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.
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
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!!]