Apologies for not posting these notes earlier.
Here are my notes from the candidate forum for the D5 Candidates (Doug Arbetter, Paul Franco, Matt Wally) last Wednesday; Telegram article here.
I came into the forum not favoring any particular candidate. After the forum, I found that I would likely vote for one of the candidates over the others.
On the whole, I would have preferred questions more particular to the district and probably a different format as well. Not to step too much onto a soapbox, but questions about litter (and whether people could just put their recycling in a bin with a lid!) are short-sighted when we could be asking about further reducing our solid waste via curbside compost programs. Everyone wants to reduce taxes — but when candidates talk about new police sub-stations, better funding for parks, etc., they should be pushed into how, specifically, they will increase the tax base. Some of that was done (but not very far, at least in my opinion).
However much this forum was lacking, I hope my notes help D5 voters in their decision-making.
There were some technical issues with microphones that broke the flow of various talks a few times, but the candidates handled it pretty well.
Notables in the audience: Wayne Griffin, Donna Colorio, Dianna Biancheria, Moe Bergman, Konnie Lukes
Attendance: pretty good, it was maybe 30-40 people at the start and more like 80-90 towards the end.
Welcomed by: Gary Rosen
Moderated by Andy Lacombe of Channel 3
Panelists: Ray Mariano, Hank Stolz
Part One: ask one candidate question, gets 90 seconds, other 2 candidates get to respond
Final 30 minutes – town hall style debate
One minute wrap up for each candidate at the end
Arbetter: son of the district, graduate of Doherty, new property owner, came back here after masters from Columbia
1 – seniors can age in place, not priced out of their neighborhood
2 – invest more in public schools, capital infrastructure, public safety, public works
3 – nonprofits should pay their fair share
4 – will be most successful councilor this district has ever seen
Franco: great cities have great neighborhoods. Put neighborhoods first. New Doherty & South to stand test of time, undeveloped property on Mill and Park. Successful police patrols, police substations, tax rate that puts homeowners and renters first. Going waaay over his time…
Wally: thanks organizers & fellow candidates. Issues: hold admin accountable for South High on time & on budget, Doherty approval on time. Financing for Hadwen master plan, dog park at Boynton. Streets and sidewalk repair and implementation.
First Question to Franco: Decision made by current City Council in the past two years that you disagree with and why
Franco: Failure to act on Mo Bergman’s request to Rules for exception to Dover Amendment. In Ward 7, construction of an extended drug rehab facility without any notice or warning. 1010 Pleasant St, facility going in. Council & citizens have a right to some input on these decisions, construction.
Wally: $3 million earmarked for school stabilization to pay down North High, that would have paid down the debt. Our bond rating is very important.
Arbetter: failure to act on mayor’s report on tax reform. Several initiatives laid out. Failure to act on one of the recommendations. They have not advocated for property owners enough.
Second Question to Arbetter: describe something positive that you have done for the district as a resident/private citizen.
Arbetter: knocked on hundreds of doors for No on 2 ballot initiative. He is ready to get people activated for shared values and goals for things that directly impact residents.
Franco: Conservation Commission for 3 years. Worked with area developers to help wetlands, he learned a lot on the committee, worked with developers, business on the environment. Strong growing economy in D5.
Wally: everyone has a civic responsibility. Volunteered for Matthew 25 since college, long-term history of giving back: GWCF board member, trustee associate of Nativity School, lots of other stuff I can’t type.
Third Question: when compared to other candidates, why should voters choose you over the others?
Wally: When he thinks about fed gov’t: president unfit for office, congress isn’t passing great policy (members of both parties digging heels in). he is a democrat, but will be able to compromise for decisions that benefit the city as a whole. The other candidates are on extremes of their political beliefs.
Arbetter: experience fighting for causes he cares about. He has knocked on a lot of doors of folks who need to move out of the district. Businesses can write off property taxes, no TIFs for property owners or residents, destroying neighborhoods. Part of the character of Worcester is long-term residents. He has already distributed his number to everyone – accessible.
Franco: tremendous amt of experience. Father of 6, husband. Worked for 27+ years with her as a parent, paying their fair share of city taxes. He has been there, done more, hopes folks will come to him with any issues.
Fourth Question: Council is supposed to be non-partisan, has party politics crept in?
