter of at-large councilors. So, Haller and O’Brien live quite close to one another; ditto Eddy and Rushton, Clancy and Toomey, Palmieri [though this is his 'old' address] and Germain. We’ve got a nice geographic representation in the at-large councilors.

What is equally of interest, though, is that two district councilors — Eddy (D5) and Smith (D1)– live within blocks of one another:

I say that this is “of interest” because this could happen with any two districts that abut one another, but this is the only case in which we see two district councilors living so closely together.  And it does not necessarily mean that it’s a problem; presumably the right person can be an effective advocate for a street he doesn’t live on, or a neighborhood he doesn’t live in.

I must say, though, that the residents of the West Side are doubly lucky to have two men who continue to bring their numerous plights to the ear of the decision makers.

Rare is the Council meeting where we don’t hear about the cell phone woes of the denizens of Salisbury Street.  Sure, we have no idea when residents of the Coolidge Street area will ever be able to enter Newton Square without fearing for their lives (or taking large detours), and we’ve experienced some major staffing losses at FPBL, but let’s not get sidetracked by minor bumps on those roads outside our main thoroughfare, Salisbury Street.

To be fair, at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, both Councilor Eddy and Councilor Smith seemed to have a vague notion of areas in their districts outside of their homes — Smith name checked West Boylston Street at least twice, and Councilor Eddy mentioned both the June/Chandler area and Mill Street.

But if there’s one thing you need to get out of Tuesday’s City Council meeting, it’s that the West Side has been deprived.

Specifically, the West Side has been deprived of HUD/NRSA funding.

Thank goodness we had Bill Eddy to ask the tough questions.

“What small businesses who are trying to make it in an urban area … have to do with the income levels of the people who happen to live in the same zip code as the businesses?” [from the 42:00 mark of the Dec 14 video archive]

“Is it possible there’s not a single formula the City of Worcester, or the federal or state government that benefits the West Side of the City of Worcester?”  [from the 43:25 mark of the Dec 14 video archive]

Councilor Smith helped back up Councilor Eddy:

“I also share some of Councilor Eddy’s concerns … that certain programs are only available in certain geographic areas of the city, and I feel that every area of the city is just as important as any other, and every business owner and every business is just as important as any other.  So it would be great if we could have tools available that all businesses, whether it be a small business or a medium-sized business, would have access to, no matter where they are located.”  [from the 1:17:25 mark of the Dec 14 video archive]

Smith went on to mention “geographic limitations” that have negatively impacted businessowners in both Councilor Eddy’s district and his own.

Let’s face it: it’s tough living in the West Side.  Let me suggest a couple of other areas of moral outrage:

The WPS keeps trying to put in extended day programs at Chandler Elementary.  What does West Tatnuck get?  Bupkis.

CSX funds are going toward the renovation of the already-state-of-the-art facilities at Crompton Park.  Couldn’t that money be better used at Logan Field, which hasn’t seen a renovation in at least a year?

Sound ridiculous?  Welcome to the skewed world of the councilors of Districts 1 and 5.

I’m sure that there’s more than one area of each of those districts that could likely qualify for the funds Eddy and Smith were talking about.

In District 1, I’d think that Great Brook Valley/Lincoln Street/Northeast Cutover might be more appropriate for these kinds of funds.

In District 5 specifically, I would suspect that the Webster Square/Webster Street area would be a good candidate, as would the area around James and Stafford Streets.

I was glad to hear Councilor Eddy mention his concerns about the former Price Chopper location on Mill Street, and it was especially encouraging to hear him mention next Monday’s Traffic and Parking hearing, which will discuss the James Street bridge project.

However, Councilor Eddy’s primary concern was “how the Airport Industrial Park will be impacted by this project.”  You’ve got that right — he didn’t show concern about whether there would be increased traffic on certain residential streets in the area, about whether this would impact the businesses or residents in the James/Stafford area especially.  Heck, he didn’t even ask if we’d contacted Auburn or Leicester about how this project would impact their towns’ residents and businesses.

I don’t mean to begrudge the businesses of the June/Chandler area, and I don’t mean to diminish whatever impact the Airport Industrial Park will have as a result of the James Street bridge project.

But District 5 is more than the “West Side.”

And District 1 is more than the platform for whatever acting, modeling, or political aspirations Councilor Smith has this week.  Joff can always make time to further his career as a movie extra, but can’t get out of the hallway and into the Council chambers for a vote on increased citizen participation.

If we’re at a point when the councilors in districts 1 and 5 can only think of how deprived the West Side is – especially since there are real, live blighted & low-income areas in both districts — then perhaps we should rethink the need for district councilors.

Since implementing the charter change that brought us district councilors in 1988, District 3 has had the same district councilor for 22+ years; District 4 has had just two in the same amount of time.  And the change in D4′s councilor from Janice Nadeau to Barbara Haller came after Nadeau didn’t seek re-election.

Indeed, the majority of turnovers have occured when a district councilor has chosen not to run again.

District 1 has only seen one incumbent defeated, when Stephen T. Patton won over John M. Harrity back in 1991.  District 2 and District 5 have each had two incumbent defeats.  In District 2, Mary D. Scano was defeated by Michael Perotto; she had previously defeated Richard A. Bonofiglio.  And in District 5, Raymond F. McGrath was ousted by Wayne A. Griffin, and Griffin was later defeated by John F. Finnegan.

If we created district councilors so that an incumbent would be easier to defeat, history hasn’t proved us right.

If we created district councilors so that people from outside the West Side could be elected, we’ve done all right.  But if the point was for people outside of the West Side to be represented, we’ve got a mixed bag.  There are certain forgotten pockets of the city — I would include parts of Greendale, Webster Square, and — lately — the area around the Belmont Street/Lake Avenue intersection among those pockets — and I do not believe those places are being served by the presence of district councilors on the Council.

Those people aren’t helped when Bill Eddy asks why the richer parts of the city can’t get funds that were intended for the poorer parts, and they aren’t helped when Joff Smith acts as if there’s a geographic prejudice against the West Side.  And the district-centric shenanigans aren’t limited to the West Side — the apartment dwellers of District 2 are also not helped when Councilor Palmieri proposes that the tax rate on multi-families be raised.

It may be argued that representation for the interests of District 4 has been one positive result from the addition of District Councilors to the City Council.  But I think I’ll have to ask my astute readers whether any other good end has been realized.  It seems to me that the genuine needs within most of the districts go largely unaddressed, while the “needs” of the more affluent and/or influential areas get loads of attention.  What think ye?