WRRB At-Large City Council Forum notes

At-large CC forum

50-60 attendees

In the audience: Tony Economou, Jim O’Day

Moderators: Andrea Negri, Christina Spellane, and Eric Nieland

(Opening statements – I will hold on typing unless it’s something new to me)

Bergman: echoes Bob Kennedy’s opening statement: “The future of Worcester is in our hands” – he is one of the good hands.

King: need more inclusivity, more representative government.

Lukes: “I started school not speaking English, and I often think my colleagues wish I’d never learned” (much laughter)  Flaw in our politics if we do not have high voter turnout.

Straight: being a newcomer part of what he has to offer.  Has lived in other cities and can bring different perspective.  Served in US Navy for 6 years.  After that, received bachelor’s and master’s degrees.  We have seen a lot of progress in the city over the last few years.  Bringing down taxes for everybody.  Hopes you will consider him on November 7 – but whatever else, go out and vote.

Toomey: “I may not be the most exciting candidate out there but I do work with my colleagues”

Q1: Main Street, downtown: what is city’s next priority?  Where should city focus attention?

King: city in midst of renaissance, result of leadership of City Manager.  [I’m forum-ed out, folks, but — How quickly we forget Mike O’Brien.  Not just his wonderful hair, but – let’s be real – if things are happening downtown, the momentum was really started, perhaps, with Tim Murray but continued for many years with our previous city manager.]

Lukes: if we could be more successful with PILOT with non-profits [It’s like all Nicole’s third rails in one forum!!!]  Need to look at community investment outside downtown.  Only 32% of school population is white, going through major changes.

Straight: neighborhood development.  Short-term tax incentives to redevelop real estate, vacant buildings/lots.  Look at some of tax exemptions on small business side of things.

Bergman: neighborhoods tangential to downtown (lower Belmont, lower Pleasant, which has a lot of vacant storefronts).  [Needless to say, Nicole feels there are a lot of vacant storefronts downtown…]  Likes uniform look of awnings.  Thriving demographic changes in neighborhoods.

Petty: continue to look at recruiting and retaining businesses.  Make sure everybody shares in our successes.  Make investments in public safety.

Toomey: RT 20 – we should stay on top of it.  Surge of interest with Amazon, next biggest economic corridor for us to build on.  Can’t wait for Amazon to come in.  Public safety and schools are priorities.  One of our schools was built in the 1800s.

Rosen: Downtown should be considered as a neighborhood.  Remember downtown as a child.  Hopefully with all the residents it will lead to retail spinoff.

Q2: public safety important issue to residents.  While crime stats compare favorably with similar sized cities, all the ‘burbs look better from a safety perspective.

Toomey: just had citywide crimewatch, crime is down.  We have great police department.  Invested in a number of public safety initiatives: community policing, mounted police.  We are second largest city in NE, not going to be the same as a sleepy little town.  One of biggest issues is that from safety perspective, police officers dealing with a lot of mental health issues.  Not just safety.  Fires have gone down as well.

Bergman: Height of 374 police officers, down but so is crime.  Need full complement of police officers if we will address certain issues.  Better lighting, more foot patrols.  Safest parts of city have highest proportion of homeowners, need to encourage this.

King: engages daily with WPD as frontline social worker, running summer league for 22 years.  Filed order recently to bring back bike patrols.  Park safety is important.

Lukes: job description of police officer has changed over the years as needs of community has changed.  Government only as good as the people in it; police chief is very good.  Community policing is enormously effective.  Establishing body camera program.  Believes in civilian review board.  [Lukes going over the limit]

Toomey: have major investment in ShotSpotter, police been right on top of shootings that have happened.

Q3: as winter approaches, challenging driving conditions.  Are we prepared for winter storms?  What additional resources are you willing to commit?

[I thought we were going to talk about homelessness and cold conditions…I guess not!  As long as we can drive!  And why wasn’t the proposed increase in compensation to private plow operators asked??]

Petty: this year will have proper equipment, management, will continue to look into it.  Probably over a million in equipment over the past year.

[Whoever mentions the Snow Dragon first gets my vote!!]

King: first year on Council, clearly some issues with plowing.  We have a City Manager in place, he did a top-down review of snow removal operation.  We have seen additional resources and equipment.  Those who are elderly, etc., can contact someone to assist.

Straight: after what we have just heard, I am very excited for this winter.  He noticed that the problems that he saw were contractors and not city personnel.  There was a week where a whole lane of a street was covered in snow, so hopes things will be better after these reviews.  [Best response of the evening – I can’t get it all but this is good.]

Toomey: this year will be much better.  Bring in WPI for assistance.

[No one has mentioned the lack of treating many streets before the snow really hits…!!!!]

Q4: PawSox…that’s it, I’m ready to leave.  You know what the question is.  Who is more tired of this question: the candidates or Nicole?

Bergman: Pawtucket is a different example.  Although taxpayers of RI and Pawtucket have some risk, it is manageable.  Question of risk and safety.  PawSox – if level of risk is manageable, could pose huge potential for city.  This would help our inferiority complex.  Ditto Amazon.

Straight: It’s more of a risk-benefit analysis.  Thinks PawSox would be a draw.  People investing money should be ones benefitting.

Rosen: if he could, he would buy tickets tonight.  [note that no one has, as yet, mentioned the Creedon family.]  It’s like opening a business; you have to invest money.  [I thought the PawSox WERE a business; perhaps THEY can invest money when they open a business.]

Petty: would love to have the Red Sox here.  As far as public funding, we should treat as any other developer.

Bergman: rewards would outweigh the risk.

Q5: WRTA – disproportionate impact to low-income, etc., folks when there are cuts to funding, routes.  Commuter rail.

King: when there is an issue with funding, advocated on Beacon Hill.  We need to engage legislators.  Bus on time could be difference between homelessness and having an apartment.  Fair share legislation: money for infrastructure and schools.  Work with transit authority – not just lending an ear, being sensitive to needs of community.

Rosen: WRTA is really hurting.  A lot of people aren’t using the bus.  [I WONDER WHY!!!!]  We need more riders.  Chamber, WRRB, etc., need to encourage people to take the bus.

Lukes: technology is changing.  We haven’t caught up with it.  Self-driving cars, Uber, Lyft, [I think we need someone to talk about ACCESSIBILITY right about now].  MBTA is “an employment agency masquerading as a transportation service.”

Bergman: need to have an independent study.

King: emphasizes reliability.  Opioid crisis: folks need to get to treatment providers.

Q6: as a result of dual tax rate [ALL THE THIRD RAILS…WHERE IS FLUORIDATION??].  Worcester’s tax rate among the highest in the state.  High taxes [do we really have high taxes or high tax rate…?]

Straight: increase economic development.  Bring in more businesses and residents.  Increase senior exemption.  Short-term tax incentives can spur development.

Lukes: just listening here to the talk about tax exemptions.  Just shifts it to someone else.  Giving exemption to one group – we still need to fund services.  Someone else will be paying.  In Shrewsbury, value of property went way up, then selectmen lowered tax rate.   Properties in Worcester are cheap.

Toomey: tax RATE that everyone gets upset about – assessments in Shrewsbury went UP.  What you are approving in budget corresponds with tax rate.  Need to broaden tax base.  More businesses, more opportunity for free cash.

King: when we talk about dual tax rate to single tax rate, has been political issue that has been around a long time.  His father was small business owner, very sensitive to that.  Need to find more $$ for budget, need fair share amendment (for those making over $1million).  Tax rate: not on back of disabled, veterans, elderly.  Not feasible to do at this time.

Straight: all those groups that Mr King mentioned are exemptions.  These are the people we as a society want to help.

Q7: what metrics to assess manager, auditor, clerk?

Rosen: Ed Augustus is intelligent, capable, conscientious, loves the city.  Seen so much change in the last four years.  Supports him 100%.  As far as auditor – sometimes he surprises me, takes him a while to do research.  He should be better prepared as time.  City Clerk does terrific job.

Toomey: currently do have tool they use.  We are the ones who make priorities.  [Sorry, discussing the Boston accent with my companion and missed the response]

Petty: manager brings deals together.  We used to have review of each of those departments, have gotten away with it for past ten years, perhaps should review.

Straight: CM is doing a heckuva job [paraphrase; I’m getting punchy].  City clerk is wonderful, no experience with auditor.

Rosen: economic development, public safety, public health, parks.  He meets with Ed Augustus at least once a month.  “Let’s keep him, we need him.”

Q8: Bond ratings…city pays $35 million in debt service, not including OPEB.  How to lower cost of borrowing?

Lukes: 25% goes to city operations, then fixed costs, debt, OPEB.  Was up to $1billion, down to $800 million.  CM Hoover punted and put in a cushion of $8-10 million.  We don’t tax to the max.

Petty: Keep on the same path we’ve been on.  Five point plan, now seven point plan.  [I never thought of it this way…Mike O’Brien’s standard was the pentagram…?]  Saved $2 million this year due to better bond rating.

Bergman: a lot of cities our size are envious of our bond rating.  Sometimes we lose sight of increases in salaries, etc., “beyond our control”.  Merge school costs and city-side costs.

Rosen: OPEB challenge for all cities and towns.  Bond rating agencies are pretty tough.  They give us a very high bond rating.  They know wherever we can we put money towards this liability.

[this debate is turning me into a Mike O’Brien fangirl.  Bond ratings, the most boring topic ever, was a big deal.]

Lukes: wants to have things both ways.

Q9: Worcester is a creative city.  Arts have positive impact on econ dev.  Do you think city has role in financially supporting the arts?

Toomey: stay out of their way because they’re doing a great job.  Drives community, have people engaged from their community. Michelle May just did 10th year of Cirque du Noir.  Start on the Street.  Need to engage folks to provide housing, live/work spaces.

Straight: agrees with Toomey.  Sorry, missed it.

Petty: $125 million in revenue comes from arts.  4,000 jobs.  $9 million tax revenue.  Many we create a fund for the arts.  Add money from ticket sales for arts funding.

Rosen: arts in the parks, 100 events, certainly exceeded it.  Namechecks the Joy of Music Program, so I will agree with that shout-out.

[no one has yet mentioned the Happiness Pony.]

Q10: Affordable housing, no adjacent community has achieved 10% recommended by state law.

Petty: this is one of the issues we should address as a Council.  [One should really ask these people, so many of whom are incumbents, WHAT THEY HAVE DONE.  My goodness, I don’t want to hear someone who has been in office for years that this is something that “should be addressed.”  Just do it.]  Mentions Main South, other projects.  Supports affordable housing for everyone.  Getting expensive in the city.

Rosen: Worcester needs both affordable and market-rate housing.  Need to have regional approach.  The solution is not Worcester takes more unless surrounding towns pay into the affordable housing we provide.

Bergman: problem not with towns but with the state.  If you don’t do 10%, no stick/penalty; if you do more than 10%, no carrot/reward.  Fact that people who own properties spend more in community.  We need to increase homeownership.

Lukes: being a homeowner is expensive proposition.  We don’t understand population in Worcester, constantly changing.  More issues with homelessness, landlords in triple deckers keeping empty apartments because they can’t deal with business of being landlord.  She lived through this with inherited property.  Revenue coming in was as much as tenants could pay, and did not cover expenses of owning the home.

Q11: downtown’s commercial vibrancy of yore.  Pedestrian-friendly business corridor emphasis relatively new.  Urban design/planning.

Bergman: should be urban design guidelines [not his exact words] for planning board.  New WRTA building looks like it was built in the 1970s.  just because Worcester’s cold doesn’t mean we can’t use bikes.  Evolve to accommodate other types of traffic, still have some ways to go.

Lukes: debate forums painful for candidates.  This year we have gotten a consensus on architectural design review.  “You’re not going to cut me off at 30 seconds, I was just getting warmed up”  If city doesn’t look good, won’t get good first impression.

King: need to have inclusive urban design.  Need to ensure that as Council.  WRA.  Asked for master plan for Main South area.  Comprehensive approach to econ dev.  Participated with Human Rights Commission, navigating with wheelchair.  Moving in right direction.

Toomey: need to do research and look at trends.  People want to live downtown, want to be able to walk to restaurant, theater, etc.

Q12: Tension over issues of race, gender, class.

King: start with representative government.  Most diverse city council in history.  Have to ensure people are part of the process.  Need boards to have diverse representation.  Steer clear of dog whistle politics, have seen some of that on Council floor.  Most councilors have spoken up when they see that.

Toomey: nothing more exciting than when she attends social, cultural, or ethnic events.  Doesn’t see a lot of people crossing over from individual culture.  Would like to see a world parade, or world marketplace.

Straight: city has done some good in this area.  Elections office put out PSAs in different languages.  Crowdsourcing efforts about meetings (didn’t understand this one).  City Council can set the tone and encourage participation.

Petty: worked hard over past 6 years to make everyone feel welcome.  Hired chief diversity officer, in process of hiring another one.  Making sure diverse in hiring practices.  Work with Century to provide translation services.  Clergy working with police.  Jobs for youth, Rec Worcester.

Q13: in 2016, more than 1,000 overdoses.  53 were fatal.  What do you think city should do about drug addiction?

Straight: high on list of his priorities.  People become addicted in different ways.  Not a disease that discriminates.  No other way to address except dedicating resources to it.  Lack of beds and services.  Narcan distributed and has saved lives, but need treatment so that people can take back lives and get well.

Petty: education and taking stigma away.  Have trained police, fire, health workers.  Police and fire have Narcan.  Karyn Polito – diverting people into treatment versus prison.

Rosen: crisis that knows no boundaries.  Make sure doctors no longer prescribe opiates to young athletes, especially.  Would have sports teams, young people educated.  Have to prevent it.

Bergman: equal opportunity disaster.  Council is not the experts, should defer to the experts.  Shouldn’t be treated as a crime but as a disease.

[To those of us who listened to so much stigmatization from various Councilors of yesteryear regarding yellow boxes and various treatment efforts, this is a sea change.  Would that these people, at least one of whom answered this question, had felt differently 15-20 years ago!]

Straight: part of taxes from marijuana shops should go to opioid addiction efforts.

Q14: Mt Carmel, Notre Dame

Rosen: has been working with Preservation Worcester.  Little hope for ND, dwindling hope for Mt Carmel.  We need to look at other historic buildings and developers for proactive preservation.

Bergman: respect private property rights, but needs to be balances with the city’s need.  Once old buildings disappear, new buildings never as attractive.  Needs to be good faith efforts during year of demolition delay.

Lukes: from public policy viewpoint, need to try to preserve these buildings and more.  Look at buildings as form of public art.

King: Council clear about Mt Carmel situation.  Important structures.  Top 10 list developed by the city [as opposed to PW’s top 10 list…?!]  There can be some work done in re econ dev.  Not just about Italian Community, served youth, low income housing, across cultures, heart of community.

Q15: trash collection system.  New approaches to litter, dumping.

Lukes: several years, has tried to have ban on plastic bags.  We have moved too slowly.  Look at whole issue of recycling and reuse.  City can cut back on trash by 90% by 2040.  Need plan in place to move in that direction.

