WRRB/Chamber Mayoral Debate Notes

Update: video here; WoMag Liveblog here; Telegram coverage here and here

I have WiFi!  Sorry for not summarizing the School Committee debate; we’ll see what I can do with the mayoral debate.

Washburn Hall is quite lively tonight; nary an empty seat.

Next week (October 5) is the at-large council debate; district is on October 19.

Current city councilors: Gary Rosen, Rick Rushton (laughter when Tim McGourthy announces “Gary Rushton”), Tony E; candidates Nick D’A and Tina Zlody.

Format: 15 questions total; first candidate gets two minutes for comment, other candidates 60 secs to respond; original candidate then gets 30 seconds to respond/rebut followed by 30 secs for other candidate; original finally gets 15 secs.  (Got that?!)

Goal here is for debate; not to respond to general questions but to each other.

Moderator: David Forsberg of YOU, Inc; Karen Duffy and Raul Socia (sorry, I’ll have to come back for names and where folks are from)

Each candidate begins with three minutes:

Bill Coleman = William S. Coleman III.  All of us are very qualified candidates; he is a retired educator and current activist.  He has taught from preschool through high school.  Running to make sure city has government it needs.  He worked in Washington a number of years ago, for a senator ahead of his time.  It’s the people’s business, on the people’s terms.  Has been trying to break ice to represent people in this city.  Look at the city you have, it would be great to have government that reflects city population.  Glad to be part of this democratic process.

Mayor Petty: lifelong resident of Worcester, wife, three kids, believes city is going in the right direction.  “Campaign is about Worcester’s future, not mine.”  Quinsig has 1800 students across from city hall, MCPHS has 2000 students.  Worcester is alive with progress.  Old Courthouse market-rate housing, new hotel on Grove St., new hotels for CitySquare and Washington Square, Elm Park will be put back together, streets & sidewalks & tree replanting.  Nelson Place school.  “Worcester is moving forward because we have been working together.”  Vision one “of hope and optimism.”  Works well with City Manager; his job is to sell the city to employers and businesses.

Councilor Gaffney: Joe and Bill are very good people, differences in how we would accomplish things.  He quotes Douglas MacArthur on leadership.  He believes in Worcester, we have problems we need to address, not circling wagons or burying heads in the sand.  Hanover — Fred Eppinger saw it was about to go under, made tough calls, that’s what leadership is (and what we need to do).  Problems with safety in our streets and schools.  Problem with ever-increasing taxes, families struggling to start businesses, because we are following same old failed ideas.  Good projects Petty mentioned have not trickled down to the residents.  Empty storefronts.  (He’s been using the phrase “trickle down” a lot).  He wasn’t wrong when he said police should be in schools, more police in July, follow him, he’ll lead the way.  Mantra in the military, same today.

Q1: You have identified education funding as a top priority.  More money for ed = less $$ for other services; what would you cap? (addressed to Coleman)

Coleman: called prioritizing.  Over the years, councilors have said we don’t have funding, can’t do it, then catch up at 2-3 times the cost. Add Grafton Elementary to the list.  Certain grants available to the city – trash bag fee could be used as revenue source.

Gaffney: WRT priorities, we need to prioritize safety in our streets.  Only increase of 154,000 to police.  Clearly our spending priorities are off.  safety in schools.  School-to-prison pipeline has not  panned out and has worked rather well (no idea what he said there).  Incentive for small businesses to compete.

Petty: one of the better budgets for the schools this year.  First time, CM and schools are on the same page, more teachers hired, more money into building infrastructure, not a matter of subtracting.  Public safety is a big issue, always been a priority for him.  They put in over $1mil for WPD this year with new class and equipment.

Coleman: we can’t hold back.  Prioritizing is an absolute must, we do have a safe city.  When you have high unemployment, still low crime.

Gaffney: we did increase teachers, because of Ch 70 funding.  Continues to talk about public safety.

Petty: It’s a good city, it’s a safe city, keep on targeting Worcester Public Schools, (talking to Gaffney here), we address issues and put plans in place, they are actually working.

Coleman: these people are sitting CC; he’s a community activist looking to implement these ideas.

Q2: Dual tax rate; goal was to relieve residents.  19th highest residential tax rate in the Commonwealth.  Is single tax rate eventual solution?

Petty: not a fan of single tax rate.  Has been a leader on this issue.  17 years ago, continuing to be below cap.  Has tax policy team requested by Economou; non-profits, residents, businesses.  Need to stop pointing fingers at each other.  Residential taxes are way too high.  Business tax rate needs to come down too.  Not point fingers but determine what is fair to both parties.  Non-profit taxing is not the answer.  Need to bring agreements with PILOT.

