Initiative City Council Debate – Sept 30 – Notes


Also, Juan Gomez already wins the debate in the category of best hat.

Carisse Canalis welcomes the crowd.  I’d guess there are about 40 people in the audience.

The mic has already gone out; luckily we’re in the front row!

Tonight’s topic is on Economic Development and Youth Opportunities.

All candidates are in attendance.

Format: Questions addressed in alphabetical order, then move one person down the line.

More people trickling in.

Q1: Worcester’s youth in need of athletic programs.  How would you plan to budget for and facilitate year long youth & athletic programs?

Bergman: it costs money, this year was perfect example of giving schools as much as we could, good job balancing needs of city and schools.  Collaborative effort between city, schools, private enterprise.  Collaborative efforts cost the city less money, applies to non-profits as well.

Coleman, standing up: in 2003, the city got hit with $28 mil cut in local aid, local economy took downhill slide.  One of programs slashed was rec activities.  He kicked off program called Save Our Summer – $420k.  If kids are engaged, happier and less community problems.  Private and public sector to help.

Gaffney: when he was 14, had a job and was not able to participate in sports.  Same thing with art.  Can city budget for this?  Not on our own.  A lot of good collaborative efforts.  Emphasize coordination between activities.  No reason sports team/arts classroom should be not completely full.

Gomez: will not promise something that’s not possible.  Resources are limited.  Without more jobs/expanded tax base, will continue to have this discussion.  Consider that he is the only candidate with a comprehensive plan to bring jobs to Worcester.

King: Frontline social worker for almost 20 years.  Has witnessed firsthand difference athletics can make, follows people throughout life.  Lot of budget cuts over the years.

(room is now standing room only)

Lukes: we’re running out of room in this city, resources are limited.  South High pool closed years ago.  Wheels to Water was a collaborative effort, we can’t do it by ourselves (not enough money/ability).  Conflicts between neighbors whenever administration takes away park land.  Parks are the last real asset we have.

Parham: resources may be limited.  Come together as a community — not a new issue, we’re better together.  We don’t run from the issue, be creative to get grants, reach out to companies.

Petty: one 0f the most successful years for recreation this summer.  In parks, we had 10,000 visits to summer rec program.  Swimming, activities in parks, one week of special activities.  How do you do that year-round?  Probably through afterschool programs.

Sargent: teacher and coach in the city.  DA’s office says 3-6pm is the hour when kids do “something stupid” — if we eliminate one 6 figure downtown administration, how many programs would that sponsor?  Colleges have resources and have to provide programs for youth to attend in the summer.

Toomey, her teacher voice is ON! (mic still out): not an easy answer.  We had a great program: Community Schools program — would like to revitalize that program.  Programming: sports for mind and body.

Wally: reiterates what Sargent said: how do we build on what colleges have?  WE only have seasonal rec director.  How can we partner with colleges for year round opportunities?  Tennis courts & Tenacity program — build on current JV and Varsity programs.

Zlody: agrees with what everyone said.  Works at Clark.  Has seen the impact on youth of Main South.  Need to look at private/public partnerships as well as look at block grants.  More businesses as well.

David LeBoeuf: at the next forum, we can expect a question about mic funding for WPL.

Q2: How would you encourage businesses to create paid internships for youth?

Coleman: in 1996, created Summer Jobs for City Youth.  Encouraged companies to train and employ youth.  Was hoping that would get picked up by the city.  Set aside pool of money, find matching grants.

Gaffney: More internships for youth.  We don’t have a lot of large corps in the city.  Most are looking for college students.  Many jobs youth took (McD’s) are taken by adults.  Unfortunately, to get more youth jobs is to get more small businesses in the city.  Tax structure that encourages businesses.

Gomez: the first way to do it is to improve economic environment for businesses.  Fees and charges unnecessary, dual tax rate, undue influences that impact econ dev.

King: Jobs are important for youth.  “City of Neighborhoods” – he said this last time and it’s Nicole kryptonite!!  (I also find that this format leads to a lot of repeat answers and he’s similar to other answers).

Lukes: would be misleading for business to train and pay intern — 2-3 months long.  Alternative is to have a longer school year and more programs to keep kids occupied.  Reform educational system.  We don’t have enough trade schools geared to students who do not want to go to college.

Parham: Small businesses, United Way, work with them to take on youth and teach them basic life skills.  Look at UMass — they will come and teach skills for work environment.

Petty: youth leadership conference with Chamber of Commerce.  This year, CoW sponsored 16 internships, 300 altogether with businesses.  Very successful this year.

Sargent: Schools are not the problem — they are the solutions.  Offer more tech programs in schools.

Toomey: build on success of Chamber’s program.  A few orgs have been working diligently on this – Job One has been very successful.  Junior Achievement helps young people get the skills they need.

