[Non-Table Talk] Pie in the Sky

Tonight, the City Council will likely approve a deal to bring the Pawtucket Red Sox to Worcester, likely unanimously (or close enough, if Councilor Wally abstains).

I don’t think there’s much anyone can do to sway any city councilor from voting yes on this, or even in making the plan any better than what was presented, but I thought I’d share an outline of what we’re getting into, mostly so that some of us can say “I told you so” twenty years from now.
If you feel strongly about this, reach out to your city councilors. This blog post assumes that you’ve basically read everything there is to read about the WooSox and that you agree with me.
The Myth of the Spoiler in Worcester Politics
First, I’d like to talk about the myth of the spoiler.
There’s a sense, shared by many #WorcPoli types, that anyone who reads the full details of a proposed deal and then has any questions, or who (gasp!) speaks against it in public, or is the sole vote against such a deal, is somehow going to Ruin This For Us All.
This explains at least 90% of the hostility towards Konnie Lukes and the dreaded 10-1 vote…a vote that even she will avoid tonight.
Consensus is a worthy goal, but true consensus can only come about through conversations, questions, answers, and (especially) honesty.
It seems that in the case of the proposed stadium (and the surrounding projects that will fund it), honesty in particular has been in short supply.
The Myth of the Silver Bullet
I’m not sure if the legend of the werewolf began in Worcester, but we certainly hold on to any silver bullet we can find…until the next one comes along.
Longtime residents may recall rosy promises about how Med City would spin off other economic development downtown, or how the Hanover Theater would create a renaissance on its side of Main Street.  Even longer-time residents may recall that the Centrum’s economic spinoff would have sustained more than one restaurant and a few parking lots downtown.
All of these claims were wildly over predicted, and have all been underwritten by the taxpayer, but who’s to let a little thing like a track record get in the way of our DREAMS?
This is why the Telegram can publish an article like “Developers come knocking now that Worcester plans ballpark, business group says” — even after MassLive reports that hotel/residential developer Denis Dowdle would have developed on the site regardless of whether the stadium were built.
Well, which is it?  Certainly Tim Murray getting a phone call must be more indicative of Worcester’s development potential than, you know, someone who started buying a property and who was actively seeking to develop it, right?
Two “Hearings” do not community engagement make
I tried very hard to attend both Economic Development committee hearings.  I was overheated in the first one, at the Crompton Place White Room, and sitting next to an overly loud compressor that made it difficult to hear the speakers.  Frankly, I was expecting a more substantial presentation by the city and its partners than was offered.
I showed up at the second meeting at City Hall at 5:40pm; at that point it was standing room only and anyone outside the room couldn’t hear the proceedings.  So I left shortly after arriving.
City government and business leaders have touted Worcester as a great bedroom community for Boston (though it’s couched in terms of giving Worcester residents access to Boston jobs via commuter rail).  Scheduling important meetings for 5:30 means that anyone with a 9-to-5 job (in Boston or even closer) can have a tough time attending a public meeting.  This city continues to do a poor job of engagement, and this process was probably worse than most.
Worcester loves secrets, so of course there will be no disclosure of the detailed figures that lead to the proforma; the best detail one can get is through a nine-page letter from the city auditor, much of which is a rehash of the larger report.
Neither public meeting went into any great depth about how this will impact taxpayers (except to say that it won’t!) or what the actual costs will be.  Citizens can’t even rely on the Telegram for that, because we just get “take our word for it” statements from the city manager.
So we need to rely on the Boston Globe to tell us that the city is guaranteeing $3.1 million a year in sponsorships for the first five years the team is in Worcester, and that an unspecified (love the secrets!) third party will pick up the slack if they can’t get the sponsorships.  At least some of the sponsorships could come from various non-profit foundations.
In Which Nicole Gets Serious For A Moment
This past summer, two young people from Worcester died in drowning incidents.
We can’t afford to fund free swimming classes for our youth, swimming classes which are desperately needed, but somehow we can ask corporations and non-profit foundations to give the WooSox $3.1 million every year — and (as taxpayers) be on the hook if those pledges don’t come through?
We have a great summer recreation program, Recreation Worcester, that doesn’t provide transportation and which closes when it rains.  [PS — yes, I know that the WooSox have pledged $50,000 over the next two years to Recreation Worcester.  That equals just 6% of the RecWorcester budget.]
Ask yourself, honestly, are we funding every community project to the fullest that the only thing left to fundraise is billionaire subsidies?
Back to Admiral Ackbar shouting “It’s a Trap”
We all know it’s a trap.
The stadium will be built in two years (and Kelley Square will be “fixed”) in the same city that is on its third year of repaving a one-mile stretch of June Street.
The tax revenues we would have gotten from the hotels/residential (that, as you may recall, were going to be built regardless of this deal) will instead be rolled into paying off the stadium bond.  I wonder what else we could have been doing with $1.38 million…but we’ll never know!