Coleman:Last year, Chamber endorsed a lower tax rate.  He supported that, and supported the single tax rate in 1984.  If he’s elected, he would lower the business tax rate.  Businesses stop in Shrewsbury, in Millbury.  ultimately would like to come to single tax rate, to encourage business & expand tax base.

Gaffney: Recognizing problem will not drive people out of city, not addressing problem will.  Keep increasing taxes with little to show for services.

Petty: not about cutting budget — are you going to cut WPD, WFD, DPW, teachers?  We need more teachers, police, firefighters.  Those are the biggest areas of spending.

Coleman: we can’t govern under the threat of “if you do this, you’re going to lose that.”   Businesses have done needs assessment and left, make commitment over 6-7 years to have a single tax rate.  Thinks we can do that boldly.

Gaffney: He suggests holding the line.  We must get better at managing our resources.  People can’t afford to be here.

Petty: Thinks we presented a great budget this year.  He didn’t hear any complaints – “dead silence.”

Q3: to Gaffney. City gaining a rep for gang activity, but violent and property crime has lowered over past decade.  Rep as safe city is at stake.

Gaffney: premise of question is at stake: MSN Money: Worcester has more violence than 90% of cities and towns in MA, one of top 100 violent cities in USA.  More police on streets.  Criminals have video cameras and harass police.  HE DID SPEAK HIS MIND ON THE BUDGET, BTW.  The city is not safe, police do not have resources they need.  Platitudes and committees don’t solve the issues, nor does ignoring it.

Petty: Gaffney voted against the budget before he voted for it.  Police and fire class this year, there were many retirements this year, youth violence prevention program this year.  Summer impact was never extended.

Coleman: we’re not peeling 100 people off the streets every night.  Opiate addiciton is major problem, lack of jobs and housing is a problem.  Those are the issues.  only 26 (less than 10% of police) for women.  13 of those women are ready to retire.  With your vote I can be elected.

Gaffney: I voted against the budget.  Did not vote against funding the budget.  Article in T&G that Ed A. put out in August — anyway.  (I have no idea what he’s talking about).  Opiates.  (Seriously, that is what he said)

Petty: Gemme thinks this is safe city.  Not just a police issue, a community issue.  About planning, collaboration, getting issues solved.  Effects have been taking place in the past few weeks.

Coleman: if I had magic wand, would want 25 more women of various ethnic backgrounds for police.  Quit talking about negatives, work on solutions.

Gaffney: Just to be clear: opioid issue leads to property crime.

Q4: Coleman has called for increased transportation, but has also called Union Station a failure.

Coleman: Downtown has lost 40% of business with bus terminal — proposed to get people away from city hall, but has destroyed downtown for second time; first time was when Galleria was built.  Now we have no place to gather.  How can you get somewhere if you can’t get back? Cutting bus routes.  We need a public hearing to assess transpo needs.  Trolleys could get us to Springfield, Boston, around the city.  Bus company should run two days for free, and ask people where it should go.

Petty: From a federal/state perspective, has not been funded the way it should be.  Nighttime service coming back.  Lo0k at funding from Boston; fed gov’t needs to expand train service, faster and more trains needed.  Working with Massport on increased air service.  Young people want to live where they work.

Gaffney: He agrees with Coleman on the empty bus situation, underutilized, underfunded.  MBTA is a significant issue.  He maligns the average MBTA worker to boot.

Coleman: thinking out of the box.  When he worked at UMass Amherst, school would fund public transpo for Five Colleges.  People taking bus when gas was $4/gallon.  Now not so much.

Petty: Trying to get colleges/universities more involved. Go back to idea of WPS.  Pump money into WRTA from bus funding for schools (I think that’s what he’s getting at?)

Gaffney: one of issues is adequate parking — downtown doesn’t have enough.

Coleman: make this a walkable, safe city (also what Gaffney said; I missed that).

Q5: Petty: WPS focus on IB model for innovation school.  Do you think inno academy will address needs of high-achieving students, keep middle class in Worcester?

Petty: Absolutely.  Committee headed by Tracy Novick went towards IB model.  The IB school – need to find location.  Other programs at WPS that people are not aware of: Goddard Scholars program, library programs, ETA at Doherty.  Some people are afraid that we will move students around to IB school — whole goal is to keep students here.  Used to have school similar to this years ago.  IB school will be tough.

Gaffney: issue of exam school was somewhat controversial when first brought up.  Not sure of criteria for IB school, would prefer exam school.  Have to give people a reason to be here, particularly those who are gifted.  Wonderful idea for the city.

Coleman: regarding education.  We have to quit bashing our public schools.  He could list countless educators in WPS who do great work.  Need to have exam school in every one of our schools.