Franco: would have hoped this would not be partisan. Can’t you go to someone for assistance without worrying about party affiliation? Majority of people out there want less politics, more action. He’s very good at action: military, work, family, etc.
Arbetter: proud to take position that he takes. If you think that at the local level, the ideology of your councilor doesn’t matter, you aren’t paying attention to what is going on. Because he takes positions, doesn’t make him extreme. Proud Democrat, felt that Wally didn’t take firm positions last time around because he didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Proud to be running as a Democrat, doesn’t view himself as a radical lefty. Running to fight for working families, not ashamed for that.
Wally: Partisanship has crept in, a person who has a certain ideology doesn’t necessarily take that off the table. To Doug’s comment, when he is asked a question directly, he will answer it directly.
Fifth Question: Assume that the deal offered in Pawtucket would be the same in Worcester. Do you support a AAA Red Sox Affiliate in Worcester?
Arbetter: Generally reluctant to see public funding for sports stadiums. Reluctant to support without seeing any numbers for revenue, are we sure it won’t be a dud. It’s a matter of if it’s worth $$ in the long term.
Franco: if city’s going to contribute $15 million, then it would be tough talking to waterfront property owners for them to pay through the nose for property tax. Hard time with public funding for sports teams. We have Mr Creedon who has the Bravehearts, what would happen to his operation? The city would likely be in a situation like Hartford with the Patriots.
Wally: under hypothetical numbers, would like to see a bond situation for meals or hotel tax in that district. Would like to see Creedon/Bravehearts included in some way.
Sixth Question: Should Worcester move towards single tax rate?
Wally: when city went to dual tax rate, residents have paid more over the last 25 years. When he thinks of thriving city, city with thriving business sector. Great, strong, educated workforce, great location, great transpo network, we cannot compete against surrounding suburbs’ tax rate. Would probably take 10 years to get to a single tax rate.
Franco: Tax rate does not seem to be hindering downtown development. City should manage assets more effectively, not overburden taxpayers. Those on lakefront properties are really hurting. He won a case against appellate tax board, but it was tough. Nothing that would overburden homeowners and renters.
Arbetter: Goal is to make sure residents aren’t pushed out. If we want to move towards single tax rate, not for highest residential tax increases. Evidence-based measures: PILOT to make nonprofits pay their fair share. Ch 70 funding reform on the state level. 1% sales tax. Ways to get alternative revenues, need to look at those.
Seventh: Where can City Manager improve?
Arbetter: biggest improvement would be community budgeting, town hall meetings with constituents on what is important to them. What we are funding is what we value. Overall he has done an excellent job, grassroots budgeting could be an improvement.
Franco: Look outside door and see the Price Chopper that has been vacant for years, Richardson and Bradley property, Diamond Chevrolet, James Street. Why can’t the City Manager do wonders up here? City Manager works for the Council, would be happy to work with him to spearhead those developments.
Wally: Mike O’Brien had rolled out Buy Worcester Now, homeownership rate is 45% (too low), would like it improved. Wants department heads to live in Worcester.
Eighth Question: Non-profits cannot be made to pay taxes. Are they not pulling their weight?
Franco: When you hear the term non-profit and the CEO is making $500-1,000,000, but also includes churches. If we manage spending effectively, we don’t need to tax non-profits, but it’s got to come from somewhere. We shouldn’t have to be burdened with that. Manage our budgets effectively.
Arbetter: supports expanding local PILOT program. Going to university and aggressively have them sponsor Recreation Worcester, even have less aggressive conversations with those smaller non-profits. There are ways the city can have them contribute.
Wally: should always engage with the non-profits, but would shudder to think at what we would look like without colleges. Majority of non-tax payers are state and city owned in the city. Should discuss with the state to appropriately value the property and have them pay what they should be paying.
Ninth Q: Mounted police or should those police be working on more traditional patrols?
Franco: mounted police are impressive, privately funded. Would rather they be used via bike patrols, which are more effective. More mobile police force, have police substation manned. The horses aren’t going to come to Webster Square to help us out. More engaged with community & youth.
Wally: he would rely on the expertise of the department head. When the mounted police were described, chief said how they would be useful. He would rely on the chief’s expertise, and supports why he made the decision.
Arbetter: echoes Wally.
