Mayoral Candidate Forum – Oct 3

Friendly reminder that there are still lots of candidate forums left this election season – I think I’ve posted them all here but please let me know if I missed any!

And now on with the show…these are the notes I took from the Research Bureau/Chamber of Commerce/T&G mayoral candidate forum.

The video is here; I welcome any corrections to my notes based on watching/listening to the video.

(not typing the introductory remarks from the hosts as I’m getting here a little late)

Maybe 50-60 people here in attendance?

Panelists

Carolyn Stempler, chair of GWCF, owns a business (Carolyn & June Designs)

David Nordman, Executive Editor of T&G

Stephanie Ramey, Executive Director of Discover Central Mass

Begin with two-minute opening statement

Colorio: taking abilities and skills from serving on school committee to run; small business owner with family, educator at QCC, raised three children in the city.  Great place to live and work.  Understands challenges of running a small business.  Three priorities: lowest residential tax rate; will support Binienda; safety in our city.  Wants to represent hardworking families and citizens.  Will not let you down, will be your voice.

Sarkodieh: has the longest name on the ballot so you can’t miss him.  Careful analysis of facts: things are not as they seem.  Tale of two cities.  Not everyone is on the “rising boat.”  Need for public safety and city services.  Issues with some ethnic groups. He is currently a substitute teacher in WPS.  Worcester gave him hope and he wants to give that back to the city.  Education is the biggest issue.  So much potential in city, but not because of the current government.

Coleman: He’s been at this for a long time.  First ran in 1979.  A few years before that, he worked in DC for Ed Brooke.  He has been consistent over the years, has been community activist, retired educator, grantwriter, currently project developer.  Would like to see more development, wants new police station (which was antiquated even at the time it was built).

Petty: city is changing, people are moving in, businesses growing.  New rates of homeownership.  We are becoming a real city.  New biomed manufacturing, Red Sox, let’s continue to work to make Worcester better for all.  Have invested $60mil in parks over the last five years, new Nelson Place, new South High, new Doherty in the works, maybe even a new Burncoat.

Questions: each candidate 1 minute time limit, with everyone else having 30 secs, with 30 sec rebuttal.

Q1: Separation: issues that involve both City Council and School Committee.  How would you enhance communication/coordination?

Colorio: SC had worked with CC on a joint committee.  Would like to expand that a little more and meet together more often.  A lot of issues between city and schools that they can work together on.  Consolidation of areas where there is overlap (I think she means like HR and facilities, but don’t want to put words in her mouth)

Petty: SC and CC work well together.  Flu vaccination. 

Sarkodieh: transparency within both systems.  Major part of mayor – oversee activities of SC. 

Coleman: you learn a lot from being in classroom, from interacting with parents.  Would make sure that we met more often.

Colorio: add a few thoughts: because city does a lot for schools, and funding is there, needs to be a clear and concise communication between them. 

Q2: Neighborhoods vs Downtown.  Prioritization of projects.  How would you balance?

Sarkodieh: Polar Park is a good deal for the city of Worcester.  Would balance this with something for residents of Worcester.  Worries about gentrification – people are being pushed out by the city that they helped to build.  Price of rent is going up too high.  Will make sure all are heard.

Colorio: you have to have a balance – vibrant downtown and vibrant neighborhoods.  Hears continually that residential taxes are going to go up and can’t afford any more taxes.  We can’t tax people out of the city.  We are not a wealthy city – median household income of $45,000

Coleman: during 1980s, whenever something happened downtown, something was supposed to happen in the neighborhoods.  Need to do more that we have transpo system that responds to needs of city

Petty: we have invested in both.  Sidewalks and safety in Union Hill and Green Island.  Parks, playgrounds, schools.  SWIP.

Sarkodieh: he has heard from his constituents about traffic issues and panhandlers.

Q3: Sex Education.  What if anything would you differently to advocate for right sex ed curriculum?

Coleman: if you talk to young child that has cancer, very clear on diagnosis.  We need an age-appropriate total health ed program that includes general sex ed.

[The lights have completely extinguished…much laughter.  All we need is mood music, says Stempler]

Coleman, continued: sex, sex lifestyles, awareness, health – matter-of-fact type program.  Do not hold anything back, but needs to be age-appropriate.