King: has suggested to manager: increase hours of drop-off sites; bins should help keep items inside.

Toomey: non-profit collection bins had a lot of dumping, were able to establish permitting.  Need more cameras in problem spots.  Need to fine folks.  KEEP WORCESTER CLEAN.  [OK, now I really miss Mike O’Brien.]

Straight: trash caught in weeds on side of road.  Hold state accountable for cleaning up on and off ramps of highways.  Clear plastic bags to contain recycling.  Money picking up trash, should put towards bulk trash pickup program.

Q16: public education – 60% of budget, educates 85% of youth.  Strategic plan being developed.

Rosen: SC should consider foundation budget.  If formula were changed – $90 million more for WPS.

Toomey: [Dianna and Brian came here after their forum].  When she was on the SC, advocated for change in Ch 70 funding.  Put pressure on state and federal government to pay their fair share.  We should be educating adults to prepare for new jobs, expand economy.

Petty: we are $90 million behind.

Bergman: more challenges in schools by virtue of different immigrants, socioeconomic differences. Formula will not be solved at the council level.  We can engage in a class action with similar communities as a last resort.

Straight: likes some options mentioned above.  Look at innovative ways to save in school system.  BPS saved $3-5 million by optimizing bus routes.

Lukes: when we look at $90 million figure, we’re not going to get that.  Look at Innovation Districts like Union Hill.  (Sorry, might not have been the exact wording, been typing too long.)

King: always competing priorities.  Investment in ed a priority.  Middle schools sports can be brought back with outside funding.  Great delegation, work with them to move things forward.  Black and Latino Caucus with Sonya C-D, moving to adjust the formula.

Closing statements – I will skip

WEC School Committee Candidate Forum – notes

I was only able to attend one hour of this forum as the latter part conflicted with the Research Bureau At-Large City Council candidate forum.

Everyone in attendance but Molly McC (who has a flooded house)

WEC/CPPAC candidate forum – introduced by Jennifer Davis Carey

David LeBoeuf keeping time

Dianna Biancheria  – looks at this as a Get Out The Vote effort; talk to your family and friends about voting.  Emphasizes security.  When she was on the SC for the first time in 2010, had budget of $20,000 in safety; now $100k, plus additional items like doorbells and walkie-talkies.  Also, academic excellence.  “You will know exactly where I stand on issues.”

Dante Comparetto: business owner; founded Stand Up for Kids Worcester, served on CPPAC, WPL Board, WAC, various school-related boards.  Is a father to an 11-year-old daughter.  Raised by single mom, homeless as teenager, with right supports he was able to turn his life around, wants to make sure other kids have the opportunities/supports he did.  Social/emotional supports, wraparound services.  Expand early childhood education programs.

Jack Foley: completing his 18th year on the School Committee.  When his children were young, served on PTO, part of successful Prop 2 ½ override in 1991, finally ran for SC in 1999.  His work in Main South (working for Clark) has been for those who have not had opportunities/place at the table.  Worked to create a lot of small learning communities in high school.  Three items: strategic plan, hopes everyone gets involved in process; budget process – foundation budget ($95 million gap); trauma/adverse childhood experiences — effect on students/classroom.

Donna Colorio: as educator at QCC, advocated for lower student/teacher ratio.  Opposes excess standardized testing.  Started drug task force that has improved drug/alcohol education.  Advocated for safety in schools.  Been involved in strategic planning for more than a year.

John Monfredo: became SC member after successful 20 years as principal at Belmont St School.  Education has been and will continue to be great equalizer.  Education needs to be priority in the city.  Sees public service as a trust, many parents without a voice in the system.  As educator, he knows what works.  Last 12 years, has not been shy about advocating for arts, strong curriculum, strengthening schools.  Started and collected needed funds for CPR program in middle schools.  Honored by American Heart Association for his work.  He has been active in community – Worcester The City That Reads and many other activities.

Brian O’Connell: CFO for Haverhill Schools.  Visible changes/plans easy to quantify (school renovations).  Area of academics less easy to see: need to set more achievable goals.  Wraparound services.  Students can do better and work harder with this support.  Do not underestimate any of 25,000 students.  Arts and music programs are growing; language initiatives (including Mandarin); bilingual education; expanded school day and year; public speaking skills; more clubs; PEAK program for gifted students.

Two questions that each candidate must answer.

Q1: Strategic Planning process led by WEC and WRRB – expected to be completed in late February.

O’Connell: use as organic, operative document.  Do not lose track of plan over next few years.  Two major meetings they have had so far – major interest.  Good strategic plan looks at what challenges are, how to address.  Focus on facilities & expenditures, also on academics.  Need to bring more people into schools to support (non-profits, business partners) – needs to involve the entire community.  Need community to play role in the plan.

Monfredo: working on strategic plan has been goal of superintendent since day 1.  Embraced strategic plan with community input.  No silver bullet in improving student achievement.  Pay attention to data, where needs are.  School improvement plan.  Every teacher should know plan and should be approach.  Absenteeism should be addressed; best practices; parent involvement; involvement of colleges and businesses.  Foreign language and math.  Full-day preschool.  Summer of learning activities.  Need budget adequately funded every year.

Colorio: has been an active member of the Worcester Strategic Planning Committee .  City fortunate to have many partners.  Would like to see academic growth in all groups, all schools.  Offer proven instructional approaches.  Culture where admins/teachers/community groups work together to make Worceter best urban school district in the country.

Foley: strategic planning processes are important; process most important part.  Hopefully build common ground and understanding, then plan for how to go forward for next 5-10 years, then accountability.  Process is as important as outcome.  Hoping that we will see not just what SC will do but what community will do.  Most important part of process – build understanding in community about significant gap in funding from the state.  If we had those state funds, we could fund myriad programs.  Education…then political process.  We need to reflect the community’s vision.

Comparetto: excited on strategic planning process.  Has concerns about inclusiveness and transparency of the process.  Good attendance from non-profits, didn’t see the community fully reflected.  Looking forward to working with SC and Superintendent to get more community involvement.  Best way to accomplish is with community buy-in.  To implement recommendations of the plan, need to advocate for the funding; more than city minimum, improve foundation budget.

Biancheria: community people: neighbors, business owners – reminds her of being district coordinator for WPS.  Partners that have a commitment is always a challenge.  Need to provide internships for Ch 74 students.  Programs for students in summer to visit college campuses.  Goals and benchmarks.  Plan will always be in process.  Need commitment from parents, look at programs that are beneficial for all students.  All contingent on how we look at funding.

Q2: Worcester schools compared to those of other Gateway cities, but parents comparing to those of contiguous towns.  What do you tell parents?

Biancheria: we have wisely looked at what classroom really needed; items have been listened to by new superintendent.  Nelson Place has brought technology to the forefront.  As we look to repair schools, need to look at curb appeal.  Older buildings is not what some people want – when you walk in doors, welcome.  Libraries are open different times of day.  Free lunch for every student.  Worcester Tech open for Creamer Center students.  Expanded Ch 74 courses.  Looked at arts, STEM to STEAM.

Comparetto: SC members need to be cheerleaders for the district.  We do a lot with a barebones budget.  World-class educators turn out students who go to world-class schools.  Look at upgrading school facilities.

Foley: 1 – look at opportunities that are abundant at WPS; tremendous opportunities for students and schools; 2 – rankings based on total population; look at where students are going to college; 3 – tuition and dual enrollments at various schools; 4 – your career will be with international workforce; diversity of WPS is great preparation for a successful career

Colorio: when she doorknocks, she tells them that she has taught at QCC, WPS is where she sent her children.  She can talk about what Jack said; she told her daughter that diversity in city is one of its gifts.  She tells people what she did and was happy with choice.  Universal standards like Common Core are in private schools as well.

Monfredo: two children were products of the WPS.  We need to market good things taking place in our schools.  Work with Chamber of Commerce in making video about schools.  Perfect superintendent to move things forward.  One of key elements is strategic plan.  Middle-school level: give parents reasons why the WPS should be schools of choice.  Gamechanger for econ growth in city is public ed.

O’Connell: look at school choice program.  Students from outside Worcester choose to come here, for diverse programs, whether AP calculus, lots of languages.  Diverse population of students.  Opportunity for students to get to know others from different backgrounds.  Opportunities to help students with specialized needs.  New schools state-of-the art.


Fishbowl questions (taken out of a basket).

Q for Foley: according to DESE, Worcester’s comprehensive district review, SC members make motions that require administrator comment, many motions not aligned with needs/priorities of district?

Foley: he agrees with assessment.  Many agenda items could be handled with a phone call.  Should be more judicious about recognition in meetings.  One topic per meeting or month, reading material given, then we have a longer discussion/conversation about where school department could be going.  Can talk amongst themselves and get more feedback from administration.  We should take a different look at how meetings should be structured; should be more about strategic direction.

Q for Comparetto: gov of PR expecting exodus to mainland.  Worcester likely destination for family of these families.  How can WPS welcome and support these families/students?
Comparetto: as student population increases in number & diversity, look at dual language immersion programs.  A lot of students from PR may need wraparound services, increase number of wraparound service coordinators.  Better communication with families.  Make sure schools are welcoming to these families.  More ESL programming.

NAACP At-Large City Council Forum – October 25

As previously noted, there were two forums tonight; Tracy is covering the School Committee forum (and is formatting her notes much more nicely than I have ever formatted mine!!).

(I will hold on typing the introductions; you know who all these candidates are!)

At this point it’s 6:23pm so we’re running quite late.  The candidates had just wanted to move on to questions but the organizers insisted on the introductions.

Candidates in attendance: Bergman, King, Lukes, Petty, Straight, Toomey (so, no Rosen)

About 30-40 people in attendance (feels like more than last week)

Emphasis of tonight is on Labor.

Q1 from SURJ: What are the most pressing racial justice issues in Worcester community?  What to do?

Lukes: during tenure as past mayor, first outsider/woman/minority superintendent in history.  As city councilor, only one to vote for Oscar Rodriguez. Racial justice – people in power need to reflect the community.  When we talk about racial justice, talking about jobs and money – that determines value in society.  No ability to generate income, no justice.  We need to see that whatever jobs are available need to take affirmative action goals into account and reflect community.

Petty: study on incarceration in gateway cities.  Being strong on crime, three strikes you’re out doesn’t work.  Mary Keefe is working on this in the statehouse.  Putting drug users to jail for long time no use.  Jobs frontier in city – making sure people get opportunities, esp youth.  Hiring inner-city youth over the summer.  Dividing people is just wrong.  Continues to bring people together.

Straight: (1) City Council can set inclusive tone.  (2) Economic disparities.  Increase econ dev in areas surrounding downtown.  (3) Affirmative action isn’t enough, doesn’t keep pace with population increases.

Toomey: has been advocate for educational opportunities.  Ensure public schools are there, doing best thing for students.  Every child should be given appropriate opportunity, communication is an issue, job training.

Bergman: (1) schools.  Although City Councilors have little roles in schools, do have a role in school budget.  Schools in certain districts don’t get representation. As City Council, can diminish racial divide by making sure that schools are funded equally. (2) CORI Reform.  Some people get advantages because they have had records sealed.  Should be automatically done regardless of their ability to pay for a lawyer.

King: Criminal justice reform, socioeconomic disparities, high recidivism rate.  As long as we have political will to support federal/state initiatives, we can address this head-on.  We as Council should support this on the Council floor so that Beacon Hill knows where we stand as a city.  Need for livable wage.

Q2, from LWV: when we talk about economic opportunity, who is included in this effort: business, non-profit, education, youth, immigrants, (a few other things I missed)?

Petty: community effort in this city.  Jobs Opportunity Fund.  CDL license availability.  Youth Opportunities Corp.  Immigrants represent 30% of small businesses in the city.  Good-paying jobs for long-term period.  Education is important to jobs.  Technical high school, for people who don’t want to g to college and want a good-paying job.

Straight: revamping Small Business Exemption, right now not adopted by City Council.  Would give small businesses more of an advantage.  Youth jobs great program.

Toomey: one group not mentioned: single parents, very often working in service industry jobs.  We need to help them grow in their jobs.  Those folks need to be at the table.  Talking with social, religious, ethnic orgs.  37% of businesses in Worcester are minority-owned.  Recently Worcester #2 in country for small business development and support.  That says that we are supportive.  So take that, Boston!

Bergman: two groups that need to be protected: (1) immigrants, we could do more (example of Buffalo and Hartford – mentors to immigrant business owners/college business students can help); (2) high school students could get better sense of that by mentoring by adults, esp retirees.  Afterschool programs for those interested in medicine, law, etc.

King: families.  Livable wage would impact 40-47% of workforce in city.  If we continue to increase minimum wage, higher percentage of single-parent, female homes.  Men are out of the home (due to prison, etc.) – this impacts the family.  Starts with City Hall.  We can see that diversity on committees.  Councilors need to advocate more outside City Hall.

Lukes: She, Bergman, King, can also speak to the immigrant experience.  When immigrants come here, may not be highest trained folks.  She started working in family restaurant at 8 years old.  Whole culture of Worcester is changing, can’t expect people to start businesses on their own [without assistance].  Even to be auto mechanic, need computer program expertise.  Tech School in Worcester prepares you for college; do we have something that prepares for the trades?  Local union internship programs meeting some of that gap.

Q3, from Local 107 Carpenter’s Union: 145 Front Street – wage theft.  Workers cheated out of pay, taxpayers cheated out of payroll taxes, development projects subsidized by taxpayers should not go to cheaters.  Would you support ordinance to create conditions/qualifications on general contractors/subcontractors on these issues?  (long question; didn’t get it all)

Straight: Yes, if you are doing an honest day’s work, should get an honest day’s wage.  If anyone is getting TIF, should have good record of taking care of workers.  Anytime this sort of thing has happened, should be reported to AG, union.

Toomey: supports the Local 107’s efforts at 145 Front Street.  Going back as far as her School Committee days, they awarded contract to company that had been convicted of not withholding wages, taxes.  How can they get contract?  Would like to see language of ordinance, but would support it.

Bergman: agrees with it, has talked about this before.  When you apply for special permit or variance, need to certify that you don’t owe city any money.  You should have to certify that you don’t owe employees any money.  Language would have to be pretty specific, proof (not just allegation) of wage theft.

King: wage theft is an epidemic across the country.  Was proud to stand with a number of trade unions downtown outside a development that was engaged in wage theft.  About everyday working people.  No longer should our working class, laborers, get short end of the stick.  He is an elected union official and will continue to fight for working families.

Lukes: “I don’t want a reporter to find a hot mic situation”.  Developers who come before us with special situation, like TIF.  When we deal with these companies, are they dealing fairly with employees?  Have requirements about local workers, racial/minority classifications.  Clearly we don’t hire these folks again for another job.  Not our business to prosecute them.  There are enough protections that would solve that problem.  The City Council has said that we don’t support illegal activities.

Petty: Yes.  Person not paying the employee correctly, if you have undocumented, they have no leverage.  More teeth the better in this.  Every dollar counts.  If there is a history, like Beacon Street project, you can track it.  Put teeth into ordinance.  A lot of this should be done through AG’s office.