Tenth Q: pedestrian safety
Arbetter: background is in public health, traffic is a huge part of our public health system. Need to look at whether crosswalks, stop signs, lights, in the right places. Smart infrastructure. Lowering speed limit will not magically make us safer. Target where we lower the speed limit.
Wally: District 5 should be walkable. We should look at lowering speed limit on certain residential street. Need to enforce laws to protect children and pedestrians, visible crosswalks, lighted streets.
Franco: Clover & Heard St residents, he was taking his life into his hands doorknocking there. Stepped up law enforcement, you have to pay attention when you walk, a lot is common sense. Increased education. Complete streets program, Salisbury St, near Worcester State. Get off the phone, drive carefully.
Eleventh Q: What would you do to make D5 and the city safer? How would you fund?
Wally: too many streets don’t have sidewalks. Clover, Flagg. Advocate for increase in sidewalks. Grow the tax base so that additional revenue could pay for these infrastructure improvements.
Arbetter: privilege of living on the Moreland Expressway. Walkable sidewalks are needed, making the city walkable should be something we contribute more to.
Franco: Agrees on sidewalk situation. As a father of 6, many days and afternoons on the ballfields, esp Jesse Burkett and Logan Field. We have great new parks, but not a comprehensive plan to maintain them once they are build/redone. Parks need to be properly maintained.
Twelfth Q: does city focus too much on projects in the downtown core? Do you see value in the density downtown?
Franco: city has done a good job improving downtown, but how long do we need to look at these large vacant properties in the district? We want to make sure greater emphasis is placed on this district.
Wally: development downtown is not being done to the detriment of the neighborhoods, it increases tax base for us all, improving neighborhoods. Majority of the activity downtown is from state, federal, private funders.
Arbetter: a lot of value in the investments made downtown, make sure the plans are smart. No grocery store near there, who’s going to want to live there? Similar complexes in other cities are above stores. District needs a bigger focus on undeveloped property. Property is overpriced, need to be more aggressive with the property owner. Not opposed to put eminent domain on the table as a last resort. Coes could be a destination, need to build on Gary’s work.
Thirteenth Q: under what circumstances do you support a tax break to a property owner or business?
Arbetter: welfare to get them to invest in the city. They need to have a history of paying fair wages, using local organized labor. Support the workers/residents of this city. Stands with Councilor Russell. They need to contribute to the city. Proud to have stood with Carpenters Union on Front St.
Franco: TIF, tax breaks, in the toolbox. Can’t be used haphazardly. Important to use urban planning expertise. Would not hand these out willy-nilly, without knowing whether in the city’s/district’s best interest.
Wally: TIFs/DIFs have proven to be good for local econ dev. TIF/DIFs for existing businesses that are already here. Enforce hiring certain number of locals, stay in business for a certain amt of time, need to take back tax revenue where appropriate.
Town Hall Style – no more timings
Mariano: one current councilor you most identify with
Wally: Economou, constituent services, business background but community focused.
Franco: it’s going to sound like I’m pandering –
Mariano: Don’t pick Rosen, don’t pick Rosen –
Franco: Gary really does care, very approachable. Standing in Lincoln Square in August, baking out there, he gave him a vote. Likes his personality.
Arbetter: identifies with King, in terms of values, and Carlson is a fighter for her district. Mayor Petty has fought with values that are important with him.
Mariano: any City Councilor you wouldn’t want to be like?
Arbetter: There is. Since this is a political discussion, least identifies ideologically with Councilor Gaffney.
Franco: doesn’t think it’s fair to see who we like and dislike.
Mariano: who you identify with –
Franco: he will defer not to answer.
Wally: will defer.
(UGH – AT LEAST ARBETTER SAID SOMETHING!)
Stolz: is there a time when you would have to vote against the interests of the district in favor of the whole city?
Franco: would shirk responsibility to district if voted that way. Low tech and high tech constituent services.
There are a lot of people who don’t like new gadgets, proposes constituent office hours, or a town hall meeting like this (not like Gary had a few weeks ago!)
These people need to know that they have someone on the Council fighting for them. Just like being a lawyer. Without knowing a specific issue, tough to say.