Sarkodieh: as a concerned parent, age-appropriate sex ed.  Parents should have say one way or the other.  Need to be sensitive to different cultures. 

Petty: We will have a sex ed curriculum by next fall.  Will be progressive and age appropriate, need to see what state guidelines are in December.  Makes people uncomfortable, but need to protect kids.

Colorio: missing point.  Teachers and parents know what’s best for kids.  Hears we are going to have sex ed, but need to involve parents.  Parents were objecting – parents participation and teacher input prior to decision being made.

Coleman: parents should be involved, but we have 172 parents under age 18 in the city.  Need to give them a preview.

Q4: Blue Space.  Closures at Indian Lake, cleanup at Coes Pond.  How to maximize natural resources?

[Note from Nicole: since Coes is man-made, is it really a natural resource?]

Petty: we hired a person about blue space procedures.  We have beautiful lakes.  We need to dredge them, but it’s millions of dollars, have started the process and will continue the process.

Coleman: he has run many neighborhood cleanups.  Comprehensive swim education [I think this is what he’s saying]

Colorio: has visited a lot of homes and some are located on lakes.  You don’t think of Worcester as having waterfront property.  Lot of rec going on in these areas.  Have police patrol the lakes to make them a safe environment.

Sarkodieh: concerned about price tax.  Encourage youth and other groups to clean up.

Petty: mentions Blackstone and proactive administration

[I am extremely disappointed that no one has explicitly talked about the need for greater swim education.]

Q5: Strategic Plan for Schools. 

Sarkodieh: advocate for more parental involvement.  More funding for schools.  A lot of programs are seriously underfunded.  His kids are at a charter school.  They need funding for a whole lot of stuff. 

Petty: Couple of things to prioritize: address suspension issues and ed issues from Latino community; invest in technology.

Coleman: continue with three words: Fund Our Future.  We were able to secure $270mil more statewide, CoW got $22mil.  Continue to fight for appropriate funds.

Colorio: Original member of strategic committee.  Worked hard to include all groups and all ideas.  Goal would be to look at plan, see what we have accomplished so far and what we need to accomplish.

Sarkodieh: committee to make sure that we have more parental involvement.  One of predictors of child’s success is parental involvement. 

Q6: many Worcester residents commute to Boston.  Commuter rail.  How would you continue to enhance efforts?

Coleman: thanks Tim Murray for his efforts.  More trains, more times.  We need to look at comprehensive efforts to move people around the state.  People moving west and will be coming to Worcester. 

Colorio: process of increasing rails in Worcester.  Lt Gov Polito trying to make this smoother.  Getting back and having time at night is important.

Sarkodieh: Great to have inner-city transport improved.

Petty: Collab with the state very important.  North/South Connector, East/West Connector.

Coleman: need to look at transpo around the city and encourage businesses that are on the fence to leave Boston to come to Worcester.

Q7: Foundation Budget.  Underfunded by more than $90mil.  How would you use office of mayor to increase state funding?

Petty: has been coordinating with mayors of Brockton and New Bedford on this.  We haven’t been outrageous, but we got extra in this budget.  Today the Senate is looking at putting more in Ch 70 funding.  If this dies, we will file a complaint.

Sarkodieh: underfunding affects everything.  Bring strong argument as to why we need those funds.  This affects my kids, lead a school rally to downtown Boston.  Make the state notice us.

Colorio: no one understood what the funding formula was.  Only in past few years that school committee members became aware [UM TRACY O’CONNELL NOVICK ANYONE?!?]

Coleman: Fund Our Future campaign.  Mayor did an excellent job to lobby on behalf of cities and towns.  Senate was talking about Promise Act.  Our constitution promises us the right to a public education.

Petty: charter school reimbursement not a proper rate.  He is talking about a bunch of things but man this guy mumbles and I am getting too old to understand half of what he says.

Q8: Is Worcester a safe city?  How would you improve safety?

Colorio: supports our police, they understand problems and how to fix.  Drugs on the street is a whole other subject.  Prevent drugs from coming into the city.  Root of problem is in some of our addiction issues.

Coleman: We do have a safe city.  We need to move ahead on building a new police station.  Support neighborhood groups, have more community policing.