There’s a long, infinitely quotable Deadspin piece that you should read.  One of the best quotes is from Andrew Zimbalist, an economist hired by the city to evaluate (and, according to him, at least partially negotiate) this plan: “[Augustus and Traynor] wanted only to do this if the city was not going to have to increase taxes on anybody in order to finance the team moving.”
Thus, the shell game is born.  Tax revenue that was all-but-guaranteed will now be used to finance a project that is not self-sustainable.  The DIF will last thirty years, which is an awful lot of taxes being funneled to subsidize Lucchino, et al.
Diversion: Parking
(Because you know we needed to touch on my favorite topic)
The city will own the proposed 500-space parking garage, which will be leased to Madison Development Holdings; in the first year it’s projected that we get $559,810 in real estate taxes and $250,000 for the lease, and also that the city would get another $595,650 in revenue in other lots due to events at the stadium.  (This can be found on page 5 of the City Auditor’s letter.)
I haven’t been able to find more recent figures than those from the 2013 Parking Study and a 2016 Research Bureau report.  (I welcome anyone pointing me in the direction of more recent figures, but in the meantime I’ll stick with the 2016 WRRB report.)
In FY2015, all city-owned off-street lots brought in $310,820 in income (though expenses put them in the red) and Federal Plaza and Union Station, both similar-sized garages to the one proposed, brought in an average income of $469,000, again in the red due to expenses.
(Let’s assume, for the moment, that we will get $809,000ish from MDH in the first year for the new garage, and just focus on the part of this that is dependent on existent city-owned parking lots.)
The only way we could get $595,650 in parking revenue in the first year is if:  the city charges $5/car during events for WooSox games, all 980 city-owned parking lot spots (including the Highland Street Lot, the McGrath Lot, Amtrak/MBTA Lot, and the Expressway Area C lot on Grafton Street) would be used exclusively for 125 PawSox events, and we get volunteers to collect the cash required.  (We could, of course, charge more for parking, but we know how Worcesterites feel about that.)
According to the Auditor, and the proforma for this deal, in the first year, and presumably to year 15, parking from city-owned lots (excluding the garage) will account for 16% of the revenue to pay down the bond.
My suspicion is that, as with so many other economic development activities, city-owned parking will appear to be in the red even further to subsidize a business.
I’m not sure how the rest of the figures on the projected revenue work out, but I would question everything based on the parking projections alone.
It’s a Trap, Continued
Heck, even I’m falling into the trap.
The PawSox have said that their attendance is in the 6,000 range, and all estimates assume that they will have much higher attendance in Worcester.  Of course, their attendance has dropped in years past, and GoLocalProv has questioned their attendance figures.  While I’m skeptical of anything reported by GoLocal, I’d like to see the team’s plans for how they will improve attendance besides “everyone likes a shiny new stadium” and “Worcester is better than Pawtucket.”
The PawSox also have 70 scheduled home games a year, and have promised Worcester a total of 125 events, which means there need to be 55 non-baseball events in the stadium every year.  How much of the estimates are based on a similar attendance level to the Sox games?
McCoy Stadium currently hosts events like wrestling and food truck festivals.  At the White Room hearing, Dr. Charles Steinberg mentioned other events similar to ones currently hosted in Worcester.  How much competition would there be with the DCU Center, Ecotarium, and other venues for events planned at the proposed stadium?
What about Labor?
Goodness knows I’m not a progressive, but most of my friends are.
And the Worcester Community-Labor Coalition has been working in overdrive to ensure that good-paying jobs go to Worcester residents.
At the City Council meeting where this plan was first presented, Councilor Lukes asked the City Manager if there was any further negotiation possible, and the City Manager indicated that it should be an up/down vote and that there was not a lot of wiggle room.
Considering the city’s investment in this project, it seems ludicrous to me that local hiring and fair labor practices weren’t included in the details of the plan.  I hope WCLC can work with the City Manager’s office on that, but it seems we have a long way to go in advocating for where our money gets spent.
But We Want It!
Well, I don’t, but I’m sure a lot of folks do.
But the real reason for this project comes from Professor Victor Matheson of Holy Cross: “I think Worcester just really, really, really, really, really wanted a baseball team.  I think the city council and the mayor and the city manager had a gigantic inferiority complex, and they wanted to create an identity for the city, and didn’t care what it cost them.”
The fact of the matter is that certain people in this city want something for nothing.  Unfortunately, our negotiating partners also want something for nothing, and they found a city administration willing to give it to them.
Rather than patting ourselves on the back for a good deal, we should ask ourselves who it is good for, and why we are offering so much more than any other community was willing to.
Sadly, none of your elected officials will ask any of these questions tonight.  They will not wonder why nonprofits will be asked to subsidize a stadium rather than help the disadvantaged of our city.  They will not see that the PawSox need Worcester (and its money) a lot more than Worcester needs the PawSox.
But please come out tonight to City Hall and make them think a little.
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D17 State Rep Debate Notes