Q4, from Worcester Community Labor Coalition: CM Augustus chose not to include local residents [in some recent contract].  Residency requirements for future contracts?

Toomey: she has already done that, Mayor Petty has as well.  If you work for the city, high-paying executives should live in the city.  Support local hiring initiatives.  Workforce housing.  Can we provide incentives versus hitting people over the head?  Rent to own with equity on buying a house?  [Nicole aside: I honestly don’t understand this; isn’t that what a mortgage is?]

Bergman: Yes, with caveats.  This would be violating some union agreements.  Can only approach with new contracts going forward.  More receptive if you find some way to make an incentive.  Builds neighborhood stability.  There used to be federal programs to encourage firefighters/police to live in the city, but those don’t exist anymore.  Will need to make our own program.

King: daughter just graduated with MSW in July.  Classmates wanted to know where the jobs are.  We want families to be close.  Have to make sure young have an opportunity.  Should give preference to those born/raised or currently residing in the city.  Make folks more civically involved.  A lot of kids want to stay in Worcester but have to have opportunities.

Lukes: she was firmly supportive of residency requirement when she joined the Council.  But learned a couple of things: (1) unions don’t want these and we will need to pay dearly for it; (2) there are people who lie about their address – move out after six months.  Difficult to enforce (and have legal standing to enforce).

Petty: would support, makes a difference for people to live and work in Worcester.  How we get there is a little difficult.  Almost every WPS position is exempt by statute except for superintendent.  Police/fire is similar.  But we could discuss…

Straight: we’ve heard a lot of things.  Seems to like incentives [sorry, Nicole is developing forum fatigue].

Q5 (the last question, Konnie announces), from Worcester Youth Center.  What are your views on how to reduce poverty?  How to alleviate persistent poverty among certain groups?

Bergman: there are things we can do, but no magic bullet.  Emphasizes education, even before people have children.  Immigrant communities – better mentoring.  Majority on Council voted for $15/hr.  Compared to other communities, we are relatively affordable for rent and buying homes.

King: raise minimum wage, create jobs, support pay equity, criminal justice reform.  Need to get men back in the home and in the workforce.  He knows that if it’s the political will of the Council and administration, it gets done.  First quote from Dr. King of the night.  We must use the AG’s office for wage theft.  Need to educate the workforce.

Lukes: Senator Daniel Moynihan’s publication on the War against Poverty: every single black male child deserved a black male parent.  Education and hard work are the other answer.  When we talk about poverty, challenging a lot of results of destroyed family structure.  Voluntary lack of education, drug use, etc.  We have superintendent that understands what kids need to be the point of clean clothes.  Starts with family structure.

Petty: job opportunities.  TIF policy that suggests they hire city workers, can’t enforce it, but if you educate employers/developers who are willing to listen, goes a long way.  Education is important.

[I feel like we’ve had a whole candidate forum without hearing about the foundation budget, so we’ve missed Bingo tonight…that was my free space!]

Straight: attacking from every angle we have control over.  $15/minimum wage.  Working over 40 hours a week at second job “a different kind of incarceration”.  Increase elderly exemption for real estate.  Financial training programs about basic financial literacy.  Affordable housing.

Toomey: Hope.  Letting people know that there is hope to get out of poverty, talking to people who have succeeded themselves.  It can be done.  We need to let people know that with hard work, dedication, educational opportunities, they can overcome poverty.  Friendly House works with WPI to talk to young people about jobs in STEM fields.  Adult education.  Need to commit to support that.  Will help people get out of poverty.

(no closing statements, I guess?)

Worcester Candidate Forum/Debate Video

Here are links to various candidate forums from the last month:

Research Bureau/Chamber/Telegram forum for School Committee candidates – video available at wrrb.org

A Livable Worcester – forum for all City Council candidates – video available at WCCATV.org

Research Bureau/Chamber/Telegram forum for District City Council candidates – video available at wrrb.org

Research Bureau/Chamber/Telegram forum for Mayoral candidates – video available at wrrb.org

(I’ll try to update various posts of my notes with these links later on tonight.  Also, if you know where the NAACP Forum videos are being posted, let me know!)

Worcester Mayoral Candidate Forum – October 23

My notes for the Research Bureau/Chamber of Commerce/Mechanics Hall Mayoral Candidate Forum

80-90 attendees (I think many more as the debate wore on)

Moderators: Tony Simollardes, Kelly Momberger, Ike McBride

Tony Economou, Ben Straight, Dianna Biancheria, State Rep O’Day, Paul Giorgio, Hank Stolz, Vin Pedone, Khrystian King, Brian O’Connell in the audience

Opening Statement from Lukes: conventional wisdom tells us that few candidates means few voters.  Failure of democracy.  Before you, two seasoned candidates, one a current mayor, one a prior.  City at political, economic, educational crossroads.  Political – while we are Plan E, this is very partisan/political.  Will there be checks and balances, independent political thought, in future Council?  Educational – public schools all too often ignored, public education will be one of real civil rights issues in the future.  Economic – impact of Amazon, PawSox, tax-exempt institutions, downtown.

Opening Statement from Petty: Atmosphere in city has changed for the positive, people want to be in the city.  Public art has really taken off (Pow! Wow!), projects should include public art.  Yellow bikes bring vitality to city, food trucks, more restaurants opening.  100 events at the Common, last this Saturday. Festivals, 2 dog parks.  Open and welcoming community. Solar array, LED lights, urban ag policy.  Bond rating is one of the highest it’s ever been.

Q1 to Petty: mass transit.  With limited state funding and little ridership, WRTA cut routes and increased fares.  New nonstop commuter rail service is struggling due to inconvenient hours.  What is the future of public transportation in Worcester?

Petty: WRTA has always been issue, tough with level state funding.  Still have to advocate for federal and state level.  Trains: express train.  Over 20 trains going back and forth, can work on the times.  Investing in platform, which would increase train capacity.  Every city and town needs to invest.  The airport has taken off.

Lukes: When we look at MBTA, employment agency masquerading as transportation network.  State needs to abolish and start from scratch.  Fixed routes for WRTA is obsolete.  Uber, Lyft, other boutique services destroying our taxi system but will help fill a need (paraphrase)

Petty: Uber/Lyft: certain people think low-income people need bus service, look at how they complement each other.

Q2 to Lukes, creative city.  Recent report: financial impact that arts have had on local economy.  How would you build arts/intellectual capital? How would you build rep?

Lukes: we have a great art museum, relatively recent that we have an arts rep.  Her issue with Pow! Wow! was that artists were not paid a salary and that not enough locals were used.  More aggressive with arts in public ed: function of overregulation by state in local public schools that we don’t fund it enough.  Lukes has taken classes at art museum and museum of Russian icons.  Buildings can be form of art, knocking down historic bldgs.  impacts that.

Petty: Old Boys Club, Sprinkler Factory.  Need housing for people in arts.  Fund to support the arts. WPS dedicate WAMS, Burncoat, Hanover School of the Arts.  10 weeks of teaching at middle school (unclear what he was talking about)

Lukes: Sports/Arts/Entertainment Authority was something she had advocated for.  We have headed in that direction but with several vehicles.

Petty: should invest further into arts via Community Block Grant money.  Opportunities in schools.  Use shipping containers for…[not quite sure.  Something with arts!]


Q3, to Petty: tax policy committee to expand revenue streams, to decrease dependence on property tax.

Petty: Budget caps, services in schools.  After the election is over, will have serious discussions.  Independent sales tax.  Multi-unit housing, good points/bad points.  Community Preservation Act – we do not currently participate.

Lukes: that report came out last March.  Sitting in committee ‘til now, then we passed the buck to City Manager.  She wanted debate on Council floor, no one is taking a stand before the election because no one wants to take a stand on creating new taxes.

Petty: came out end of last year.  [So, only been held about a year?]  This is to substitute property tax, which is one of the most unfair taxes in the state [really?]

Lukes: if you weren’t afraid of discussing it, then we could have discussed it on the Council floor.  If anyone thinks we’re going to lower taxes by implementing these, I don’t have a bridge I can sell you, but I’ll find one.

Petty: attempts to recover

Lukes: we shouldn’t compare ourselves to Auburn.

[Finally, we’re getting a little spicy!]

Q4, to Lukes: immigration. Is Worcester a sanctuary city and would you propose changes to policy?

Lukes: yes, we are a sanctuary city.  Using word “immigration” deceptive.  We pick and choose which laws to obey.  DACA, demanding enforcement, but avoiding enforcement of immigration laws.  We need to be consistent.  Congress has been cowardly in addressing immigration reform.

Petty: we follow the same laws Mass State Police follow, Somerville follows, Commonwealth’s laws.  WPD does not enforce immigration laws.  It’s just not Worcester or Massachusetts.  We could call ourselves a sanctuary country.  WPD will work with ICE, but he will not divide the community.  Children are afraid to go to school, to create fear is irresponsible.

Lukes: victim mentality is raised.  She is child of immigrants, understands insecurity that follows when you don’t know if safe in new homeland.  Cannot go to fearmongering.

Petty: Fearmongering when you try to divide and scare people.  Will continue to advocate for everyone in the city. Community relations is important for any police dept.

Lukes: issue is so emotional – difficult to deal with without looking like you are opposed to certain people.  No one is trying to solve the problem, congressional delegation needs to deal with so this misunderstanding isn’t perpetuated.

Q5, to Petty: PawSox [sorry, Nicole cannot deal with one more Pawtucket question.  You try going to 5 million debates and see how YOU feel!]  How far should city go in offering $$ and other incentives?

Petty: supportive, mentions DIFs, City Manager is currently negotiating.  This is a wonderful project.  Cleaning up brownfields.  We’ve been waiting years.  PawSox have EconDev arm.  This would bring us to the next level as a city.  This would have to be passed by Worcester City Council.  [he is not committing to anything – all part of the CM’s negotiations]

Lukes: skeptical of the negotiations.  Used as a pawn to leverage negotiations in RI.  Everyone would want them here, would be positive in Canal District.  But be wary that we are being led down path that is a dead end.

Petty: believes in his heart that they aren’t using us.  Right time, right place.

Lukes: same subject came up, it was dormant for two years, now it’s up again, will it happen again in two more years?

Petty: it came up ten years ago

Lukes: we have an item on the agenda from 2015

Q6, to Lukes: argued against mixed-use zones.  How to embrace AirBNB, ride share, mobile technology?

Lukes: need to enforce zoning laws.  Mentions “home business” across from Doherty.  Does nothing except inspire other property owners to be zoning law scofflaws.  Buildings are public art.  We need to make sure that our city should have features that people will want to visit and appreciate.

Petty: most home businesses comply with zoning laws.  As technology increases, will have to wrestle with.  AirBNB is an issue, need to look at that.  These should be respectful.

Lukes: pass

Petty: pass

Q7, to Petty: over past few years, City Council has rarely spoken with unified voice.  How to engage colleagues, unify, bring consensus.  What role does mayor play in mediating disagreements?

Petty: most major issues, 8-3, 7-4, that’s democracy.  We let people complain about anything and everything.  Open Meeting Law prevents elected officials from talking with one another beforehand.  No apologies to make on how things are handled.

Lukes: many votes had a clear minority, which has shrunk to one.  Concerned about the way there is no real discussion among the colleagues.  When she was mayor, had retreat away from City Hall with Mass Municipal Org.  New superintendent did the same, valuable to do.

Petty: that’s also subject to the Open Meeting Law.  If you don’t like someone, vote them out of office.  People want to come here and invest, credits that to the City Council.

Lukes/Petty pass on further comments.


Q8, to Lukes: many residents remember downtown’s vitality in days of yore.  Question about pedestrian friendliness.

Lukes: finally have consensus about urban design review, which she has been advocating for for 8-10 years.  One of most difficult streets to traverse is Belmont Street.  Wanted to look at reducing speed on certain streets.  How are streets being used, complicated by misuse of streets and sidewalks by kids swerving on bikes.  Complicated issue of how bikes/pedestrians/public transpo/cars interact.

Petty: manager came out with street network improvements.  Invested in xwalks, lights, 2-3 million dollars.  Bump outs on Union Hill to slow traffic, number of calming effects we can use.  We’re on our way to becoming a bike city.

Lukes: we’re getting traffic division back in WPD.  We only do these things when there’s a crisis.  Use of cellphones, drugs, distracted driving, serious problem on roads, police are responding.

Petty: we don’t operated by crisis.  People speed everywhere in the city

Q9, to Petty: strong supporter of Ed Augustus.  Your opponent expressed concerns, said CM “needs improvement”.  What metrics do you use to evaluate?

Petty: are we being successful?  Most people in this room would say yes.  Public safety, trash removal, he’s doing a better job than I ever thought we could do.  We need to go back to goals/objectives.  This isn’t rocket science.  If things weren’t going right, he’d be the first one to say it.  Supports manager 1000% percent.  Quality of life issues are his metric.

Lukes: we don’t really like to evaluate people in a formal manner.  City Council used to evaluate auditor and clerk, stopped doing that.  When we look at how we deal with each other, on a very personal basis.  When she was mayor, picked only outsider for superintendent.  Was disappointed in internal reaction to her.

Lukes: we pick a politician to be our city manager.  She was the only one who picked Oscar Rodriguez, had 20 years experience, degrees from MIT and Harvard, but he wasn’t good enough for us.

Petty: Ed Augustus can pick up the phone and call the State House, not just a politician, cares about city.

Q10, to Lukes: people of color more represented in WPS than in city as a whole.  What should WPS do to adapt to address changing demographics?  Strategic plan for public ed – how should promote thriving school district?

Lukes: when she hired Super Boone…Worcester is going through major cultural change.  Regardless how close we are to each other, have to look beyond that and serve needs of community.  Need people in charge who reflect community.  That said, two white people in front of you.  We have to be much more aggressive in terms of votes we take and hiring.  If we’re here to be popular, no business being elected to anything.

Petty: to tell the truth, the teachers do a wonderful job.  Need to address foundation budget and disparity urban systems have.  Put a lot of resources in the schools.

Lukes: we’ve gotten off track.  Do you want us to discuss the goals for the school committee?  (Simollardes repeats second question – Lukes says it will take more than 60 seconds.)  Four high schools are level three, at brink of major problems, we’ve been mentioning foundation budget for years.  We have had Union Hill, turned around to a successful school.  Principal replaced, teachers replaced, community put together a plan, with $700,000/year.  No foundation budget needed for that.

Petty: foundation budget from 1990s.  hasn’t kept up with inflation.  Strategic plan: Ch 70 funding, technology, existing programs, how additional funding should be spent, keep tech high school open at night

Q11, to Petty: Worcester’s tax rates among highest in Commonwealth.  What should be done to address relatively high cost of taxes in Worcester?

Petty: closing gap [between residential and business] good.  Look at tax dollars, not highest for valuation purposes.  We’re 13/14 under the cap, in a few years 20 under the cap.  Waiting for growth figure to come out, because you’ll see great growth via TIFs.  Income tax is “recessive” especially for the elderly.