Petty: we are a safe city.  Result of hard work, we have invested in police classes, neighborhood response team, youth violence prevention program, RecWorcester

Sarkodieh: we do have a safe city.  Wants a representative police force.  Trust between police and residents

Colorio: strengthen our community neighborhood groups.  Needs to be more engagement.

Q9: Children.  Success set early, many Worcester youth entering school without preschool experience.  How to ensure children and families have their needs met?

Coleman: need preschool education.  We need to have an active mayor with a better salary that can go to public hearings all over the country, including Washington, to advocate for this.  Preschool in the city of Worcester should be free and available to everyone.

Petty: mayor’s office is a [bully] pulpit.  The earlier the children, the better off they will be.

Sarkodieh: will advocate for free preschool because it is very important.  Some of his kids went to Head Start and it was awesome.

Colorio: her daughter went to preschool in the city.  She didn’t understand how to get her daughter there.  Not a lot of communication about what preschools are available.

[This was a really weird response.  No one has talked about the need for full-day preschool or for supports for children after it – preschool is NOT an indicator of future success without reinforcement in elementary school…]

Q10: Worcester airport.  [I don’t write the question because who the heck responds to the actual questions at these forums]

Petty: good communication with Massport.  [This is seriously so boring I can’t even]  As mayor you need to encourage people to go to the airport and remind people that Worcester has an airport.

Colorio: communicate/publicize more. 

Coleman: national press that hasn’t been really complimentary because of all the cancellations.

Sarkodieh: we have to sell ourselves.  Not a lot of direct flights.  We need to work on that.

Petty: will advocate for increased investment.

[Amazes me how much people will advocate for fiscal austerity or the lowest tax rate but somehow think we have a budget to advertise for Massport’s property – but I’m getting cynical in my old age]

Q11: Worcester’s diversity.  How would you foster, esp school and workforce?

Colorio: City has done a great job in this.  When she first started to teach at QCC, our staff was not that diverse.  Now more diverse.  We try to achieve by showing that we are open to diversity.

Sarkodieh: It should start in city hall.  Right now, recommend that voters vote for [a more diverse candidate group]

Petty: has done a lot on the city side in the past 4 years, chief diversity officer.  We have a long way to go.  New construction requirement for women and communities of color.

Coleman reminds us that he started running for office when Nicole was an infant.  People used to complain about him going door-to-door.  Has bushwacked for other candidates.  You can’t change people’s hearts

Colorio: all have good suggestions – everyone here really wants to work towards that.

Q12: WRTA.  How important in your vision?  How would you increase ridership and service?

Sarkodieh: we need to increase bus lines for students and our entire population.  His kids have never been on the bus before.  Everyone needs to be involved.  It’s not just for ‘poor people’

Coleman: WRTA – that’s a piece of work for you.  Bring buses back to City Hall.  Don’t put pressure on drivers to get back to the Hub.  After 4pm let the buses be free, then on weekends, and then review Research Bureau’s suggestions for free bus transpo.

Colorio: People are using Uber and Lyft.  Maybe smaller buses or different routes, esp incorporating technology

Petty: pilot program to get people to use Uber and Lyft (goodness knows what he’s talking about)

[Every time someone mentions that Uber can be used instead of the WRTA – which is not necessarily what Colorio or Petty are saying – that tells me that people are not aware of issues with accessibility and these ‘rideshare’ companies)

Q13: Impacts of building new school.  How to manage siting of new schools?

Petty: This is the process we’re going to right now.  Doherty is a tough one, limited in property that’s right there.  What is neighborhood and traffic impact.  Look at other sites and consider process.  $300 million school, will be state of the art.  It will be one of the best schools in the country when it’s done.

Colorio: the feasibility studies were a good idea.  Everyone has an opinion.  Believes that neighborhood, parents, should be involved. 

Coleman: we need to think out of the box.  Building two buildings, one for juniors/seniors, one for freshmen/sophomores. 

Sarkodieh: put it in an economically depressed area.

Petty: This has been an open process.  We’re going to site it appropriately.  Number one project going on in the city of Worcester.

Q14: Student discipline.  How would you score WPS and decrease suspensions?

Colorio: superintendent is wonderful and has done great work.  When there is a cultural component here [not sure if this a dog whistle for ‘racism that we don’t want to acknowledge’] get complicated.