Petty: Number of priorities for exam school: maybe criteria would include MCAS scores, infrastructure of schools is important.

Gaffney: went to voke school back before it was cool.  His math was behind when he went to college.  Negative to not have gifted students in classes.

Coleman: “The force is with us” — work with existing schools, colleges are fighting for our students because they want kids who will change the world.

Petty: need to be competitive, more AP Classes, infrastructure, rigorous courses in this academy.

Q6: Gaffney: focus on OPEB ($727 million).  City has no plan to address; annual availability of free cash.  City should have set aside $50mil (out of $600 mil budget).  How to address this?

Gaffney: OPEB wasn’t even mentioned in the current budget.  At state level, there was an effort to try to address this.  Some restructuring of contracts for health insurance have helped, but it only goes so far.  Don’t have updated totals.  Priority has been funding OPEB liability – will come due, can’t make promises and never fund them.  Feels it should be in the budget document.

Coleman: as a concerned citizen, Gaffney is correct that Tim Murray’s suggestion that state assist be followed up on.  If they haven’t put it in the budget, reason for that.

Petty: issue we are trying to address.  Down $400 million ish on deficit.  We do put free cash into the OPEB.  we have a ways to go, and we can’t do it by ourselves.  Where would $50mil come from?  State legislature needs to deal with this, years of service requirement for health insurance.

Gaffney: we broke promises to people by putting them on Medicare.

Coleman: We give developers all sorts of incentives.  Let’s try something that would benefit the people.

Petty/Gaffney respond — I need to rest the fingers

Q7: Coleman: Homelessness one of your campaign issues.  Ban of “aggressive” panhandling.  Do you feel ordinance is appropriate?

Coleman: Everyone’s standing on street corners asking for money, taking away trucks downtown, people’s opportunity to earn income, we need to address their needs.  He doesn’t support things that don’t work, feel-good legislation doesn’t work when the issue (homelessness) isn’t being addressed.  88% increase in foreclosure, division of owners/renters 50/50.  Propose we work out deal with unions to employ people to rebuild neighborhoods, make affordable living possible in the city.

Gaffney: Bill, stop talking negative about the city of Worcester (laughs).  Panhandling — freedom of speech is what he hears, they need help, can’t you give them help.  The purpose of the ordinance was to keep people safe.  We need to demand that state assist us because we are assisting other towns.

Petty: there were a lot of children, etc. downtown.  He was worried about everyone’s safety.  Just had a death where someone was hit by a car.  Supports it 100%.  Not being cruel to the homeless, we’ve put caseworkers on the streets.

Coleman: US is the greatest country in the world.  “Give me your tired, your poor…” These are your family, these are those who are down on their luck, we can do more to provide them safety.

Gaffney: Far too many people on streetcorners have serious drug issues.  Giving them money isn’t helping them.  Just fueling their drug addictions, need to provide them other services.

Petty: we do provide outreach workers, we have programs in place for housing.  Safety of kids and residents is something he is supportive of.

Q8: Petty: WPS have faced a challenging year re: school safety.  You worked with super to expand WPD presence.  Are schools safe?  What more could be done?

Petty: schools are safe, students are hurt by various candidates’ statements.  Safety is of utmost importance.  Police in high schools, rotating police in middle and elementary schools.  At North High, cultural climate changes put in the school.  Support mechanisms in place.  Schools are safe.  How many people here went to school and saw fights?  We did have a fight in one of the schools early in school year, zero tolerance policy.  No one was hurt in past incident.  None of these issues involve gangs. The kids fight in the schools because they feel safe.

Coleman: kids are sick and tired of picking up paper and seeing that their school isn’t safe.  Before your child leaves to go to school, tell them you love them and to have a good day.  That will make all the difference in our public schools.

Gaffney: mentions that students signed a petition to have police in schools.  He mentions putting police in schools, supposed to have a safety audit in March.  Dianna was yelled at because she asked about it in August.

Petty: go talk to the parents.  There are concerns, but most students and parents feel safe.  As far as a press release on a Sunday night, decision to put police in schools wasn’t because of that.

Coleman: tell your kids you love them, need to close down 28 kids per classroom.  Give substitutes more of a living wage.

Gaffney: no one ever brought a gun to his high school and threatened a police officer.  He mentions some sort of email from Petty about police in schools.  (Nicole finds this all very boring.)

Q9: Gaffney: students of color, many with other languages.  How should WPS improve educational outcomes for various racial/ethnic group?

Gaffney: that assumes that someone of different ethnic group learns differently which he does not agree with. “Not many teachers teach” — taken much of the teaching out of the classroom.  Far too many distractions in the classroom.  Back when he was in school, nobody would disrespect the teacher and think they could get away with it.