Lukes: we’re going to address it after the election, though.  We have $20 million in excess revenues right now.  Contradiction in terms, prevents us having a conversation right now.  People willing to commute from Worcester to Boston.  We can be affordable.  We don’t have to raise taxes mayor is talking about.

Petty: nobody cut anything out of the budget.  $9 million in spare cash, going towards seven point plan [sorry, been out of it, have we added two points?]  New growth will go back to taxpayers.

Lukes: mayor asked me not to bring up excess revenues because of EAW negotiations.  Everything postponed to after the election.

Petty: we have money, will give back to the taxpayers.

Q12, to Lukes: in his budget proposal, CM proposed citywide master plan.  What is role of master plan?  Why update necessary?  What do you hope to achieve?

Lukes: last master plan filed in the waste paper basket.  Doesn’t have hopes, master plans depend on changing circumstances.  Can’t have strategic plan for school system, then have another plan based on other issues.  We have to know who’s living here, when we deal with issues of neighborhoods as opposed to downtown, poverty rate, need for housing, schools becoming surrogate parents, esp when doing kids’ laundry in school.  Folks that do master plans have rigid formula, never seems to change.

Petty: going into neighborhoods, have had master plans for parks, find out issues and where investment $ should go.  If you come up with plan, and not put it on the shelf, will move it forward as mayor.

Lukes: pass

Petty: pass

Q13, to Petty: numerous boards and commissions have vacancies and difficulties filling quorums.  Are residents apathetic?  What role does mayor play to engage public?

Petty: doing a wonderful job.  This will be his 11th election.  Political atmosphere – why would anyone run today?  If you are a newcomer and have to take on criticism from social media and personal attacks, prevents them from running.  Goes into different parts of community, encourages folks to participate.  Diversity growing every day.

Lukes: overdosed on politics from national to local scene.  People turning off, democracy not working.  Anonymous trolls on social media, frightening.  Has had political stalker for 10 years, chose to ignore, on  a personal level, it is troublesome.

Petty: next time you will see a lot more candidates of diverse background.

Q14 and final question, to Lukes: public safety important issue in urban centers.  We contend with more crime than the ‘burbs.  Is Worcester safe?  What can be done to improve safety?

Lukes: police have been criticized.  Taken a toll on them personally.  When DoJ came, she suggested civilian review board, another one of those 10-1 votes.  We have a very active group of community crime watch meetings.  Participation by the public makes a world of difference.  We do have provision in charter for community forms of gov’t, never implemented.  Direct contact with police officers have encouraged mutual trust and cooperation.

Petty: I do think we are a safe city.  Community policing always a key objective.  Summer impact, mounted patrol, foot patrol, youth violence prevention program.  A couple hundred people working every day with the youth.

Final statements:

Lukes: anyone listening to this conversation: Worcester has split personality. High poverty rate, serious opiate addiction, public ed vs. downtown development.  Situation can’t just be defined as rebirth of city when we have 20 vacant storefronts downtown.  New businesses not being addressed.  Can’t just be food and entertainment.  What about the trades?  If we’re going to be honest about renaissance, need to look at everything.  Hopes attendees don’t misunderstand her views on immigration.  She’s not here to be popular.

Petty: knows city is going in the right direction.  CM and Super bringing city to the next level.  Buy-in in the city like never before.  Look at Railers.  Mercantile Center.  Hotels.  Leadership matters, nothing wrong with a restaurant job but we have created more than that.  Jobs at 150 Blackstone.  UMass putting technology center downtown, 300 jobs.  You’d be surprised how many manufacturing jobs there are in the city.

Worcester District Council Forum – October 19

This is the district debate, hosted by the Research Bureau in partnership with the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, and Mechanics Hall.

50-60 attendees?

Sean Rose – not here, being inducted into the National Association of Mental Health Hall of Fame

questions from Chantel Bethea of D4, Colleen Wamback of D5, Ron Ceno (sp?) of D3

Opening statements:

Franco complains about the blinding lights.

Davis Asare – apologizes for being slightly late.  Member of CAC, running for D3 City Council.  17 years ago came to the US with his parents and 10 siblings.  Came here for the American Dream.  In a position to give back.  He owns two businesses, in a position to help other people.  Graduated from Wentworth, married to his high school sweetheart, they have two children.  Goal to improve Worcester’s economy.  Seen a lot of young people leave after graduating, retirees leave because of taxes, help small businesses, reduce taxes.

Paul Franco, not using the mike – wife and he raised 6 kids on Olean Street, been a lawyer for over 30 years, in military and private practice.  Part-time fitness instructor at the Y.  Neighborhoods first.  Done some nice work downtown, more attention needs to be paid to people in D5.  1) Site/design/locate new South and Doherty so that schools will last 50-75 years; 2) undeveloped property on Park Ave and Mill St; 3) police substation; 4) renters and homeowners first, lowest residential tax rate.  Opponent’s plan would make residential the highest in the state.

Ed Moynihan, D1 – born in Worcester in Hanneman Hospital, raised in CT, kept coming back here, first generation college graduate, married his Holy Cross sweetheart, lived here since 1995.  D1 is a great place to raise a family, great parks, great sense of community.  Work in last 6 years of Tony Economou, who is responsive to constituents, understands issues of roads, parks, expanding tax base.  We have lost a lot of businesses, need to get more businesses in here.  Tony has endorsed him.

Sarai Rivera; D4 – part of D4 since the age of 4, attended WPS, Worcester State, UConn (Go Huskies!), Gordon-Conwell, been with her husband for almost 30 years, have raised their children here.  Has been an honor to serve as your D4 councilor.  Proud of being able to build bridges, strong teamwork/collaboration.  You know where she stands and that she is willing to work hard.  She has proven her commitment to roll up her sleeves and do the work.

George Russell, D3 – has served 3 terms, after that, people should ask what he’s done.  Foot patrols, have worked with neighborhood groups with crime issues, more police officers, firefighters, and firefighter equipment.  Heavily involved in schools (like Vernon Hill).  On jobs level, his idea to come up with TIF policy when companies ask for breaks, we should ask them to hire from the community.  Small businesses –major impacts.  Chief author of outside dining ordinance, parking regs, lower sewer connection fees.  His fingerprints of work are all over the district.

Matt Wally, D5 – oldest son of his parents.  He graduated from HC, master’s from Clark.  First issue – streets and sidewalks, many streets in disrepair; Second – parks in district.  He is on Parks Commission.  Master Plan for Hadwen, Dog park for Boynton, rectangular for Farber Field.  Need funding; Third issue – new Doherty and South High School.  South needs to be on time and on budget.  Homeownership rate should increase, environment to grow small businesses.  Important to have someone with his urban design experience on the Council.


Q1: Downtown vs neighborhoods. How would you balance needs of downtown with needs of neighborhoods?

Franco: has been more emphasis on downtown than D5.  Downtown has new sidewalks, there are so many streets that don’t have sidewalks or they are in disrepair.  Bike patrols were successful, need them back.

Moynihan: has had office downtown for 22 years, downtown development overall good thing.  Need development to start spreading from downtown.  West Boylston district needs to be concentrated on.  Work with businesses & neighbors to make it livable, walkable.  Will take work, believes he has experience.  Has served on CDBG board.

Rivera: not opposed to downtown development.  Keep city in progressive move.  The city manager (Mike O’B) started working on this, Augustus has continued.  SWIP – increased tax revenue, local jobs for local people.  There is neighborhood development.

Russell: shouldn’t be downtown versus neighborhoods, should be downtown and neighborhoods.  Every time someone comes before Econ Dev committee, making sure that they are hiring local people.  When Quinsig Village project had TIF, organizing hiring within the neighborhoods.

Wally: worked downtown off and on for 20 years, pleased with development.  Downtown development raised tax base, used to improve all neighborhoods.  Take advantage of econ dev.  Funding has come from the state level, comes with strings, might be infrastructure or other.

Asare: downtown development is great.  It’s all about the neighborhoods.  Longterm master plan for neighborhoods.

Q2, to Moynihan: what to do to bring businesses to Summit, Lincoln Street, Barber’s Crossing?

Moynihan: work on dual tax rate.  Be able to shrink that to attract and retain businesses.  Ombudsman within CM’s office for small businesses to help with regulatory issues.  More with outreach.  Cooperation and communication between small business community and government.  He will be a conduit between the two as Tony E. has been.

Q3, to Moynihan: Indian Lake significant landmark, but challenged due to water quality and accessibility.  What should city do, other open space?

Moynihan: CM made a smart step by hiring a blue ways coordinator.  Work with Indian Lake Watershed Association.  They know the area and what the issues are.  CM/Parks work well with them.  Illegal dumping, would like to see better effort to crack down.  Already money for beachhouse at Shore Park, would like to invest in Park Rangers for assistance with access to water.

Q4, to all candidates, diversity and equality.  How should city gov’t ensure equality and access?

Moynihan: listen and respond to needs of community.  Governor has commission to listen to concerns of African-Americans, went to session at Boys/Girls Club.  Accessibility to equal education, starts with schools to ensure that opportunities that are available and accessible to all.  At police academy graduation, CM has done a better job of recruiting.

Rivera: racism is a reality, sexism is a reality, wage gaps exist.  Identify the issues of racial inequities, economic, gender.  Look at it in police and fire.  City Hall is beginning to reflect diversity.  Acknowledge and work to move forward.

Russell: Current CM has done good outreach to bring folks in.  be more like folks we represent.  City workforce that reflects them.  Boards and commissions good place to start.  CAC, opponent was placed in Dec/Jan, that board has a majority minority members to reach out to different communities.

Wally: one of assets of Worcester is that we are a diverse community.  Continue to be a welcoming community.  Important that we are a vocal community when civil rights are infringed upon.

Asare: member of CAC, loves his position because they can listen and recruit in neighborhoods.  Inequalities are there, doing a pretty good job, but can always do better.  Talk to a neighbor you don’t know very well and just listen.

Franco: Police/community relations.  Police bike patrols are returning.  Need to have police as close to community as possible.  Police substations are helpful.  Better police station like Alexandria VA>


Q5 to District 3 candidates, state funding for Route 20 sewer connection.

My companion says: “Route 20’s sewer connection = Amazon’s toilet”

Russell: whole strip of land is almost new frontier.  Apartment complexes should be possible.  Saw the Amazon proposal for the first time the other day, need to look at that closer if we are finalists.

Asare: saw Amazon bid.  Thinks it will bring jobs.  Hotels, any type of company that will bring jobs will benefit us all.

Russell: whole idea of putting sewage down Rt 20…is to develop to the highest ability (taxes, jobs), need sewerage to make that happen.


Q6 for District 3 candidates, what more should city do to support youth and how to fund?

Asare: 25 years old.  CM has done great job keeping kids off the streets.  3-6 pm most dangerous time for kids.  Terrified once kids go to school.  Never can be a shortage of program to help kids.

Russell: you don’t have to be terrified, Worcester is a safe community.  Community where we reach out to folks.  CM came up with Recreation Worcester which reaches out during the school year, and in the summer.  We do everything we can to provide kids with alternatives.  Provide jobs for counselors/young adults as well.

Asare: his family is involved In youth activies.

Russell: I talked with your brother with Bright Future program.  Sometimes groups want to start a good program when one already exists, he tries to bring people together where programs already exist.  Already excellent network, should all roll up sleeves for the same goals.


Q7, to all candidates, about tax rate.  What should be done to address high cost of taxes?  What role should tax-exempt institutions do in this?

Rivera: nonprofits bring numerous benefits.  Residential vs commercial is not black and white.  If residential taxes too high, blight and foreclosures; commercial can cause businesses to move out.

Russell: only one on panel that has received negative advertising because he does not commit to the lowest residential.  We need a compromise rate, similar to what we have now, like Councilor Rivera has said, to not go to an extreme.  Residents cannot afford equal rate now.

Wally: my opponent has said that he (Wally) would cause skyrocketing tax rates.  Franco would cause small businesses to further shoulder the burden.  Wally wants to grow the tax base, stable tax rate.  Franco – penny wise, pound foolish.

Asare: doesn’t recall criticizing his opponent.  Understands where we need to cut taxes.  Non-profits should be asked to chip in, not houses of faith.

Franco: you can’t increase homeowner rate if you make it more expensive to own a home.  We already have 15 highest tax rate in the state.  Our city will have highest tax rate in the state.  People can barely pay their taxes now.

Moynihan: we’ve lost quite a bit of commercial/industrial tax base, need to have reasonable, rational, predictable formula that will reduce difference between two – encouraging businesses will ameliorate the rate increase.

Q8, Rivera: MassInc – top two impact areas for incarcenration rates were in D4

Rivera: look at racial inequities.  Mental Health is an illness, substance abuse disorder is an illness.  We need to look at job, service, economic mobility opportunities.  Tackle from a systemic POV, some of these numbers can be addressed.  Have hard, honest conversations that are systemically focused and driven.

Q9, to Rivera: additional beds under extreme conditions for emergency housing.

Rivera: when we deinstitutionalized the mentally ill, caused unaccompanied adult increase, major mental illness, other medical issues, wraparound services needed.  Case management, rehab counseling, respite beds, if we are not able to look at the root of the problem, will still look at the baseline.  Want to save lives and get people out of the elements, but that’s just a bandaid.

Q10, WPS, balance and pay for needs of school district:

Russell: we are doing it right now.  His first budget session had parents and teachers saying not enough funding for schools, not the case today.   New schools coming online, doing a good job heading in that direction.  Worked with CM on Rice Square facilities.

Wally: grow tax base, as we attract more businesses, will help fund schools.  Pressure state for changes to foundation budget.  More public/private partnerships, like Burncoat academy.

Asare: has two young children, 3 and 1 year old.  Lack of programs, not enough.  Some schools need resources, city council and school committee need to work together.

Franco: all six of his kids attended the WPS, teachers should have resources they need.  New South High and Doherty High should last for 50-75 years.  Any state and federal resources should be used.

Moynihan: good schools part of good econ dev plan.  How do we retain students?  Those are $$ we need in our district.  In D1, talking with principal at Clark Street about need for materials for after school programs.  If we benefit a school like Clark Street, benefits the entire area.

Rivera: good schools create good neighborhoods.  She and all her kids went through WPS.  Work to create continuous partnerships.

Q11, to D5 candidate Franco: spoken of need to reduce property tax burden.  Property tax reduction would cause service reduction.  What would you eliminate or lower, or what alternative revenue source would you identify?

Franco: if city had $9 million surplus, shouldn’t need to raise rate.  Increase would place disproportionate burden on those who cannot afford it.  Ask people who live on waterfront property how much their taxes have increased.  Why do city and schools have different hiring agencies, HR staffs, don’t need to cut anything at this time if we have excess cash.

Wally: would like to see surplus used to relieve residential taxpayers.  Both D5 candidates want to do that.  If burden is passed to small businesses, that base is reduced.

Franco: don’t make it more expensive to live here.  There are people out here who are suffering.  Can’t make tax payments as is.  20% increase is what we are talking about.  More concerned about people than statistics and stuff coming out of Chamber of Commerce.  Talks about econ dev downtown.