Sarkodieh: as a POC, hears a lot of complaints.  Would give SC a “C” on this.  We have to understand the culture that we deal with.

Petty: have made great strides this year.  Look at kids and get them to have in-school suspensions.

Coleman: expression: nothing is new under the sun.  We are catching up with suspension issue now, but nothing new.  Open convo with parents, bring parents into classroom to see how kids act.

Colorio: when people move to Worcester, they want to know ‘how are the schools?’ and then ‘how safe are the schools?’

Q15: Negative perceptions.  How would you market the city?

Sarkodieh: Worcester getting increasingly diverse.  We need to do a lot of work with hiring and to make sure that city hall gets diverse.

Coleman: Agrees with Colorio – schools sell property and houses.  Quality of education.  He does not have a negative thing to say about Worcester.  Needs to find potential and start marketing.

Petty: disagrees – perception has changed within the city.  With the ballpark, many people are coming.  Psychological boom. 

[Sorry, this is boring and I am no longer typing anything]

Q16: how to ensure stable housing supply?

Coleman: foreclosure rate is high and challenging, needs to be reduced.  Back tax resolution.  If you lose your home, and have back taxes, you have nothing.  Mentions microhouses.

Petty: have invested $17mil in workforce housing.  Most of projects have affordable housing component.  City has plan for funding for people rehabbing housing.

Sarkodieh: not just ‘affordable housing’ but HOUSING THAT IS AFFORDABLE.  Rents are rising, but median household income remains the same.

[I missed some of this due to a PC malfunction)

Q17: busing in schools

Colorio: supports an outside audit of the school bus situation.  No parent should be out waiting an hour in the cold for a bus, issues with buses getting up icy hills.

Petty: Busing service has been atrocious, but he supports the vote he took because there was no one else.

Coleman: icy roads are a decision about whether to open schools or not.  What about WRTA?

Sarkodieh: need a serious conversation about this.

Colorio: voucher system where students could take the “regular buses” to school.

Q18: Tax Classification and dual tax rate.  Are you in favor of current system or single rate?

Sarkodieh: in favor of dual system. 

Colorio: not in favor of closing the gap.  We are in a gateway city.  We have a lot of nonprofits, we have to supply a lot of services to nonprofits. 

[Sorry, the answers here have been bad.  The other candidates should thank me for not recording their answers]

Q19: process and metrics for evaluating the current city manager.  How would you rate Augustus?

Coleman falls over himself fawning over Ed Augustus.  He does a great job.  Would continue same way of evaluating CM.  Would increase his team and increase the mayor’s team.

Sarkodieh: CM has done a tremendous job.  Would wish the next CM should be thoroughly evaluated.  He has some big shoes to fill.

Colorio: evaluation in place, if he accomplishes goals then he can be assessed appropriately.

Petty: continues with the Stepford-like worship of Ed Augustus.  Don’t make me type any more.

Coleman: after Ed A decides to retire, when he hire HER we will have a new evaluation system based on her needs.

Q20: regarding the superintendent.  Mayor leads SC as well as CC.  Do you have confidence and would you vote to renew her contract?

Petty: she’s got school system running pretty well.  He did vote to renew her contract.  She’s put “tremendous” programs into place.  Everyone’s not perfect.  “She has a good heart and she’s a good person” – that’s an exact quote

Coleman: knowing her as an educator, administrator, principal, and now super – “She does a great job” – lack of clear communication between her and the students.  Firmly supports her.  He would support her for another two years.

Colorio: she was on the SC that interviewed and hired her.  She believes she has knowledge and leadership skills.  “I am a big fan.”

Sarkodieh: supports her as well.  But should not discount people who complain.  She needs to explain her policies to concerned parents. 

Petty: Communication seems to be an issue.  He loves that Maureen is strongly opinionated.  Needs someone to communicate all the good things that are happening and still address concerns of community of color.

(That’s the last question)

Closing statements; I’ll type sparingly:

Interestingly, Colorio says she will follow the law.  That’s reassuring.

Sarkodieh wants us to focus more on education.  He wants to be the first mayor with an accent.

Coleman wants people to get out the vote.  You should take an absentee ballot if you live across the street from a polling place but your actual polling place is 4-5 blocks away.  You should just vote for him.

Petty wants you to embrace change and not stifle it.

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