Wally: most companies will want to have college students, plug WCAC – Youth Works Summer Jobs program.  350 low-income youth hooked up with small businesses for jobs.  Leverage fed resources to provide jobs for youth.

Zlody: paid internships – small businesses don’t necessarily have the capital.  When you look at what someone can learn and earn in knowledge.  Lost an opportunity with Freight Farms moving to Boston.  What if we had taken youth into that startup?  Lost opportunity to teach kids about entrepreneurship.

Bergman: some discussion about retaining small businesses, the lower taxes on business – higher on residential, less disposable income.  Less concerned about paid internships, small businesses can’t do it.  Match skillset with what child wants to do.  Best thing to do is to go into a job and see if it works for you.

Q3: Given sharp decline in manufacturing, what jobs can we attract to Worcester for those with only high school diploma or GED?

Gaffney: (THE MIC IS BACK!)  Chamber of Commerce – Tim Murray in GLW talked about bringing manufacturing back.  Philly Plan would help rehab businesses.  Difficult to find good office space.

Gomez: growing manufacturing jobs coming to Worcester.  Chamber evaluated different elements: manufacturing is still strong.  Can attract all types of jobs.  LOOK AT HIS PLAN, ALREADY, PEOPLE!

King: identify what barriers are.  where’s red tape?  We have tax incentives, a living wage is very important.  Who’s employed in those jobs?  Folks working night and day to supplement their main job.  If you want to improve education, have to have living wage so you only work one job.

Lukes: Question assumes that GED/diploma is where learning stops.  All of us are lifelong learners.  Technocopia, started by WPI grads, going to 44 Portland St, offer classes for youngters thru adult to prepare for work.  This is one of those projects…

Parham: we already know we have a lot of diverse small businesses.  Tax incentive for existing businesses, to employ those who have formal or informal learning.  Give people jobs, and add to healthy family/community.

Petty: make sure people in Worcester have jobs.  CSX should have job growth, airport.  Over last year, (MIC IS OUT!!) set up Worcester Jobs Fund, (MIC IS BACK!) $350k to train people in train industry.

Sargent: commercial properties being bought up by non-profits.  (MIC IS OUT) can’t find office space for businesses.  Dual tax rate is not attractive.  Would like to see city offer two-year tax hiatus to anyone opening business in the city.

Toomey: (MIC IS BACK!) success already happening (MIC IS OUT) young man from North High runs his own lab in Boston, doesn’t have college degree.

Wally: steps in place to grow jobs and attract businesses, QCC Center for Workforce Dev provides low-cost, high-value tech skill training  In addition, not everyone will be able to work in Worcester, transpo issue to get to Westboro/Marlboro

Zlody: agrees with QCC job training.  Very specific jobs that CSX has that need training.  Expanding tax base to small businesses.  She has a GED and ran Futon Company for 10 years because someone gave her the opportunity.

Bergman: Focus at what strengths are: med technology, hospital and senior care — not enough, but some.  Retrain people that don’t have skills in popular areas now.  Immigrants come at a point in life when they cannot afford to go to college.  Address that in a very big way.  Give them hope and opportunity — readapt ourselves.

Coleman: goes through history lesson again (Crompton and Knowles, etc.).  We can think out of the box.  A lot of students should go to college.  How many people have written to Congress for free community college education?

Q4: do you believe reopening the Canal will be a major economic opportunity?  Would you pursue funding from feds, etc., for this?

Gomez: prospect has created economic turnaround in that neighborhood.  When it is, will be even better.  Anything that can attract more visitors, jobs, will be good.  Would work to bring resources to complete the project.

King: Absolutely.  Impact of pride in our city.  Means and funds available to move us forward.  Has spent time in Providence and we can replicate that.

Lukes: when MedCity was being built, and we excavated the center of the city, we dug up the sewer system/Blackstone Canal.  that was the time to do it, she recommended it, she was told that she should be committed to Worcester State Hospital because the cost was so much, monies estimated much lower than it will end up.  Positive in that area.  She is cut off – “I had more to say!”

Parham: Amy Lynn Chase, voke graduate, owns Crompton Collective; Michelangelo’s Barber Shop — had pipe that burst, Birchtree came together, etc.

Petty: Canal District very successful.  We’ve been talking about this since John Spellane, Allen Fletcher.  Would be great signature event (I think he’s talking of a Waterfire type thing)

Sargent: of course we would love to see the canal opened up downtown, point of pride.  Someone was shot over there the other night, keep things at a quality level down there.

Toomey: advocate of the canal but not in the way you think.  This would be a faux canal — a place where everyone’s ancestors came to this city.  World marketplace (I think she’s talking about what the Greendale Mall is like right now!)  If the Irish were able to build canal before, all of us can build Canal District now.