I attended the Unity Radio / Worcester Mag District 17 State Rep debate tonight.

Bill Shaner was there; I see some notes already on Twitter and will update this with more of his coverage as I see it.

Update: WoMag article here.  Coverage of all primaries here.

As always, my notes are a bit loose but I tried to capture the spirit as much as possible.

While the house was packed at OLA, if you’re reading this you probably didn’t attend, so you can catch it on Unity Radio tomorrow night (8/29) at 6pm, Friday (8/31) at 6pm, and Saturday (9/1) at noon.

And — if you can — please vote in the primary next Tuesday, September 4!

Notes:

Gary Rosen introduces the candidates: Loosemore, LeBoeuf, and Gemme are all running in the Democratic Party primary, Fullen as a Republican.

Hank Stolz discusses the format: every candidate will say something absolutely brilliant tonight.  Hold applause.  Two minute opening statement, one candidate will get a question with two minutes to respond, then each other candidate will get a one minute response, first candidate will get one minute rebuttal.  Last half hour Lincoln-Douglas style debate with candidates asking each other questions.

Paul Fullen (Republican candidate): has always lived a life of service, time in US Navy, has served in WFD for 21 years. Thinks opponents take the label “state representative” literally – representing the state over the people (I think, sorry, kind of missed that).  Families are foundation of society, and that they come first, he will fight for families.  Mentions his wife and seven children.

Pam Gemme: lived challenges and obstacles that many have faced.  Dropped out of high school as a single parent, experienced poverty and homelessness.  She put herself through college, went to school and worked, both full time.  Had supportive parents.  Has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree, has been social worker for 28 years, has always served.  Knows that access to good jobs, transpo, affordable housing, are important.  Will focus on issues important to us, will focus on name-calling and blame game for others.

David LeBoeuf: shout-out to his mother, whose birthday is today.  He attended WPS, attended Clark and then Harvard.  Discusses his involvement in the community (ACE) – he began running last year because he saw a need.  Identified issues important to the district, universal pre-K, fighting for small business, econ dev = community dev.  Knows community, knows you, the people who live here.  (This was quite good and unfortunately I couldn’t type it all.)

Stu Loosemore: to fight and work hard for constituents in this district.  Worked at statehouse for 10 years, has worked for 6 years with small businesses. This is our home, wants to work for the people in this district.  Focus on conservation, public safety officials need tools to keep us safe and to keep them safe.

[Sorry, sometimes the ladies next to me speak so loudly I can’t concentrate on the candidates at all times.  Hey, that’s my job!!]