Wally: a lot of econ dev downtown is residential and large corporations.  He cares about small businesses.  Let’s focus on Mill Street Big D site – if developed, taxes would be 1.3 million.

Franco: surrounding towns have lower residential and commercial tax rates.

Q12, D5, to Wally: public safety, high levels of police coverage.  Are neighborhoods safe, what would you prioritize?

Wally: most are safe, some have increased drug and gang activity.  One of big solutions is dealing with abandoned properties, properties owned by absentee landlords.  Clean up vacant properties, increase homeowner rate.

Franco: can’t have great neighborhood/city without it being safe.  BIKE PATROLS.  Horses are nice, but defer personnel away from neighborhoods.  Cavalry won’t help us in district 5.  Substations, new HQ.

Wally: opiate crisis has driven a lot of the crime in Worcester.  On a local level, DA has put a lot of resources into this.  Spectrum and other organizations dealing with the issue.

Last Question: what is your view of PawSox relocation?  $15 million in Pawtucket, state $23 million.

Wally: testament to Worcester that PawSox are talking to us. In terms of financing, would not support tax levy $ to support.  State funding would be good.  Ways to finance using District Improvement Bonds, revenue from garages, etc, can fund.  Do not forget Creedon family/Bravehearts commitment to Worcester.

Asare: always hard to give hardearned money to a business like this.  Not for or against.

Franco: in ideal world, it would be great, but we live in reality.  Can’t push out Creedon family and Bravehearts.  No public funds for a ballpark without evaluating financials.  We have enough needs as it is.  Ballpark is only open from late March – October.  Not enough use to create jobs.  Would rather focus resources on something else.

Moynihan: second go-round in the Kelley Square; opposed slots parlor four years ago.  REMEMBER THE CREEDONS!! [Not his exact words, but shouldn’t they have been??]  these investments don’t bring the biggest bang for the buck.  Has to balance passion for baseball with financial stability of the city.

Rivera: early in the game to look at community impact.  Bravehearts have been very committed to Worcester.  Include them in the process. [At this point, I just want someone to paint their face blue and cry FREEDOM!]

Russell: Creedon said if this comes in, they are out of business.  Bravehearts need to be part of any Red Sox org going forward.  Overall, Red Sox proposal if done properly won’t affect tax payers at all.


Closing statements – I will only type if I’m interested.

George Russell: my opponent compared himself to Paul Clancy.  I know Paul Clancy, he’s my friend, he’s endorsed me, you’re no Paul Clancy.  Asare owns a property in Revere that he certified is his primary residence.  [This was amazing, folks.  George Russell: he’s nice, but he doesn’t have to be!!]



NAACP At-Large City Council Forum – October 18

If you’re reading this, it’s because you didn’t attend tonight’s candidate forum.

Don’t worry, there are still six (!!!) more you can attend!


The NAACP will hold another forum next Wednesday, October 25th, at 6:00 PM at the Worcester Youth Center.  Tonight’s forum was great; there were three young people asking questions and keeping time.  We need more of that!  Come on down and support it!

2 / 3/ 4:

The Research Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, Telegram & Gazette and Mechanics Hall are presenting the following forums at Mechanics Hall at 7:00 PM.  Not only will you get to hear candidates’ views on the issues, you will also be able to check out Tim McGourthy’s wonderful new beard!

Thursday, October 19th—District Council Candidates
Monday, October 23rd—Mayoral Candidates
Monday, October 30th—At-Large Council Candidates
Worcester State University’s Latino Education Institute and the Department of Urban Studies will have a School Committee Forum (Community and Schools Forum) on Wednesday, October 25th, from 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM at WSU’s Fuller Theatre (2nd Floor of the Administration Building, 486 Chandler Street).  Yes, this conflicts with the NAACP City Council Forum; I will attend the NAACP forum and Tracy will cover this one!
The Worcester Educational Collaborative will be holding a School Committee Forum at the Worcester Historical Museum on Monday, October 30 from 5:30 PM – 8 PM.  I will try to hit this before going to the Research Bureau At-Large Forum.
…and, with no further ado, here are my notes from tonight’s NAACP (et al.) At-Large City Council Forum…


Candidates: Rosen, Bergman, King, Petty, Straight, Toomey (no Lukes)

40 people in attendance

Bill Coleman in attendance.

Fred Taylor, NAACP, welcomes the attendees.

Sponsors: Greater Worcester Our Revolution, League of Women Voters, Carpenters Union Local 107, Main South CDC, RE/MAX Vision, Southeast Asian Coalition, New England Pride TV, SURJ, Worcester Common Ground, Worcester Community Labor Coalition, Worcester State University, YWCA

Taylor thanks Pat Yancey, Chris Crowley, Edward Robinson, Sam Martin of Youth Center


2 mins to respond to questions

3 min closing statement


Q1 from LWV – how are we doing with inclusion of diverse groups in government and leadership roles?  How can we improve?

Rosen – City Councilor for beautiful district 5, where the Youth Center is located.  Used to be at-large councilor, and only one who has served as both.  He grew up in Worcester, when he went to Chandler Junior High, he took civics education.  We need civics education in middle and high school for all students.  Many young people don’t know or care that there is an election coming up.  Important for service to community at a young age.  Difficult to get people interested at an older age, need to whet appetite at a young age.  Be positive, have a positive message.  The people who are appointed and elected officials must serve as role models for youth.

Bergman – complicated question, depends on how you define diversity.  Racial or ethnic – long way to go.  There are 4 women on the Council, 2 people from minority religion, 2 of color.  Boards and commissions are becoming more diverse.  How many people are running and not being elected?  Easy to say no a lot of diversity on the Council, but if folks are not being elected, could be due to info we don’t have.  [that’s a paraphrase]  Need diverse/immigrant communities to be involved in government.  We need to know more about why people from diverse backgrounds are not being elected.

King: first generation American, family came here from Bermuda.  Current City Council the most diverse one the city has ever had, women, he’s the first black male elected since 1936, first black male at-large City Councilor.  Bill Coleman here tonight, his face resonated with him when he’d see Coleman in the paper when King was in high school.  His daughter is becoming a social worker, he has been social worker for number of years.  Boards and commissions should be more diverse.  Mayor has civics academy, he has participated in it.  Voter registration drives at schools for our seniors.  These are important, to remind youth that it’s their civic duty to participate in community.

Petty: We’ve come a long way since the community meetings two years ago.  In the last year, we’ve seen highest-ranked Puerto Rican and African American in the WPD.  There is diversity in the City Manager’s office.  Advisory boards, taken conscious decision to select people who represent everyone in the city.  Graduating police class was a good mix of people.  We’ve come a long way and have a ways to go.

Straight: First time running for anything and one of the reasons he got involved is that people should be focusing on diversity.  Mr Gaffney needed to be stood up to, felt it could be his contribution.  City Councilors can set a tone that is inviting and lets people know that diversity is one of the city’s major strengths.  Hiring practices, chief diversity officer, increasing minorities on the police force.  Encouraging participation on school and collegiate level.

Toomey: has been fortunate to be a city councilor for 6 terms, before that one the school committee for 3 terms.  Understanding of the diverse school population helped when she joined the city council.  How do you reach folks where they are?  Government has worked hard on this for the past few years.  We have to reach out to people in person.  Those who have come from other countries may not be trusting of government.  Using technology trying to get a lot of people to overcome challenges.  Diversity office has helped with training and job applications.  We need to advocate for IR folks.

Q2 to Moe Bergman, from Main South CDC: do you think that the city has moved too far in terms of downtown development (federal funding).  60% of residents qualify for affordable housing.  (more to the question, didn’t catch it)

Bergman: who will lose out with downtown development?  Everyone who needs a place to live should have a place to live.  We should encourage people to buy properties, including outside downtown.  When you see evictions, it traumatized esp. children.  Albany has a program to give vouchers for folks who are buying houses, which causes more stable neighborhoods.  Not everyone can afford or do it.  Used to be the American dream to own a home, should still be.  Better neighborhoods, happier residents…

King: proud that he has filed motion on the floor requesting that manager have master plan that includes neighborhoods, esp Main South.  Need to be comprehensive in what we do.  Everyone deserves place at the table downtown.  We should be able to keep existing local businesses downtown in the midst of the development.  Times are hard, currently minimum wage is $11; supports increasing to $15 by 2021.  WRT renting an apartment, need $22/hr to rent an apartment.  Need to continue these conversations on the Council floor.

Petty: downtown projects have made a difference, they are mixed housing projects.  Not just luxury apartments.  His commitment to funding neighborhoods is important.  Main South CDC did a great job transforming the neighborhood.  Bellevue Street – when you see the houses, encourages the neighbors.  (paraphrase)  affordable housing could mean anything these days.  Important that we have people who feel welcome in these neighborhoods.  Federal funding should be focused on neighborhoods in the future.

Straight: spread development out into the neighborhoods, esp Main South and neighborhoods surrounding downtown.  Short-term tax incentives for the neighborhoods.  To build on vacant lots, renovate vacant buildings.  Increase % of affordable housing to 20% in the next 10 years.  (Currently 14-16%), supports $15 minimum wage.

Toomey: balance – pendulum may feel like it’s swung towards the downtown, some of the success there due to what is happening in the neighborhoods.  We need to be creative, workforce housing = affordable housing.  Lots of different projects/programs that can help people.  Not all 3 deckers are being rented out.  Be creative to have people rent to own the properties, similar program Cleveland Housing Network that allows renters to purchase property at discount after renting 15 years.

Rosen: great cities have great downtowns.  He used to get on the bus, had to stand up because the buses were so packed, to go downtown before the mall.  It was always everyone’s downtown.  Attention not at the expense of the neighborhoods, do have to work on our downtown.  Very little retail, two longterm businesses recently closed.  Rejects dichotomy, must support all neighborhoods.  Downtown is a neighborhood too.  Mentions that it needs a supermarket.  So much happening in district 5, airport with flights to NY and Baltimore coming soon, communications center, dog parks, Doherty High, South High.  Neighborhoods are strong, (going waaaay over his limit)

Q3, to King, from Worcester Common Ground: how should the city prioritize funding, construction, and support of affordable housing initiatives to accommodate growing demand for these resources?

King: community development is economic development.  Affordable housing, remember that we have a delegation on state level and federal partners that we need to engage with.  This is what has helped Worcester move forward.  Continue to engage with them on behalf of the city.  Each of us as councilors is one vote.  He knows how to bring forward and establish relationships and try to reach a common goal.  Listening, learning, and then leading – will always be a priority, to put children and families first.

Petty: Block grant funding, much is devoted to housing.  There are public hearings, federal and state $ available.  A lot of $ at Union Hill to make neighborhood safer, community policing, infrastructure and police helped turn neighborhood around.  Not just about housing, about the other investments.

Straight: increase of affordable housing to 20% mark.  Short-term tax incentives to affordable housing would spur development, mentions Richmond VA model.  This can have private developers do a lot of work without community block grant funding.

Toomey: look at data, talk to people about needs.  Look at transportation.  Should we be reinvigorating neighborhoods that don’t have transportation?  Build homes for people who can work in the jobs of the future.  For community to build/thrive/grow.  Just building low income housing doesn’t work for her, need to have people in a neighborhood working together.

Rosen: Don’t think any of us have a monopoly of knowledge about affordable housing.  If elected to at-large position, wants to sit with Worcester Common Ground and Main South CDC to get an education.  Those are the people who should advocate and educate city officials about this topic.  Willing to learn.  Six seats on City Council at-large, down to seven candidates.  That’s a big problem.  School Committee has seven candidates for six seats.  We have one more candidate than seat.  Is that because we’re doing a great job, or because people aren’t going to put themselves through it due to blogs?  Thinks there should be term limits put into charter so we can encourage more people to run for office.

Bergman: detour on answer – some of the responsibility is on the state.  No carrot and no stick for the 10% threshold, all the communities around us have 2-3% affordable housing, unfair for gateway cities like Worcester to be the only ones to be providing affordable housing, urban centers take on more than their share.  Gentrification should not force people out of downtowns.  Carriage houses in older neighborhoods could be rented out, a lot of foreclosures.  But goes back to his point that the state should reward and punish those communities above/below the 10% affordable housing threshold.

Q4, from Southeast Asian Coalition: do you support funding to grassroots organizations that have been cost-effective, successful in helping communities?  (Longer question…couldn’t get it all)

Petty: Yes.  Important that neighborhood groups that are cost-effective, some of the arms of the community (name-checks Ron Charette), just feeding people.  All orgs throughout the city introduce newcomers to the city.

Straight: Yes, supports facilitating collaboration between the two organizations.

Toomey: Absolutely, concurs with colleagues and challenger.  If there are certain agencies with expertise, share knowledge.  Boston’s Irish Immigration Center, Worcester’s Centro helps folks from different backgrounds.  Different cultural orgs help folks not of their culture.  Duplication of services sometimes gets in the way of providing things.

Rosen: Yes.  Perfect use of block grant monies.  Board takes a look at the funding and reviews applications and tries to recommend to City Council how to dole out the money.  Encourage agencies to apply, etc.  Problem is that the funding from federal gov’t has gone way down, fear with Trump administration is that it will disappear.  Incumbent upon us to talk to senators and congressman, administration, to release funds.  Without those funds, we can have tensions between organizations.

Bergman: layup question, who wouldn’t support organizations that support the communities they know best?  Moral support from councilors, attending church events, it’s the only time they get treated well.  As we try to get diverse communities to feel like they belong, give them financial AND moral support.

King: question that speaks to family matters.  If there is instability in healthcare, education, housing, employment, impacts kids.  Speaks in regards diversity in committee, including CDBG.  Starts with the public pushing elected officials and holding them accountable.

Q5, from Worcester State University: what kind of initiatives would you promote to expand rights of LGBT community?

Straight: something fundamental to country is that everybody is created equal, deserves human rights.  City Council sets a tone, everyone should have voice at table.  Maddening when you see a public figure talking down to groups of people, or jokes made by president, disheartening to see a group singled out for discrimination.

Toomey: the word “fundamental” came to her mind.  Fundamental right to be seen as a human being.  Important that we understand that we live in a hateful community right now.  People are very cruel to each other.  Things people say to one another are horrific.  Saw post from someone she knows who was accosted by a security guard.  First thing – say that it is not ok to treat someone with hate.  Ensure that we stand up for our principles in public.  Worcester is one of the best places for LGBT people to live.  But we need to be more accepting.

Rosen: goes back to our youth.  Make it known to the youth (a little tougher with adults) message has to be that equality and rights do not depend on anyone’s sexual orientation.  Around country there are clubs at schools, give students a chance to get together, very important.  Message is equality and rights for all.

Bergman: federal, state, and local levels have laws in place to protect LGBT, question is enforcement of laws, done well at city hall.  Children are much better at dealing with diverse communities, folks his age and older didn’t grow up with exposure, need better effort on middle-aged people and up.  Senior Center fertile ground for educating older folks.