Arbetter: doesn’t like blanket yes/no questions. The reason he is running for district is that his passion is constituent work, like when he worked for McGovern’s office. Passion to do this work. He ran before the seat was open because he wanted to fight for what was important to him. He wants people to call him and meet with him.
People elect him because they believe in his ability to represent them – on the front, if something tells him to vote for it, he will. We all have to give to get in the long run. Not opposed to giving a little to get something in the long run.
Wally: priority of the district councilor is to protect the district first, would always vote with the district’s needs at heart (not his exact words)
Mariano and some sort of sanctuary city “should the cops ask for papers” question
Franco: It all depends on the law. Important that we enforce the laws. We can’t just make it up as we go along. Whatever law enforcement training the police have.
Wally: WPD has no authority to enforce federal immigration laws. Doesn’t think it’s appropriate for them to ask about immigration status. Victims of crime should not hide in the shadows so perpetrator can be caught.
Arbetter: Federal gov’t’s job to enforce immigration laws. Huge part of public health is for folks to seek help. If people are afraid to report crime or ask for help, will make our community less safe. Data shows that communities across the country with similar policies to ours are safer.
Mariano, follow up, if WPD had undocumented immigrant in custody without any criminal background, should Worcester contact federal officials and notify them? (Not required by law)
Franco: concern about undocumented residents is public safety. If they have someone in custody, obviously concerned about that.
Mariano beats the dead horse. Don’t we have real issues in this district?
Franco: if you get stopped without a license, you eventually get let off with a fine.
Mariano continues to beat dead horse
Franco: not for someone not a threat to community
Stolz: trash and litter problem in Worcester. Do we have one? How should we solve it?
Wally: Trash and recycling blowing around. Recycling bins are an issue, trash bags are not an issue. Clear plastic bags seemed to be ok, would like to see cost reduced. Has been problem of dumping in the city, would like to commend the administration for increased cameras. Best ways to reduce small trash is public transportation.
Franco: Barrels with lids for trash and recycling in other towns. As long as a trash bin is open, the trash collector will take it. Cover with lid.
Arbetter: leans towards bin with cover. Ways to do it without a lot of debate.
Wally: concern with the bin: what about multi-family properties?
Mariano: to Arbetter: based on problem property, would get tough with owner and eventually get by eminent domain. If you call a property owner, you don’t have to get them to pick up the phone. Where is the money?
Arbetter: A few ideas: discussion with a developer who would like to acquire property. Go to large non-profit landowners to help acquire the land.
Mariano: and they can do the sidewalk in the front too
Mariano to Franco: CM has done wonders downtown, can’t he do them here? Wonders downtown started more than a decade ago, with Murray, O’Brien doing most of the work. Now the tree is bearing fruit. What would you expect the manager to do, knowing that gestation period?
Franco: attended a Columbus Park meeting, CM was perplexed by a similar question. Someone like him can work in a team with CM. Property on the market for sale, need right buyer. But how long do we have to wait?
Wally, commenting: code violations for home – good tool for tax and lien, city has a receivership program, who can make any necessary code repairs on the property and then sell the property. Revitalization plan was approved by state, part of strategic plan, better when there is a strategy, WRA has the only eminent domain power in the city.
Stolz: livable city, Stearns Tavern, Notre Dame, history vs. moving on.
Arbetter: city has a great character. Always wants to advocate with repurposing, as in the case of Notre Dame. Pow Wow was great, energizes community, those type of things are important. Murals on garages (sorry, my wrist is losing steam)
Franco: doesn’t mind the mural, have to take down the Doug sign. So many concerned citizens doing a lot of work on city parks. Weeding at veterans memorial. Newton Square flowers was done by private citizens. It’s nice to tell people what to do with their property when you don’t have money to do anything yourself. Loves Mt Carmel and Notre Dame, but money talks. It’s nice to have these things, done pretty good project like Telegraph Bldg on Park Ave. Honey Farms near Christ the King church, Honey Farms wants to expand but they can’t tear down the Bhadon building. Can’t have every house built 200 years ago be preserved.
Wally: you can’t let history get in the way of progress – should be change to history can help progress. When historic building can have good use, it will help with progress. Fine balance. Member of Preservation Worcester. Lengthening of demolition delay order from 6 months to a year a number of years ago was a good thing.
I didn’t type the final statements but they were pretty much a rehash of the opening statements.