First question to Loosemore, from Walter Bird:

Q: Opioid crisis.  1 – safe injection sites: Y/N

Loosemore: the opioid crisis has touched everyone in some way in this room.  Would want to focus on getting people into programs to get recovery assistance, to help overcome addiction.  Does not need to focus on prolonging the problem.  [Bird pushes for an answer]  The city has done a good job with needle exchange, but probably wouldn’t support needle injection sites.  We should be working to get help/counseling they need.

LeBoeuf: We don’t have enough information to see if this is an effective model.  Gloucester model: no arrest, treatment on demand, Narcan can be in the same box as AED device.  Supports city opioid lawsuit.  Talks about the ability for treatment centers to pull back funding up to 2 years out.  (Again, excellent answers – I couldn’t get to this all)

Gemme: has seen parents pass away from heroin overdoses.  Chief Hurley from Leicester talking about the town’s issues – kits for parents to test their children.  Injection sites would have to be tied to treatment.

Fullen: There is no such thing as a safe injection site unless it’s in an emergency room.  6/7 hits of Narcan to deal with some stuff that is loaded with fentanyl.  We have methadone clinics, we take people off opioids by putting them on opioids.  Talks about lawsuit and says it’s just for votes and to maintain bureaucracy.

[Well, I guess there’s no one-minute rebuttal…]

Q2 from Economou: education funding, lawsuits to try to recover $$ from the state.  How do you go about changing or funding the new foundation budget for education?

LeBoeuf: funding as it exists now is child abuse.  Formula was created in 1993, didn’t take into account special ed or health insurance costs.  Disservice for communities that are working-class like Worcester and Leicester.  Three things: nuts and bolts to determine the roots of inequality (low income, ELL, etc.); morals in regards to budget (moral conscience; why give breaks to tech companies and not fund Pre-K); fair share amendment or millionaires’ tax should be revisited – revenue should include more than property tax and tax overrides.

Gemme: in agreement about fair share amendment.  Has seen education be the most wonderful thing for kids we serve, but also where kids are not having educational needs met.  Fund education from PreK to college.

Fullen: we’re talking about raising taxes “with the fair share thing here”.  Sooner or later we run out of other people’s money.  The state brings in $100 million every day. South High should have been a trade school and serve the kids of Leicester who don’t have a trade school.  Stops sending kids to colleges that are overpriced.  Universal PreK is not effective.  Best thing is to keep your kids at home – they get most of their care from their mother and father.

Loosemore: One size fits all formula does not work well.  We should not turn back to property taxes, funding model should be improved.

LeBoeuf: Studies show that Universal PreK works well for most children.  Families in this district spend more on child care than they do on their mortgage or rent.

Q3 from Bird: are you in favor of comprehensive sex ed programs in public schools?  What should be included or not included?  How to get through the state house?

Gemme: if we’re going to have comprehensive sex ed, it should have wellness and health component.  It might be that it’s getting bogged down because there’s not enough details included.  Most people in American ed have had [sex ed] at one point.  Our kids are experimenting and asking friends.  They learn from their peer groups. They might not get the right answers that way.  More input from parents, teachers, law enforcement, social workers, other stakeholders.

Fullen: not sure what you mean by “comprehensive sex education, would have to see the curriculum for it.”  Schools should teach “reading writing and rithmetic, that would be helpful.”  [Fullen is quotable if nothing else]  We had health and safety class when he went to South High School.  [Bird notes that rates for STDs are through the roof]  Fullen doesn’t see it.

Loosemore: sex ed needs to have an opt out who don’t wish for the school to teach their children.  That’s their right.  But there should be the curriculum offered, should be statewide.

LeBoeuf: graduated from South High in 2008 and didn’t have comprehensive sex ed, questions in a box and luckily had a nurse that was clarifying that.  Studies are there, it makes sense.  Increase in STDs and teen pregnancy in states that do not have comprehensive sex ed.

Gemme: has seen young girls and boys, 10 and 11, trafficked in the streets of Worcester.  Given drugs and alcohol, started with addictions, to work on behalf of their pimps.  We need kids to understand what grooming is.

Q4, from Economou: WRTA has argued that state has level-funded for the last four years.  How would you increase funding from state to WRTA?  Other ways for WRTA to survive?