King: pleased that colleagues are all on the same page.  Proud to stand with Mayor Petty on conversion therapy ban [FINALLY – someone mentioned it!!!].  It’s abusive.  This is something we’ve actually done.  As allies, need to remember that we are all members of a heteronormative culture, privileged culture, we don’t worry that we will be treated differently because of our sexual orientation.  We need to keep that in mind.  Number of churches that have rallied around these communities.  Proud to march in Pride Parade, public stance will resonate.

Petty: have come a long way in LGBTQ (I could go on).  We’ve risen in the index, conversion therapy ban passed.  We had a Q festival, 5 nights of film, asked them why they came.  Worcester has a welcoming reputation, don’t go anywhere that doesn’t have 100% on the index.  This drives economic development as well.  Transgender issues in WPS, meet these kids, it’s an eye-opener when young people going through emotional turmoil.  Community support can make a big difference in their lives.

(Dante Comparetto recognized for attending)

Q6, from Worcester Youth Center: how would you make sure youth have a voice in this community?

Toomey: one of the things we need to do is show up when you ask us to.  Has three children who attended magnet school program, learned that we need to engage and be here.  Loves to meet with kids, esp at sporting events, about how to make Worcester better.  She is active on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter.  Happy to meet you for breakfast on Saturday morning.  Her office hours have been geared towards adults, but she can have them here, for the youth.

Rosen: from teaching days, so many youth think adults, teachers, elected officials, don’t listen.  Certainly time to listen and let youth know we are ready to listen.  We may not be back here for another two years.  He thought that there was going to be a lot of youth here tonight, but not a lot. They are not engaged in civics/gov’t/politics.  Go to schools, invite/welcome/encourage/cajole/twist arms. In two years, hopes to see a lot more youth in this audience.  Turns question back to the audience, responsibility as city, what can we all do to fill seats with youth?

Bergman: how would you make sure youth want to have a voice?  Electeds should be models of respect, civics education.  Veterans Day parade, on a day off, WWII vets, there are so few people who show up.  Heartbreaking.  Need to do better job in correcting it.  Young people deserve to see veterans and vice versa.

King: over 20 years serving youth in the city.  We always need to listen, validate youth, and then we can lead from them.  Explain to youth tangibles.  How do we get new parks, how do new schools get build, how do youth programs happen.  Show them tangibly what’s going on.  Council, School Committee, should be doing this.  Candidates during campaigns should be inclusive of youth.  He is a father of 3 daughters, 21, 12, youngest turn 1 on Nov 2.  Will do anything he can because he has lifelong commitment to this population.

Petty: kids today are the brightest kids ever.  Hired 300 youth this past summer, youth leadership program sponsored by United Way and Chamber of Commerce to develop leadership.  If Youth Center wants more involvement, they can involve the city.  This is your government.

Straight: going last is almost as bad as going first.  Mayor’s Civics Academy is great.  Programs for at-risk youth should be expanded.  King mentioned civic days of interaction with youth.  Toomey talked about participation via social media.  Good things going on, but could always do more.

Q7, from Worcester NAACP: redlining is practice of denying services to community based on race or ethnic background.  Mention of Providence case.  How can we make sure practice does not return to Worcester?

Rosen: doesn’t have the wisdom of Solomon.  He wouldn’t deny services to anyone based on (race, religion, section of the city, sexual orientation, etc). Knows fellow councilors – hasn’t seen it from elected and appointed officials.  Doesn’t think this is something anyone is interested in promoting.  If he saw it, he would speak out against it.  Make sure it stopped.

Bergman: one of the ways we prevent is that local/state/fed law enforcement are engaged and aware.  Dialog two years ago was helpful.  When you elect someone, you should feel they should respond.  All of us here are of that character.  Character does matter.  In his four years as councilor, when issues come up, we go to bat for that person.  Being vigilant and of good character can help prevent, if they do happen, need to be addressed quickly.

King: when dealing with issues of systemic racism, need to be brave enough to name it.  We need to be able to have conversations on Council floor respectfully.  Proud to have good relationship with attorney general’s office and to be able to reach out in cases of racism. (sorry, had to step away for 30 seconds; you get the idea)

Petty: homeownership is important, redlining is in the past, make sure that banks/mortgage companies are aware and are not engaging.  Lucky to live in MA where there is no question of the right to vote.  NACA gives unconventional loans to people.

Straight: similar story, friend sent a white friend to a bank, the interest rate was lower than the black friend’s rate.  This is something that still happens. Doesn’t think this is a tough question.  If this happens, needs to be reported.  AG has a hotline for everything.  Increase reporting and awareness will help solve the issue.

Toomey: issue is denying services – predatory practices for lending.  Can look at it in all different lights.  Is transportation being provided to all neighborhoods?  Cable companies avoiding neighborhoods?  Housing, rents.  Shares a story about a friend.  Not what this country is about. Need to know that it does/can happen.  Government’s role is to make sure these things don’t happen, and for community to let elected officials know when it does happen.

Closing remarks – I will type if anything comes up of interest.

Gary Rosen: take your six votes, vote for the group at the table.  This group will do very well by you.

[note that Lukes did not attend this forum]

Now that he’s getting older, getting towards the end of the political line, he’s running at large.

Bergman: he knows people joke about all the lawyers on the Council, but being a lawyer has been a great impact on his life.  Go to housing court on the second floor of the courthouse on Thursday afternoon and see how it affects people’s lives.  When people on the Council reflect the values of the people of the city, that’s democracy.

King: will fight any attempts to diminish the Fair Housing Act in any shape or fashion.  A lot of movements and moments at state and local level.  Difference between a moment and a movement, and that’s sacrifice.  There are times to take a stand when it results in a political hit.  But that’s how you keep a movement going.

Petty: worked hard to build bridges and not walls.  we need to share successes with everyone in the community.

Straight: felt someone needed to stand up to Michael Gaffney’s reprehensible behavior.  Won’t get into it because he’s dropped out of the race (applause) – Straight says “cause for celebration”

Toomey: being of service to you is an honor to me.  Hard being in public office.  Working with people gets more done than working against.  Consensus is an incredibly important thing.  In front of her house is a sign that says “Hate Has No Home Here” – wants to make sure everyone knows that.  SHE’S NUMBER ONE ON THE BALLOT!

Livable Worcester City Council Candidate Forum notes

The following are my notes from the Livable Worcester candidate forum, which welcomed City Council candidates.

Telegram coverage here.


I really enjoyed this forum; the topics went by smoothly and the choice of John Anderson as a moderator was excellent.  He’s one of the few people who can (mostly) intimidate candidates into keeping to their allotted minute.

There were times when I was distracted by the most amazing candelabra in back of some of the district councilors; it was straight out of Dark Shadows.  I half-expected Barnabas Collins to appear as a D4 candidate.

For a couple of questions, Paul Franco decided to focus on his support of the lowest residential tax rate, at one point being a bit pointed at Matt Wally.  I assume that this will continue at Thursday’s district council debate (7:00pm at Mechanics Hall).  It was completely irrelevant to this forum and frankly was tiresome.  Wally came out the better for it, from where I was sitting.

Moe Bergman made some interesting comments about homeownership versus Section 8 (that is, that we should encourage homeownership versus affordable housing in the form of Section 8) and a few candidates took exception to it.  I would have liked to see more discussion on this (which could not happen due to the format); here’s hoping we may be able to hear more about this in other forums.

And — there were more than a hundred people!  Standing room only!

Event Notes:

Welcomed by Deborah Packard of Preservation Worcester; we’re in the Park View room (bottom floor of the Fire Alarm Building).

Livable Worcester Coalition: MA Audubon, PW, Walk Bike Worcester, Worcester Tree Initiative, GWLT, Jane Jacobs in the Woo (let me know if I missed anyone!)

Paul Dell’Aquila: planning and design concepts – topics represent cross-section of concerns from their groups. Submitted as questionnaire to candidates. They will email responses to attendees.

Moderator: John Anderson

A forum is an occasion for discussing matters of public interest, making Worcester a more livable city. Almost all at-large candidates are in attendance. 9 issues in the list.

He will look for hands/efforts to be recognized, not call on people. Each candidate’s response should be about a minute.

In attendance:
D1: Moynihan, Rose
D3: Asare, Russell
D4: Rivera
D5: Franco, Wally
At large: Bergman, King, Lukes, Petty, Rosen, Straight, Toomey

Please let me know if you need a fuller explanation of the questions; I have them but my fingers are currently tired of typing.  You will note that I am missing a question 7; that was not asked because of time constraints.

1 – Complete Streets question.

Toomey: grateful that mayor appointed her as chair of public safety, before that on public works and an advocate of Complete Streets. Should have walkable, livable city. Number of meetings, manager has just brought a plan going to Public Safety subcommittee, will be pedestrian safety subgroup.

Moynihan: appreciate that Complete Streets has been initiated. As an urban studies prof at Worcester State, bikes, pedestrians need to have safe streets. Use Green Man Plus technology – mobility, visually impaired, elderly to have swipe card to have more time in the crosswalk. Helps traffic flow.

Rosen – Complete Streets policy allows everyone to share the streets. As most of you know, he has spent past 6 months at intersections and streets. Need police enforcement for distracted drivers, people who don’t know light is red, pedestrians texting in the middle of Kelley Square.

Petty: traffic anarchy out there. Complete Streets is important, topography of Worcester makes a good biking program difficult, but we can work on this over time. City has replaced 25,000 trees

Rivera: May 23, petitioned that administration give update about Complete Streets. As chair of public health, they have been discussing this. Accessibility of different modes of transportation, more that we can have pedestrians walking, will improve econ dev.

(Anderson doing an excellent job of keeping folks to 1 minute!)

Wally: too many streets that don’t have sidewalks: Clover, Moreland, Flagg, taking life into their hands. A lot of us have been knocking doors, I don’t think anyone will shed a tear if we get hit, but kids – important to keep them safe.

Franco: as a father of 6 children, have seen what cell phones have done for attentiveness. Driving, walking while texting is dangerous, need education campaign. All of the other items are good, but his

Rose: this is a city of hills and old design. People living in districts are knowledgeable, residents should have a say into how the designs are incorporated. Sidewalks to school not done yet, Millbrook has a sidewalk that stops, bottom of Clark Street does not have a sidewalk. For residents to feel that, must see forest for the trees.

King: challenging in the city for those of us who are able-bodied. If you don’t have those abilities, difficult process. Was able to participate with Comm on Disabilities in wheelchair experience, eye-opening. He almost fell flat on his face. Need to keep those folks in mind.

Bergman: everyone here on board with Complete Streets. Sidewalks safe, streets need to be well-lit, curb cuts. Light sequencing, why can’t this be done here. Variety of ways to make choices better.

Straight: Pedestrian safety and bike safety is a traffic safety problem. A lot of unique things to Worcester that could be adjusted (lane markings through intersections), protecting green (green arrow, but might not understand if new to intersection).

Lukes: has been chair of traffic and parking – that’s when you learn what the neighbors who have to live with problems are concerned about. Cars go too fast in residential neighborhoods (that are not necessarily school zones). Last year, state gave municipalities right to review speed limits down to 20 or 25 mph, she filed in, no one did anything.

Asare: 25 years old, extremely nervous, running against an incumbent who has done a great job, but trying to get the youth involved. Complete Streets needed to be passed a long time ago.

Russell: I’m George Russell, I’m the guy he says is doing a good job. In a perfect world, we’d have Complete Streets, sidewalks on every street. When he was on the Planning Board, they made sure new developments did sidewalks. Hamilton Street, worked with DPW committee to make sure neighbors/businesses. If you put sidewalks on every street, would you take people’s land away? Some places where it is just not practical.

2 – Urban Design Review Committee; do you support, how would you have standards adopted?

Petty: thinks it’s time for a review panel. (Thinks Councilor Lukes filed it last month.) We have seen buildings in the past (St Vincent’s, one big block of brick). Different ways of having this committee. Has to be a balanced approach, don’t want to lose economic development. A lot of investment coming in, want to make sure things are right.

Bergman: can’t have helter-skelter approach and expect downtown to look good. The WRTA building is a terrible look. We can choose to be pickier, not have unattractive buildings next to good older building. We can do better job with design review.

Rosen: was going to mention the same building. Taking down Notre Dame church, thinks it’s terrible. Supports review board, would like to see city departments participate. DPW are not there for design, but they have to contribute much more. Public Health, Public Safety should be working together.

Lukes: glad everybody caught up with me, has been filing this for the last ten years. All she’s going to say because she overspoke next time.

Toomey: don’t need more bureaucracy but definitely need to take the silos down. Very important that public gets access to these plans as soon as they are submitted.

Moynihan: was able to attend an urban design conference via Jane Jacobs in the Woo, a model for urban design. Review is a way to increase value of surrounding properties, has to fit into historical integrity, needs to involve coordination and planning.

King: devil’s always in the details, want to do this in the right way. Design review enhances neighborhoods, not just buildings. Worcester is in a unique place right now for econ dev and interest. Building a consensus.

Asare: agrees with everyone. Engineers and architects – he is an engineer, sees a lot of lawyers at the table, he can bring a lot to help.

Russell: Site plan approval at Planning Board level, PB should be given teeth to review plans/deisgns of buildings. DPW is very involved – Hamilton St was from the engineers at DPW. Right now, exec planning office talks with developers. Washington Sq hotel was bragging about Inspectional Services.
(He tries to speak over a minute, goes on, the crowd is NOT pleased.)

Straight: likes Toomey’s ideas, would like to see crowdsourcing, online feedback from citizens.

Franco: urban design could have saved Notre Dame church. Webster Square – have to allow for some flexibility for neighbors/business to use their own ideas, innovation. Just ironclad rule could stifle creativity and development.

Wally: in favor of design review board. Have to see high expectations, we have to tell them our demands, high expectations.

Rose: urban design guidelines, little accountability about guidelines, if urban design board, there would be some accountability for traffic and other issues. Some incentive to developers for input from residents, other business owners.

3 – Blue Space/Green Space.

Rosen: for last 4 years, chair of Youth, Parks, Rec. Have done so much for parks, at Castle Park recently, which had been deserted/dilapidated for years. Coes Zone (have been involved in), fixed up the beach, the playground is packed.

Petty: we have invested $11 million in the parks last year. We brought someone on to coordinate the blue space. Hadwen Park is on the plan [he mentions kayaks there – my companion and I agree that this sounds crazy]. Crow Hill, Donker Farm. People even comment on how nice the parks are this year.

Rivera: Park Steward program for young people, started as neighborhood effort by Mary Keefe, not continuing strong, amazing residents in Castle Park who were using it, now new and improved. A lot of activity in University Park. Opening for Castle Park, outreach by Casey – partnerships are important.

Rose: efforts to put money into parks has been impressive. Will push for cost-effective programs in parks. Adjunct faculty at trauma center; these parks are opportunity to engage youth, health brain, exec function skills.

King: this is therapeutic, agrees with “Councilor” Rose. Able to get to calming place, helps everyone. Proud of parks program, has run summer league at Crompton for 22 years. Lives next to a park, brings everyone together.