Wally: “It’s been a while; I’m going to read the question [aloud] again.” Two quick answers: yes and yes.

Zlody: has sat with John Giangregorio.  Stats are there, we lose people to Lowell on a regular basis, artist live/work spaces right on canal.  Did Start in district for two years, would like to do another event there.

Bergman: Canal put Worcester on the map/made it a city.  Agree with what everyone said, being in office — you learn realities.  City Council has done everything it could, unless state steps it up there’s nothing more we can do.

Coleman: This is the second debate I’ve been to this week in which Coleman has given the wrong date for when Worcester became a city.  He supports a canal.

Gaffney: petition Bergman mentioned was for a feasibility study.  No admin or legislative support for the study $$.


Q5: how would you prioritize the development of inner city neighborhoods and inner-city corridors  for inner-city development?

King: incentives to invest in neighborhoods.  When his dad employed others in his small business, … sorry, cut off.

Lukes: downtown has never been considered a neighborhood.  People can live/work at same time if old office buildings were redeveloped as housing.  First place developers go is downtown, free WiFi downtown.

Parham: [everyone needs to re-read the question because it is so confusing] We need jobs, once we find a way for small biz to generate jobs, make city grow.

Petty: good question, courthouse, neighborhood orgs can apply for a grant, facade program, all for different corridors in the city.

Sargent: small businesses in downtown.  Dual-tax rate is a problem, unless we look at that, more small biz not coming to Worcester.  Schools are our neighborhoods.  NICOLE KRYPTONITE: CITY OF NEIGHBORHOODS!  Instead of teaching to the test, teach kids business skills.

Toomey: so many diverse, unique neighborhoods.  Trying to change what downtown looks like, have to stop looking at past (what downtown used to look like), look to future — walkable, bikable city.  Holds up business start up guide which she filed.

Wally: works in downtown Worcester, walks by empty storefronts.  Tipping point for downtown.  With a lot of the efforts being put in will see more econ dev — can’t forget corridors.  Mentions Seven Hills study that came out today.

Zlody: work in Main South, spends a lot of time in inner city corridors.  Incentives for people to revitalize buildings with good bones.  Don’t need to separate different areas of the city, we’re one big city.

Bergman: inner-city, much more condensed areas, allow folks to open businesses without red tape/ZBA, homeownership — inner city should have more homeowners.

Coleman: bring the buses back!!!!  people can’t get somewhere if they can’t get home.  A lot of people don’t have insurance on their house.  Our foreclosure rate has increased 88%.  Help rebuild houses in neighborhood with assistance from unions.

Gaffney: 30-40 times we keep hearing “small businesses” — past decade that large govt investments are going to trickle out and trickle down, been a failure for more than a decade.  Canal District and Shrewsbury Street developed because of business owners.  Clean up streets, lower crime.

Gomez: he’s been doing this for 20 years, microlender (for 4 years).  Speaks to the Main Middle corridor — no one except Clark has done any work in that area.  government cannot do it all, but can incentivize those who want to do the work.

Q6: given growing diversity, what can Worcester do to help immigrant enterpreneurs, esp those who do not speak English?

Lukes: most prevalent dynamic is small businesses started by immigrants.  8% of all businesses in last decade are small businesses.  She mentions some programs, they’re pulling the mic away.

Parham: over 100 different languages spoken in the city.  Make immigrants feel they are in a safe place.  Connect with colleges.

Petty: has immigrant roundtable, asked Seven Hills for that study.  English language skills are important.  Future of Worcester.

Sargent: celebrate diversity.  Get them in the same room where they can access the programs.  More collaboration, feet on the ground.

Toomey: create a business mentor for folks in different communities.  Have them be the central spoke for those in that community.  So  much information out there, Worcester Business Resource Alliance

Wally: in his job, goes into urban areas, increase capital to small businesses, many immigrants do not trust traditional financial institutions.  Why can’t city act as facilitator (like Buy Worcester Now)?

Zlody: key for those who reach out to existing business owners — start talking to existing business owners, work from there.

Bergman: I’m not always as smart as I think I am — sometimes we assume we have the answers.  Unaware of any effort to reach out to folks in their languages to ask what they are looking for, facing, — need to make the ask.

Coleman: speaks in multiple languages.  Doesn’t like immigrant — first generation Americans.  Asks for subcom of Ethnic and Minority Affairs.

Gaffney: Liked Ray Mariano’s plan for housing for addicts, wanted to fund that through CDBG.  Ethiopian Dream Center was funded, helps folks succeed.  How you can get ahead.  In Albanian community, Hargrove helped them integrate, networks for people to get this info.

Gomez: our government does not reflect the diversity of city, not committed to this sort of help.  MLK Business Empowerment Center was taken into SMOC, no longer “business” empowerment center.  If you are committed, do it for real, enough talking.