Fullen: the answer is to keep pouring money into it.  Low ridership, low fares, can’t sustain itself.  Uber/Lyft are being used.  Doesn’t think it’s a sustainable option.  [Economou presses for an answer]  He would let it “run its course”

Loosemore: funding for public transportation same as public education: it’s broken.  People use public transpo – not everyone has the luxury of owning an automobile or multiple autos.  No public transportation can turn people into shut-ins.  Would support moving it into trust funds.

LeBoeuf: three of the proposed cuts were through this district.  No one at the state house was fighting for us.  Met someone who lives on Green Street in Leicester, she has MS, can’t afford Uber and Lyft, and now there is no paratransit for her.  If we can fund the MBTA, we can fund the WRTA.  Companies coming here can contribute to public transportation funding.  We deserve equal access to public transpo.

Gemme: When you visit other countries and states, they have more modern public transportation systems.  Would never have made it through college without the WRTA.  Need to modernize WRTA.

Fullen: we have some of the richest poor people in the world.  So they should be able to take an Uber.  They can afford phones, air conditioning.  [Note: you could CUT THE AIR with the disgust in this room whenever Fullen talks]

Q5, from Bird: do you believe that schools are prepared with violence we have seen [such as in Florida]?

LeBoeuf: hasn’t seen the building plan for South High.  (speaks a bit about design of North High contributing to some issues) Environment in the school system – guidance counselors, social workers, resource officers can be in schools so that students can share any threats they hear.  School safety something we are scared about.  Fortunately we haven’t had that in Worcester because we have a strong school system and community.

Gemme: not for any firearms for teachers.  Kids should not have to be afraid about going to school.  Schools are wiser about violence prep, but we should have ongoing discussion with administrators.  Mental illness should be treated better.

Fullen: schools are unsafe from massacres because schools are gun-free zones so only criminals are there with guns.  Israel has no school shootings because they have armed guards.

Loosemore: kids need to know where they can talk to adult about problems/issues they’re having.  Stop talking AT kids, begin listening to the kids.  How do we help kids overcome the issue.

 

Q6, from Economou: what is first issue you’d like to tackle and why?

Fullen: opioid crisis is biggest one facing our families.  Program that is 22% of budget doesn’t work, [sorry, not sure what program he prefers to] which replaced program that did work.

Loosemore: education funding.

LeBoeuf: education as well, endorsed by Mass Teachers Association.  Would rather invest in PreK than in AK47s in schools.

Gemme: pro-universal PreK through college funding.  All kids deserve appropriate education funding.

 

Now we’re moving into a different round.  Hank asked about the number 1 thing they’ve heard with doorknocking.

LeBoeuf: number 1 district people have talked about…healthcare, esp for seniors and working families.  Proposal in state senate would raise eligibility gap, endorsed by Mass Nurses Association.

Loosemore: number 1 thing he’s heard when doorknocking is thank you.  Folks are happy to talk about what’s important to them and to have someone listen.  When one of us goes to Boston, we’re there to fight for the issues for people in this district.

Fullen: millions of dollars in Mass Health fraud

Loosemore says he does not feel guns in schools are the answer.

Gemme says folks are tired of the politics, want real truth in gov’t, want someone to stand up for them.  Healthcare – seniors should not have to leave their homes because they can’t afford taxes.  She wants to die in her home.  Wants to work on that.  Education – people are tired of being told that they’re losing teacher or assistant principal.

LeBoeuf: our district is a working class district, offended by “richest poor people” comment.  Prescription health care costs go up radically when someone retires.  People should not be squeezed. Why are you in this race if you don’t care about seniors losing their homes?

Gemme: it takes $22/hour to afford rent in Worcester.  Will fight like hell in state house because she’s been doing it all her life.  Will make relationships, knows how to get the job done.

Fullen: likes what Pam said about working across the aisle.  That’s how things get done.  So much animosity, people look for something to complain about instead of moving on.   Rein in abuse of MassHealth.

Gemme: has managed a $20 million budget.  The reason she is good at it is because she is creative.