Russell: past pres of Lake Quinsig Watershed Assoc, big promoter of water. Almost all parks/playgrounds in D3 have seen renovations. Proud of CM and programs with Recreation Worcester.

Franco: we do have some nice parks, still no comprehensive maintenance program. Folks that live on Patch Reservoir, Coes Pond, inflated assessments those folks have with no maintenance. Logan Field has divots, needs major renovations, need to maintain what we have.

Bergman: if you are affluent and live near a park, your property value goes up; if you are not affluent, you need a park. Parks Dept combined with DPW, now they are separate. Need to address problems earlier on. Give them some autonomy.

Toomey: has spent close to two decades supporting and advocating for parks. Calls out Dottie Hargrove. Seven year action plan, econ dev impact. Strength of public-private partnerships. Incredible beaches to sell Worcester.

Moynihan: Beth Proko and efforts to improve Indian Lake, has helped with that. Maintenance plan, bring back park rangers, get rid of trash. Roberto Clemente field needs a master plan.

Asare: not enough soccer fields. Someone shows up with a permit when he’s playing.

Lukes: sometimes we have to look at the vision of the city. She’s seen large projects forgotten or ignored. When Med City went up, she suggested that it was a good time to look at what Providence did and get it as a tourist attraction [we think she might be talking about canal?]. Green Hill Park has a failing golf course.

Wally: one of the benefits of Worcester is number of nonprofits: CDCs, Park Spirit, GWLT, etc., work with mission-oriented organizations to collaborate, meet our goals.

Straight: increased focus of maintenance around the entire city. Weeds taller than a person, trash stuck in the weeds.

4 – enhancing livability/affordability for entrepreneurs, students, immigrants, artists

Straight: about 14-16% affordable housing, above state mandated min, should increase to 20%, a lot of cities don’t have enough affordable housing for these people.

Wally: when you look at the perfect model of affordable housing, it’s 3 decker. Promote affordability of 3 deckers for new immigrants. Promote home ownership.

Bergman: agrees with Wally, what drives success is disposable income + leveraging home ownership. Giving more Section 8 vouchers promotes poverty. We need to help people buy homes, always a percentage of people who can’t, but we should help people buy homes.

Franco: maintaining current tax rate is the #1 thing for affordability. If you want immigrants, new buyers, have to have a low tax rate. He’s the only one supporting this – hopes the press is here to report that.

Moynihan: from aspect of artistic community, need live/work spaces. Save historic properties, repurpose as artist live/work spaces. If an artist can live/work in same space, have saved on rent. Perhaps if we had had some foresight, Notre Dame could have been one of those spaces.

King: inclusive redevelopment. We are in the midst of downtown renaissance but have to focus everywhere. Need to maintain supply of affordable housing. Doesn’t believe Section 8 perpetuates poverty, has helped family get out of poverty. We as Council have to support increasing the minimum wage.

Petty: neighborhood corporations, Nacker (?) do this. Affordable housing means a lot of things, not just Section 8. As we looked at the issue with Puerto Rico, we don’t have affordable housing here to bring people.

Rivera: negative narrative regarding burden immigrants put on the tax base, myth of affordable housing. Enhance livable wage, wage staff, spaces that support business incubators, Worcester World Cup.

Toomey: we have a lot of elderly folks who haven’t been renting out the other floors of their three deckers. Firemen, police officers, etc, could buy these. Workforce housing is truly the issue. Teacher housing to get people to stay.

Rosen: get immigrants involved in community. Mentions dog parks and Hadwen Park. Welcome people to the city, we need their help.

5 – Nodes/ corridors of activity. How would you link these to activity in downtown?

Bergman: I wouldn’t. They’re unique, they’re not downtown. Businesses that thrive in his neighborhood are of that neighborhood. Encourage home ownership in those nodes. Sometimes capitalism works and if you tinker with it, it doesn’t. They have grown successful through capitalism and recommends we leave them alone.

Wally: Menino had started Boston Main Streets program to help commercial corridors. (Park Ave, Webster Sq, Mill Street) could emulate something similar here.

Moynihan: echoes Bergman’s sentiments. Look at W Boylston St corridor, what can we do to invest there. Putting splash park where there used to be a pool, then work on pedestrian safety and traffic in that corridor for people who live in the neighborhood.

Rose: Nodes – he thinks of shopping malls. Not every node has its specialty or “thing” – help nodes come up with their specialty. Bus ridership is down, no way to get to different places with the bus.

Toomey: wayfinding plan has been modified, links other parts of the city to downtown. There are individual neighborhoods that should be individual. People should be educated to get out of their own spaces. Challenge college students to create an app to find out what’s going on in the city.

Rivera: has been advocating for connectability of downtown to Elm Park. Segue to airport/JetBlue. Moving out of comfort zone to mom-and-pop restaurants in Main South.

Lukes: in 1984, had charter reform, provision for neighborhood councils to empower neighbors. Never happened, probably because more grassroots groups organized. People in neighborhoods started looking for solutions, inspectional services, police officers, other invited…sometimes gov’t can’t force a solution.

Russell: met with WRTA manager and Deb Cary to try to get a reroute for kids to be able to get to Broad Meadow Brook. All city residents can walk the trails for free, but if you don’t have a car, you can’t get there. Also advocated for bus stop at front of Imperial Distributors because people who work there need a ride there.

Rosen: at Webster Square, we’ve had meetings to make it a destination/popular area. Huge turnouts of businesses, non-profits, residents. Working on master plan, doesn’t address downtown.

Franco: our campaign about putting neighborhoods first. Unlike his opponent, against raising the residential rate. Keep the residential rate the same, [keep not answering the question]

Wally: we didn’t want to take from anyone here, Thursday night another forum for district candidates, will honor spirit of forum and not get into individual argument. Franco gets grumpy. DRAMA AT THE FORUM!!!

King: need to be pedestrian friendly, transit oriented, mentions the Big D on Mill Street, ask the neighbors, move forward.

6 – encouraging rehab/reuse of buildings, infrastructure throughout the city.

Petty: some failures (Notre Dame church), would be great to have a fund to purchase the buildings, Community Preservation Act like Springfield and Boston. These are all important issues. Has to be passed by residents of Worcester through a ballot initiative.

Moynihan: what happened at Notre Dame was a tragedy, need to do more planning, work with PW and others, look at how to effectively repurpose them. Might have to adjust zoning in certain areas. Entrepreneurs are already doing this. Key is planning, can’t rely on prayer.

Toomey: use data and statistics: Older, Smaller, Better: this is one of the things they do. We need to see the beauty of the architecture, be open to creating new space.

Bergman: one of the things that happens when a developer comes in is that it’s easier for them to tear down and build new, we need to give them second thoughts, successful design review will integrate existing building with new uses.

Russell: City of Worcester charged people with “sewer connection fee” to convert a building to restaurant, food services, he changed that to raise threshold so that most who are converting for new use will not pay that fee.

Rose: one of issues with the building he works in, doesn’t have good internet connectivity. Building owners need help with connection to fiber optic. Incentivize.

Straight: short term tax incentives for developers, homeowners.

Wally: need to tell our story. There are developers who want to develop – but they may not know that there are buildings to develop (example of courthouse).

Franco: would like to spearhead development of various vacant properties in D5.

Lukes: authored the one-year demolition delay ordinance. Money is the driving force here. If we are serious about saving buildings, must have local incentive for architectural design, part of process for negotiating, outside the TIF process.

Rosen: Franco mentioned Diamond, Krock property on Park Ave, Big D on Mill Street. City has no $ to take by eminent domain. We don’t want to own the properties, we don’t want to inherit issues we can’t afford.

8 – increased citizen participating in master planning process

Toomey: surprised that not all these meetings are being videotaped. Not everyone can go to city hall, but we can bring CH to community.

Lukes: they had posted questions on website, limited success. We have been pretty good in making info available to public. If not as responsive as we should be, she wants to know about it. The question on Open Space and Rec reminded her of the program, thanks whoever wrote the question.

Bergman: new website will make things better, need other languages represented on the website. One area weak on: tree removal (without notifying neighbors). Argument – apathy begins in schools, need to engage children at a young age.

Franco: texting, twitter, facebook can be used to spread the word. Even folks who are not involved in social media, we still have robocalls. Robocall technology could be used more.

Moynihan: vital that we reach out to every community – the plan will not work if we do not reach out. Council needs to be the people to listen and bring people into the planning process.

Petty: people need to be notified when there is a project. (DPW projects) We do have Alert Worcester that notifies people of projects in their neighborhood.

Rivera: in her district, there were some issues with tree removal. Came back with report – conversation has continued to happen. When construction is happening, need to continue to support mom-and-pop businesses.

10 – Open Space and Rec Plan – what goal is most important and why?

Lukes: enhancing natural resources. When she was mayor, leaking gas lines destroying shade trees. Just learned that there are still 900 leaking gas lines, need to recover trees. Deal with garbage and dumping in the city. Ban plastic bags, has supported and wanted this in the past.

Rosen: biggest need is rectangular fields, many more youth playing field hockey, rugby, soccer.

Petty: improving public access to water resources. Mentions various ponds. Supports Green Hill Park golf course, not failing whatsoever.

Moynihan: has talked a lot on his Facebook page about this. Promote community gardens, where we have a chance, promotes open space and provides food to community. Food deserts are a growing problem. Worcester is no different than other cities where there is a lack of fresh food.

Rose: over 50% of WPS are considered economically disadvantaged. Need to work recreationally in our parks, between 3-6 pm, affordable programs for families, asking teachers to do more with less, need to bridge gaps. This summer space between when school ended and summer programs begin. Had basketball program this summer.

Toomey: need to do overview of the whole plan. Evaluate new open space opportunities for the future.

Wally: upgrade park and open space maintenance. No reason we can’t have the best urban park system in the country. Public/private partnerships. Commerce Park Field, other opportunities for partnerships. Deferred maintenance will cost more in the long run.

Rivera: Castle Park worked with senior facility next door. Connecting and supporting community garden. Support programs like Recreation Worcester and park stewards.

King: new open space opportunities. Access to water resources. Critical life skills on how to use blue spaces. We lost our pools, need kids to learn how to swim and take lifesaving courses. Need to use those resources smartly. We have young folks who need things to do.

Franco: can’t believe it, but agrees with Wally. We don’t have a comprehensive plan for maintaining the parks. Logan really needs an upgrade. If we don’t maintain parks, won’t be used, become urban blight.

Straight: Matt Wally hit nail on head. Access to waterways, these are clean, not pumping sewage into Lake Quinsigamond.

Closing Statements – I didn’t record these as my fingers were giving out!

School Committee Candidate Forum (Research Bureau/Chamber/T&G)

Update – Telegram coverage here.

As often happens at these events, when it began, there were 40ish people, and I’d guess 60-65 were in attendance at the height.

I am not familiar with all of the buzzwords/topics discussed here so feel free to comment if there are any corrections/amplifications.  What follows are my notes…


Tim Murray welcomes attendees to SC debate

Electeds here: Tony E, Mayor Petty, Konnie L.

21 questions, 1 minute initial candidate response, 4 30-sec responses, 15 second rebuttal.  The questions are given by Jennifer Davis Carey; Luis Pedraja, the new president of QCC; and a gentleman from CPPAC whose name I didn’t catch.


Opening Statements


Dianna Biancheria – public schools are the city’s most important resource.  Need to be competitive, prepare students for future, expand beneficial opportunities for all students.  Expand school safety, academic excellence, AP course expansion, community partnerships.  Job readiness, alternative programs, preparing kids for work.

Donna Colorio – adjunct psych/soc prof at QCC for over 20 years, MTA member, lifelong resident of Worcester.  Three children who attended WPS.  Believes we have made progress, but a long way to go.  WPS should be a better system/district.  In 2012, she visited all schools in first 100 days.  Knocking doors, asking folks what they want in the schools.

Dante Comparetto – Humbling experience at his first debate, father, founded a couple of non-profits, served on some boards.  Raised by single mother, homeless as teenager, almost killed at 17, with help he turned his life around.  Wants to advocate for high-needs learners, more wraparound, safe and healthy schools, phys ed, health, everyone should have access to quality public education.  Need more real ed advocates on the SC.

[Lots of Comparetto supporters in attendance]

Jack Foley – Elections matter.  Has had the privilege of serving for past 18 years, first kid attended K 28 years ago.  At Clark, have created some of the best ed opportunities in the country.  His role has been to raise educational challenges.  Build leadership in the school, ID strong principals as leaders, engage teachers in strategic planning at schools.  Next few years are critical for Worcester, need to be sure that good public schools are great public schools.  Greatest challenge/opportunity – work at state level on foundation budget for correct funding for WPS.

Molly McCullough – lifelong resident of Worcester, daughter of career-long WPS educator.  As citizens, we should all be concerned about success of WPS.  Focus on superb public ed, public schools continue to be a source of pride.  People should vote for candidates who have knowledge and experience.  As member of SC, will continue to advocate for ed opportunities for all students.  Greatest learning opportunities and support for all.

John Monfredo – Public service has always been part of his life.  When he retired (as teacher/principal), ran for SC.  Every decision on what is in the best interests of the students.  Never been afraid to tackle tough problems.  Most passionate about ed.  Children make up 30% of population but 100% of our future.  Parents are children’s first educators, need to advocate for them.  Education is greatest antipoverty tool, Worcester the City that Reads program.  Focus on community involvement, continues to bring understanding of schools, putting children first, etc.

Brian O’Connell – Has served with a number of people on SC, works for Hingham PS as a CFO.  Next three years will be watershed time for Worcester Public Schools, quality staff, 2500 resumes of new employees, parents who are moving into the city, businesses contacting the SC to see what they can do to help.  10-15 areas that need to be worked on: foundation budget, strategic plan (too much for me to type)


Jennifer Davis Carey, question to Monfredo: Many have said that Ch 70 program is flawed.  What factors should be considered in establishing an acceptable foundation budget?

Monfredo: Inflation factor creates a shortfall.  Achievement gap has a lot to do with spending.  Low spending, low achievement.  Work with other district to bring back McDuffy and (?) decision.  City management has been great to work with.

Response 1: Biancheria – when you look at what we have for revenue in schools, would like to give appreciation to CM, Mayor, Super.  Funding from the state needs to be worked on.  Accomplishments can only be worked on with legislative team on board.  We can only hope their voices are heard.

R2: Comparetto – need advocates on SC that will do this work, he has worked on No on 2 campaign, knows how to lobby the state house.  Pass fair share amendment.

R3: O’Connell – 6 particular areas in foundation budget, state is not following constitutional obligation: Health insurance, special ed, English Language Learners, low income students, inflation factors

Monfredo, rebuttal – we need to advocate for strong budget with legislators.


Question 2, to Donna Colorio: over years, WPS has explored many ways to support advanced students.  AB Capstone initiative, some other name checks.  How to support high achieving students?

Colorio: Give them a reason to come to school.  We have to engage gifted students.  With academies, it creates a buzz, they were able to be challenged within the school.  Believes we have to raise the bar for all students.  Create curriculum that engages our kids, finances to supplement, partners in community to help.