King: Family came from Bermuda, 2/3 of immigrant businesses capital comes from family and student loans (sorry, might have gotten that wrong).

Final question of the night: TIF is a public financing method.  Do you believe there should be a community-based public review process before TIF agreement?  What should agreements require (living wages, local labor) and how enforced)?

Parham: yes, when more transparency, it will make sure that you have people at heart, thinking about all things to make community move forward.  Get community involved before.  When jobs go to community, will cause economy, etc., grow.

Petty: big believer in TIFs, big believer in local jobs for local people.  Jobs Fund, board to review the TIFs, set appropriate targets, have local hearings, apprenticeship programs if possible.  Has no problem asking with TIF.

Sargent: there already is, it’s called an election.  If you don’t trust your elected officials to negotiate a deal that’s beneficial to Worcester, then vote them out.  Election’s on November 3, I’m 10th on the ballot.

Toomey: advocate for TIFs, DIFs, thinks it’s important that local people have local jobs.  Sick of out-of-state plates on the jobsites.

Wally: in an ideal situation, 100% local employers working on project.  Doesn’t feel comfortable with public review, hold City Manager accountable for agreement negotiation so that locals come first for jobs.

Zlody: we have all seen what good happens with TIFs (Osgood Bradley).  When she drives by Junction Shops, all RI and CT plates.  Thinks at least a percentage should be for people in Worcester.  Figure out way for % of jobs from Worcester.

Bergman: Advantage and disadvantage of being elected official: courts have said we can’t do this with TIF/DIF.  Our hands are tied with the way the law is written.

Coleman: Rob Sargent, dead on the money, Bergman, right on the money.  That’s a court case.  We need to have overabundance of opportunities for local employers. Public review = Worcester City Council.  You have 6 votes, start will William S. Coleman III, the hell with everyone else (laughs)

Gaffney: Bergman and Coleman were discussing REO, struck down as unconstitutional.  Issue with old courthouse project.  Some talk that investors would pull out because of community pushback.  Sargent’s two year tax hiatus is essentially a TIF.

Gomez: can’t be done, shouldn’t be done.  10 years ago, when he asked for that to be included in TIF for CitySquare, every single incumbent voted against it.  We have construction companies in Worcester; do you not want them to work elsewhere?  Supports free market economy.

King: if used appropriately, tax incentives can be an effective tool.  Can be disservice to the public.  Target areas that are economically distressed, city should audit every single tax incentive until it is phased out.  Public trust issue, responsible to ensure that needs of public are met.

Lukes: no choice but to look at TIFs, we’re in competition with lots of other communities.  Gives developer a ride on certain taxes.  In return, they have to create jobs and we have to monitor them.  Thorough review before (CC, Econ Dev committee, back to CC), state also oversees TIFs.  Fed courts have reviewed on two occasions and said what we were doing was unconstitutional.

Closing remarks:

Zlody: questions have given her a lot to think about, thoughtful questions appreciated.  Need to be friendliest city for small businesses.  Know people who have run into roadblocks in starting biz.

Wally: 20 years of neighborhood revitalization experience, has leadership and temperament to be a strong public servant.

Toomey: talks about her experience, my fingers are tired.

Sargent: major issues in race are public safety and education.  His whole family is cops, his fiancee and him are teachers.  Exact thing city wants to retain.  Represents young hungry generation.

Petty: lists accomplishments

Parham: started journey with daughter, who passed away last December.  Her daughter saw potential in city, has been living here 18 years, lived on the street.  Vote for her is a vote for broader group of people.  She is going over, and doesn’t care.

Lukes: All candidates here want to make Worcester a great city.  She wants you to pay attention to the School Committee race, it’s crucial for our educational system.  We’re at a crossroads.   As to diversity, there are four people who have experience with the immigrant experience on her side of the table (Lukes, King, Gomez, Bergman).  SHE HATES THIS FORMAT JUST LIKE ME!!  Konnie Lukes is once again my pantsuit spirit animal.

King: describes his background, very important that we have community voice to round out our Council.  About working kids and families, about making city best place to work, raise family, etc.

Gomez: talks about his background with Centro.  GO TO HIS WEBSITE ALREADY!!  He’s not just talking about doing this job, he knows what it takes.

Gaffney: “For the love of God, please read Juan Gomez’s plan”  You don’t do this job by doing business as usual.  Frustrated with same old (he acknowledged that he would frustrate ME with the use of the phrase “trickle down”)

Coleman: currently substituting at North High, come on down and check it out!  There are only six seats, all these people here are great.  Lack of diversity is an embarrassment.

Bergman: child of immigrants, thanks Lukes for mentioning that.  His parents eventually owned a home, he went to college.  Wants everyone here to experience that hope.  He takes opportunity not to see children or wife, but to attend meetings and see constituents.