Petty: 85% of our kindergartens are ELL.  Look at test scores.  MCAS is out for 10th graders, numbers were up.  Shows that kids coming to WPS, can’t speak English, can succeed.  Proud of last week’s results.

Coleman: asked if you spoke Armenian and Polish (in those languages, I think).  standardized testing = $187 million a year business for this state.  Supports MTA for moratorium on standardized testing.

Forsberg asks him if he speaks Swedish, in Swedish.

Gaffney: scores = good teachers.  What can we do more?  Smaller class sizes not always doable. Hopes that PARCC testing will be better.

Petty: meet demands of Worcester Public Schools.

Coleman: I’ll be ready for you next time in Swedish!  Agrees with Gaffney and Coleman, stand with teachers.  Teachers make a difference in students’ lives.

Gaffney: good schools, safe schools, good teachers = economic development.

Q10: Coleman: WRA – urban renewal plan for Theater District, to build on QCC, Hanover, CitySquare.

Coleman: clear directions, good lighting, something to bring people to live downtown.  Supports what is proposed, would like to see more hearings.  Have to go as far as Clark and as north as Lincoln St.

Petty: Supports plan, likes eminent domain. look at CSX, they have eminent domain power, makes a difference in that development.  Last resort effort.

Gaffney: to be clear, not a proponent of eminent domain, un-American.  In the case we’ve put out so far, something we need to do.  Project in theater district to use govt money to rehab and put in a restaurant.  That seems a little less than capitalistic.

Coleman: unresponsive landlords not keeping up property — eminent domain is a tool for that.  Chance for people see city continue to grow.

Petty: very supportive of urban renewal plan.  You can see it happening, but it takes time.  Going to 18 hour day vibrancy downtown.

Gaffney: vacant storefronts, not trickling down to the neighborhoods.  Philly Plan, need a lot more good office space.

Coleman: sometimes after I listen to these academic geniuses here, I forget what I’m talking about.  Five seconds…I guess I’ll wait!

Q11: Petty: Were dialogs on race successful?

Petty: Yes, think they were very successful.  Had seven sessions.  Over 300 people attended.  Was very concerned after Ferguson for lines of communication.  You can already see it changing.  Clergy/Police happening again.  Communication is what it’s all about.  Demographics in the city are changing — “if we don’t bring these people with us” the city will not succeed.  CM hiring more diverse people in city hall, make everyone feel included in city of Worcester.  Immigrants are from all over, and need our support to be successful.

Gaffney: I’m going to be clear, I’m not going to discriminate against anyone based on race.  DOJ hearings, people came to city hall and said some really hateful things about the police.  What did DOJ meetings accomplish besides more discussion?  If there’s a problem with race in the city and you’ve been on the council for 18 years, maybe you should look in the mirror.

Coleman: that was a low blow.   Worcester isn’t a city of racists, people with dialog issues.  Rules committee has refused to meet to have a subcommittee on ethnic and minority affairs.  Chair of committee says he follows orders.

Sorry, missed Petty

Gaffney: Meetings and studies…nuf ced.

Coleman: Who am I to judge?  We need to say that when talking about what people are doing.

Petty: proud of what we did, would do it again.

Q12: Gaffney: Mayor is first among equals, you have been critical of other councilors, assert everything you have accomplished has been on your own.  How can you lead your group?

Gaffney: I disagree with your framing of question.  Mariano said that mayor is a super-councilor; has political power.  Leadership is not done by sitting in a room, if people don’t want to follow, that’s fine.  You have to put yourself out there.  past mayors got people out to vote, got people excited, I’m fine to call them a “mutual admiration society” — but a lot isn’t happening.  Being nice guy in the room doesn’t get city in direction it needs to be in.

Coleman: Running for mayor for opportunity to bring people together, to show the country we can do it.  Young city councilor Tim Murray challenged Ray Mariano, later on became mayor at lt gov.  You have to challenge the status quo.  As mayor, it’s a free-for-all.

Petty: role of mayor to coordinate, to get respect, not just come into room not knowing what issues are and throwing something out there.  Mayor’s supposed to be cheerleader, not to tear it down.  Look at schools, parks, recovery high school, about coordinating and talking to people.

Gaffney: I thought we were supposed to be having debates on issues.  Doesn’t believe question was appropriate.  Appreciates Bill C’s mention of Tim Murray.  Disagrees that mayor is cheerleader, mayor is leader.

Coleman: believes mayor and every elected official is a cheerleader.  Petty allows people to speak at city council meetings, appreciates that.

Petty: look at success of city in past four years, all because of leadership.

(Battery is running low!)

Gaffney: CitySquare was started 10 years ago by Murray!

Q: Coleman: turning out the vote

Coleman: 24-hour voter drive. access to polling

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