Response 1: Comparetto: will make sure that we are making this access available to all students.

R2: Foley: create learning communities, capstone projects, so that students are getting accelerated programs.  Enrollment with higher ed partners.

R3: Monfredo: next step is AP Capstone program.  Most of any district in MA.  Helps students stand out in college admission process.  AP Seminar, AP Research.

Colorio, rebuttal – we have lost a lot of these students to private and out of district.



Question 3, to McCullough – people of color account for 70% of student body, 30% speaking something other than English as first language, how should school hire/develop more diverse workforce?

McCullough: programs such as dimensions of learning, TESA, and others, have introduced teachers to social differences and helped them appreciate/understand differences.  Fortunately, many of texts and ancillary materials have helped with these as well.  As far as hiring, always hire most qualified candidates for job.

Foley: cultural competence, teachers should understand students’ backgrounds.  Need to build next generations of teachers, esp at the hs/college level, hard to find students of color who are pursuing teaching as a career, need to find leaders and teachers who reflect.

O’Connell: two-way bilingual program has been very successful, to get kids to know one another.  Title III ELL grants should be expanded, Harvard University’s Coop program.

Colorio: we did add 19 additional teachers for English Language Arts this year.  Reducing class size is important for all students, including ELLs.  We have become a diverse community – need to educate our teachers who are not social workers.

McCullough – ESL classes for families, increase dual language program.


Q4: Level 3 schools – what would you advocate to stabilize these schools?

Biancheria: when we look at the next few years, the funding will be determined by the level of the schools.  As it stands now, the Super is focusing on schools who are a level 3, look at accountability reports, have discussions with particular schools that may need additional help/programs.

O’Connell: reach out to colleges/businesses for help, reach out to parents, strong principal with high guidelines, aggressive school councils, excellent teachers

Monfredo: 11 conditions for school effectiveness.  All of these should be part of level 3 schools.  High-stakes testing should not be emphasized.

McCullough – level 4 indicates that all students are not proficient over a number of years.  Incumbent on us to get students at least to level of efficiency.  Roll out AVID program, make sure all are reading on grade level.

Biancheria – district is accountable.  Level 4 doesn’t mean across the board they are not doing well, need to look at areas for improvements.



Q5: Wraparound services, what steps should WPS take to improve family engagement and student services?

Comparetto: current approach is inadequate.  Having 15 kids is a lot.  One wraparound coordinator for 300 kids is not good.  Since many kids have background in trauma, need to support them.  Communicate to parents in native language.  WPS need to be more welcoming to new families.

Monfredo: children with engaged parents are more likely to succeed.  Parents are the consumer, schools need to be parent-friendly.

Colorio: as a past psychotherapist, most of trauma is due to alcohol and drug addiction.  Need to educate students on this to empower them.

Biancheria: need to continue to look at education as holistic piece.  Constituents: washing machines coming to school can make a big difference in someone’s life.  Small pieces to help.

Comparetto: provide quality education to all students.  Give them support through social/wraparound services.

Q6: School safety, elevated, school resource officers expanding.  Is WPS addressing school safety?

Foley: they are safe now, they were safe two years ago, and when his kids were in school.  Some of this is public perception.  Hiring police officers and building relationships as another adult to support students and family.

Colorio: perception is everything.  When she was campaigning last time, schools were not perceived as safe, now they are on the right track.  Students are starting to feel better about coming to school.

McCullough: there were some perception issues in the campaign two years ago, continue to look at the safety of schools.  Agrees with Foley.

Comparetto: while schools are getting safer, there are a lot of educators who feel unsafe.  If a kid is acting up at school, something is going on at home.  A lot of issues are better dealt with socially.

Foley: declines further comment.


Q7: recent review by MA gov’t’l organization, the SC was criticized for too many legislative motions.

O’Connell: we set policy, hire, review Super, need to take active role in setting budget priorities, obligation to consult with superintendent.  Handle collective bargaining with administration.

McCullough: started to have a more streamlined agenda, believes it is job to support super in her agenda items, need to make sure the agenda items are not something that can be handled with phone call or email.

Biancheria: we are the voice of the constituents.  Elected, not appointed. We are able to put items on the agenda.  185,000 residents expect us to be a voice.

Foley: looking at steps to take for consent agendas for quick items, would like agendas to focus on strategic items and thrashing out issues that require a lot of discussion.

O’Connell – not interested in making agenda shorter, doesn’t like consent agenda to hide items from constituents.

Q8: WPS has increased emergency removals, esp among certain population.  How to handle disruptive students?

Monfredo: 2fold increase of dropout for students who are suspended just once in 9th grade.  In the past, many suspensions have been for minor infractions.  New research shows disengagement for kids who have hard suspensions. In-house programs are better.

Foley: top priority to look at this, impact of suspensions.  Starting to look at this, but we need to do a lot more, incl in staff development.  Lessons learned from Meers Grant (sp?), welcoming school env

Colorio: mixed because teachers are dealing with a lot in the classroom.  One disruptive kid sets tone for whole classroom, would like expansion of alternative program and drug programs.

McCullough: CH 222 didn’t give appropriate tools for educators/administrators.  What is causing problems, causing social/emotional learning impact?  For those that are truly disruptive, look at alternative programs.

Monfredo: Positive Behavior Systems, use commonsense approach for suspension.


Q9: what can be done to ensure that principals can hold poor performing teachers, reward high performing teachers, then student outcomes in teacher assessment?

Colorio: administration goes into schools and evaluate best practices, very important for consistency in the district.  We want people to choose Worcester as a district, not just certain schools.  Trying to go to progress in all schools.

O’Connell: principals do have authority to hire own staff.  Challenge comes with transferring between schools.  We often see very inflated evaluations.

McCullough: principal has moral obligation for student access…90 day trial period for teacher is often not sufficient to determine if the teacher is effective.  Targeted prof dev is good, but principals should have more say.

Biancheria: evaluations are done in-house, need additional feedback before we have more conditions.  Teachers may not be effective in particular classroom.  Need to look at best practices for prof dev.


Q10: Public ed good for econ vitality.  What role do you see WPS playing in city’s econ dev strategy?

McCullough: feels school system has a place, best public education system will help students take on jobs city needs.  So many wonderful opportunities, need students to be prepared.

Comparetto: education should be at the forefront of any econ dev policy.  Need advocates on SC for more than 5% of foundation formula, need to lobby the legislature

Biancheria: tell our story.  Teachers need to tell their story every day in our community.  Work with realtors, more press releases that are positive.  All our successes should be spoken about, competitions should be aired continuously.

Monfredo: When people move, first thing they want to know is about the school system.  Schools can’t do it alone, need advocates in community.


Q11: Educators/experts have raised concerns about testing, moratorium on high-stakes standardized tests.  Do we have too much testing?

Biancheria: testing is part of education, how we rate, who is accountable, comes into consideration.  We need to review what the dept of ed requires of us.  One performance is not what matters in a school.

Colorio: no secret that I am not a fan of high-stakes testing.  Testified in numerous places, advocated for not taking the MCAS test, because parents should have right to opt the kids out.  Less of an emphasis, we only tested certain grades, we should go back to limited testing.  Teachers are feeling forced to teach to the test.

Foley: standardized testing here to stay, supports when it is used to support teachers in evaluating students.  Measuring different cohorts of students is concerning.  MCAS to PARCC, MCAS2.0, how can you measure growth and success when looking at different tests.

Comparetto: need to stop teaching to test and teach to the child.  We don’t get enough arts, phys ed, history, civics, due to teaching to the test.

Biancheria: would like to see funding for classroom and not testing


Q12: Worcester Tech, how can WPS leverage to increase work readiness at the comprehensive high schools?

Comparetto: lots of students applying to go to the school, not all getting in, so need voke ed in other high schools.  Ask partners for help in programming at other schools.  Emphasizes arts, etc.

McCullough: we need all students to have access to voke/tech program.  Imagining tech at North, Automotive at Burncoat, etc.  Ch 74 funding, mutually beneficial community partnerships.

O’Connell: Tech HS has a trust, involved business community in the schools, each school is capable of replicating

Foley: use folks at Tech HS to assist other high schools, use the school to make it a 16 hour day, provide additional course offerings for students around the city.

Comparetto: only candidate with experience in partnerships with businesses, parents, and looks forward to expanding the program.


Q13: forum with valedictorians, they mentioned lack of cross-cultural relationships, how can we improve this?

Foley: expand dual language programs.  would like to see greater cultural awareness, all students should understand the background of other students.

Biancheria: We become so focused on academic piece that we don’t look at what benefits are of the backgrounds of others.  We need to begin those conversations.

Monfredo: training on diversity should always be part of prof dev.  School events.

O’Connell: ?? program has been good at bringing students together, sports, cultural assemblies, dinners featuring ethnic food.

Foley: needs to start at elementary school level, students should feel part of the school at a young age.


Q14: US Dept of Ed encouraging school choice.  What can WPS do to make them attractive when compared to school choice, private, charters?

O’Connell: levels of skills and expertise for special ed that many school systems can’t, range of coueses that are available that other schools can’t match, if we publicize, can expand (currently $500k in school choice)

Monfredo: 9 innovation schools have been successful, charterlike autonomy.  Many opportunities can be achieved with this model.

Comparetto: school buildings are aging, serious health concerns, part of parental decision, investments in buildings and technology.  Tell our story better, need SC members who will be cheerleaders for the system

Colorio: transparency is good, let the best things we are doing be publicized.  Great results speak for themselves, word of mouth is best.

O’Connell: K-8 at elementary level, 6-12 program for associates degree, Doherty satellite, programs for gifted children.


Q15: Worcester struggles with voter turnout.  What role do schools play, how to put civic engagement in schools?

Monfredo: need to address as a system but also statewide.  Children need to know importance of being part of community, voting, community service/

O’Connell: Legislation about civics ed would help but is not all.  Monitoring elections, mock elections, etc., are good, but need more students involved.

McCullough: need to incorporate civics lessons in schools.  Has opportunity to look at April vacation city clerk program, looked at being active member of community.

Biancheria: engage parents, that will engage students and siblings.  More afterschool programs.  Looking for community service factor.  Do have voting coming up in our schools.  Hoping to build on each year.


Q16: WPS is one of largest corporate entities in Worcester.  Responsible for $380mil, 3900 staff, 25,000 students.  How to approach operational aspects, areas for improvement…

Colorio: budget to work within.  Not a lot of discretionary funding or wiggle room.  Consolidate some of administrative functions with City of Worcester that are duplicated.  Save some $$ on administrative costs.

Monfredo: Nelson Place was priority, then South and Doherty.  Fortunate to have Mass Building Auth funding

Biancheria: hard to estimate what/where because of long list of items that need to be done.  Boilers, windows, sidewalk repair are prioritized.  Has suggested on more than on occasion to combine law office with city law to not use outside consultants.

Comparetto: state of school buildings, need capital improvement plan.  Funding is essential.


Q17: WPS manage 62 buildings, 2.3 million sq feet on 400 acres, 11 buildings prior to 1900, only 5 built/renovated in last 15.  $3 million/year renovation.  How to increase funding for capital projects?

McCullough: improvements are made on priority basis, so much tied into what we need, esp tied into foundation budget.

Colorio: a lot of buildings that may need some work.  Noticed that schools are different.  Some schools where windows didn’t open.  Some schools in better condition than others.  So many buildings reviewed every year by the state.

Monfredo: every year four schools go through MA school building authority review.  Curbside appeal, inside improvements.

Foley: not enough $ to maintain buildings.  Have been able to leverage the $3 million/year to $12 million through state funding.  Strategic funding for where to invest $ going forward and to be able to justify funding from the state.

McCullough: custodians need appropriate training and resources, proactive with preventive maintenance.


Q18: many schools use online tools to keep parents informed, commonwealth moving to e platforms for testing.  How should WPS incorporate technology?

Biancheria: regardless of career, you need technology.  We are looking at all of the tools that will be necessary for students to be successful.  Laptops, online courses, digital projectors, growing industry, STEM ed is putting this forward.  Some of tools we need, but need additional tools.

McCullough: internet = technology, have become dependent on it, students need access.  They need computer skills that will help in every endeavor.  Continue to work for additional funding.

Comparetto: fully resourced 21st century classroom, libraries with 3D printers and makerspaces.  Online classes to be done at home, evidence just isn’t there – might work for some kids, but most need structure of classroom.

O’Connell: Category 2 funds, we need to look at 10 year plan for internet connectivity.  Need more wireless, and highspeed, connections.

Biancheria: robotics program has expanded –millions of $$ will be available from feds for STEM.


Q19: recent report highlighted chronic absenteeism.  17% of students absent for at least 10% of school year.

Comparetto: key is wraparound services.  Poverty is a major issue.  If they are not coming to school, something is going on at home.  There could be real issues that are best dealt with by social workers or wraparound services.

Biancheria: report specific for each student, will be calling parents, if you are not in classroom, we need to know why.  New super and SC have discussed numerous times.  We are taking a holistic view, we need funding.

Foley: starts with connections to families and students, need to be in school and they are welcome/supported in school.  Engaged principals know what is happening with students & home, have to take hard look at what is impacting families and why students are not coming to schools.

Monfredo: students will be identifies, progress report will go home to parents, program to encourage/inform parents.  Can’t just have program about why they should be in school, must be more comprehensive.


Q20: innovation school.   Worcester has implemented in a handful of schools.  Should this be replicated throughout the system?

Foley: look at success of level 4 and innovation schools.  Principals have toughest job in district – held accountable, but can’t always choose who works with them.  Principals can create team within these schools, really taking team approach with teachers to decide on new team members.  Ownership of success of all kids in the school.

Comparetto: we have pretty good examples of great schools in the district.  WAMS incorporates all subjects, engage parents, these are all best practices urban school districts use to improve student outcomes.

O’Connell: principals can reach out to parents, apply resources well, have extended day.  Prof dev focused on specific teachers, collegial approach.  All of those work in collaborative approach.

Colorio: served on turnaround school at Burncoat, people collectively made a commitment to make it the best school.  Look at best practices, key is commitment level of all partners.

Foley: have created team in innovation schools that have allowed them to attract new teachers who want to work at the school.


Q21: Worcester community has public/private collaboration for strategic plan.

O’Connell: look at what school system should look like in 5 years, 10 years.  What programs/resources needed, empower people to b einvolved in WPS.  Steady and ordered approach to progress.

Foley: has to do his homework tonight for tomorrow’s meeting on strategic plan.  We are underfunded from state, crippling ability to compete with suburban districts around us.

Colorio: active member of Worcester Strategic Advisory?? Committee, likes strategic planning.  Some of challenges are establishing priorities.  Would like to see growth in all groups, give students a reason to go to school, everyone works together, make it best urban district in the nation.

McCullough: thoughtful process for all stakeholders … [Sorry kids, I’m losing it on the last question]

Transportation should be provided, diverse membership


(I’ll skip the one-minute closing statement – as nothing can get me to write any more after 1.75 hours of typing.)