LeBoeuf: budgets are moral documents.  Where do we want to put our investments in?  If you cut public health funding, people die.  If you cut a health insurance exec’s salary, no one dies.  If company gets a tax break, they need to meet promises.  Incremental TIFs. [whoo-hoo, now he’s speaking my language!]

Loosemore: grab state agencies that don’t need to be in Boston, stop paying rent in Boston and move them to Central Mass.

Bird, to Fullen: probably you have had the most offensive comments tonight, references LeBoeuf.

Fullen: I’m sure David is easily offended.  Seen people living in the streets, nowhere to live.  This country has so many programs to help people.  People in CVS want copay waived because they’re on Mass Health but they’re driving Escalades.  These people will eventually want universal everything.

[At this point, I am convinced that Bruce Willis is here “in the role of Paul Fullen” because this is so over the top I can’t even.]

Gemme: people should be treated humanely, esp if they can’t afford their copay

Fullen: they can afford their copay and they choose not to

LeBoeuf: Mass Health also protects disabled people.  I want to live in a society where we don’t let people die in streets, colleagues on the Democratic side share the idea.  Economic inequality is a major issue in this district.  We have a crisis in Cherry Valley because of people facing foreclosure because of water bills.  We can address this by respecting dignity of our neighbors and working together.

Loosemore: government’s role is to support.  [Good answer, just still in the afterglow of Fullen’s response]

Gemme: Fullen, you have been at Planned Parenthood holding signs.  What are your plans for women’s healthcare when you get to the state house?

Fullen (with 2 mins): I am pro-life, do not believe in abortion.  Public funding for Planned Parenthood, doesn’t agree with.  Country that kills its own citizens is without hope.  Baby is not a disease, it’s a human being.

Gemme: the law is that women have the right to that kind of healthcare.  Decision made between a woman and her doctor.  She is pro-life but still believes in a woman’s right to choose.  To have a man like you with a sign like that, you have right to free speech, but it’s bullying.

Fullen: not bullying, I’ve never held a sign, but I’ve prayed.  This destroys families.

LeBoeuf, to Fullen: would you commit to people’s pledge – pay donation to charity of opponent’s choosing if dark money org advertises on your behalf?

Fullen: each of you has way more money than me.  If org I don’t know about, probably wouldn’t, esp if your charity is Planned Parenthood [back and forth about in-kind contributions from Marlboro Republicans]

[Fullen is a touch amazing.   I do not mean that as a compliment]

 

Loosemore, to LeBoeuf: what’s your solution to the water problem in Leicester?

LeBoeuf: the water districts are independent, quasi-public agencies.  Recognize that this is not the fault of the ratepayers.  Bring people together and leverage state $$ and look for fed $$ – no business development without access to clean water.  Marijuana $$ coming into Leicester – maybe they can leverage some of that into helping with water district.

Loosemore: how can you turn it from unsustainable to sustainable?

LeBoeuf: wants to hear more voices of the people, needs to have community buy-in before taking any action.  If consolidation is what they want, would help with legislation.  Has heard a lot of different opinions.

Fullen, question for LeBoeuf: you like to tout support of H. Chandler.  She voted to give herself a 147% pay raise.  Explain to taxpayers how this is fair and justified.

LeBoeuf: this was regarding raising legislative pay.  He would not have voted for it.  What’s done is done.  Even some who have voted against it took that raise.  Harriette has brought dignity and respect to the Senate.   Proud to have been her campaign manager when she defeated Paul Franco, proud that Matt Wally defeated Paul Franco.  Proud that she passed NASTY WOMAN bill, dental bill.

Fullen: so you would have taken it?

LeBoeuf: glad you have a crystal ball to know what I would have done.  More praise for Chandler [zinger was better than that, you’ll just have to listen to the recording to get it.]

Closing statements – I will only type anything of note as my fingers are out of practice

Fullen wrote everyone (or maybe Gemme?) a poem “because you like poetry” –

Poems are fine and poems are fun,

But vote for Paul to get stuff done.

 

(I would put that in the “doggerel” category, but there you go!)

 

PS — As with so many of these events, I saw a lot of people I’ve known through all walks of life – at least one of whom I haven’t seen since high school.  I’m pretty much staying retired from public life, but it was lovely to see everyone!

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.