WRRB/Chamber City Council Debate Notes

WoMag Liveblog is here.

Sorry, got here a touch late

Moderators: Kevin O’Sullivan, Kola Akindele, Ellen Dunlap

Opening statement

Bergman: born in 1963 to penniless immigrants who came here in 1949.  Great city had great opportunities.  Worcester’s about real people.  Looks at opportunities he & his parents have, wants his children to have same opportunities.

Coleman = William S. Coleman III.  Came to Worcester in 1973 to become a priest at Holy Cross.  (You already know the story of his life — do I need to repeat it?)  Has run for office since 1979.

Gaffney: As Mike Tyson says, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”  [Personally, Nicole prefers “I’m a lover, not a fighter.”]  Ideals are important, have to be willing to suffer slings and arrows.  No room for cheerleaders standing on the sidelines.

Gomez: 30 years of service to country, state, community.  Came here in 1974 with his mother and siblings.  Left and came back in 1980.  By time he was 16, had moved 16 times.  He chose Worcester because Worcester chose him.  Effective elected official, proven executive experience.  Only candidate with a comprehensive economic plan — read it!

King: First generation American, family came here from Bermuda.  Siblings & he were taught to serve.  Participated in a program sponsored by Prospect House as a high school students.  Has two master’s degrees.  Need community voice to round out the Council.

Lukes: Like everyone else here, I’m applying for a job.  Served on City Council, School Committee, 3 years as mayor.  She, too, is the child of immigrants.  Next few years for city will be shaky, defined by new residents and technology.  Gov’t has to be able to adapt and get city ready.  Quotes from her statement on deciding to run.  “History will be kind to me…because I’m going to write it.”  – Winston Churchill  Hopes everyone here will have opportunity to write it.

Parham: has been in city for 18 years.  Not just coming from a feel-good perspective.  A lot of issues city is facing, but city is representation of what rest of the country looks like.  When she came here, she didn’t understand the system.  Got education, moved herself forward from homelessness.  We need to get representation of CC that looks like representation of the city.  (Crowd claps, murmurs of approval)

Petty: outlines great progress of the city.  None of this will be new if you have read any other liveblogs.

Sargent: Raised in city, WPS, SPM, Worcester State.  Represents a young, motivated generation.  (I hate to note this, but he was a bit stilted and probably should have prepped a bit more.)

Toomey: “I’m Kate Toomey and I’m one of you.”  Kids went to WPS.  (From the audience, Siri says, “Sorry, I’m not sure what you mean.”)  First woman chair of Public Works subcom, need to support neighborhood development.

Wally: eminently qualified, you know the routine.  Sorry, been to too many debates.

Zlody: “My name is Christina Zlody, but you can call me Tina.”  Would like to thank the Tims, and Mechanics Hall, for putting on this event.  We need to stop being like Sisyphus.  Push the ball up the top of the hill, push it over the other edge.  stART on the Street has given her experience with parks, DPW, etc.  Main thing she has come to understand is that Worcester needs to say Yes more, to small businesses, to entrepreneurship, to having college students stay here.

There are eleven different questions.  Each person will get one question, then four responders, rebuttal of 30 seconds to original person.

Q1: some argue that city admin focuses too much on downtown to detriment of neighborhoods.  Balance between downtown and neighborhoods.

King: Worcester is a city of neighborhood, that’s what we’re known for.  [A PART OF ME HAS JUST DIED.  AGAIN.]  Target tax incentives for neighborhoods, businesses that hire disadvantages employees.  Believes we can develop economy from inside out.

Bergman: Downtown important, doesn’t think there’s a magic formula.  Thinks home/business combo zoning was probably a mistake in zoning laws (in terms of business tenants downtown).  Rising tide carries all ships.

Toomey: Worcester is a cacophony of different things.   Link transpo from downtown to different neighborhoods.  We need to bring residents downtown.  Support business districts in the neighborhoods.  City full of neighborhoods — it’s who we are.

Sargent: Don’t focus on neighborhoods and not downtown — healthy neighborhoods & healthy downtown.  When we say Worcester is a city of neighborhoods, we’re talking about the people who make up the neighborhoods.  [I cannot type that phrase again, don’t make me!]

Gaffney: haven’t focused that much on downtown, have focused on large projects — trickle down theory isn’t working.  [Mike, I know you said that just for me so I could stop focusing on “city of neighborhoods”!]  Philly Plan, people.

King: brief rebuttal.

Q2: Bond ratings.  Currently, city’s bonds are highly rated, but not at highest prime level. $630mil in debt.  How can we improve bond ratings, etc.?

Petty: we have good bond ratings, and will continue to do so.  We have a five-point plan that outlines spending.  Need to increase tax revenues.  Has tax policy committee to look at increasing tax revenues.

Parham: when we look at safety of neighborhoods, transportation, schools, that will affect bond ratings.  Need to get people jobs.  That will begin to affect bond rating.

Gomez: key contributors to debt is unfunded pension liability.  Gives Gaffney credit, he (Gomez) has been talking about this for ten years.  HE HAS A PLAN, READ IT.

Wally: OPEB is the biggest factor for bond ratings, put money toward it on a yearly basis at budget time.

Lukes: OPEB — frankly, she doesn’t think we’ll ever pay it. When Hoover was here, he kept budget before tax levy so we have $10 mil to reach before we get to 2 1/2 limit.  Real developers do not find this an issue, want healthy, vibrant city.

Petty: thinks the council has been (fiscally) conservative in his time on the Council.

Q3: Council – oversight of manager and admin.  They provide comment after the fact, but provide no objectives/goals.  How to hold accountable?

Lukes: No way you can assess effectiveness of CM after 1-2 years.  How does civilization progress when you only have two year CC terms?  We do have goals, and city manager submits those accomplishments every year.  Most torturous ordeal every year is evaluation of CM, make it less combative and intense.  Some communities don’t do this in public, or do it written.  [Nicole would like to note that the whole thing could just be done as a written/public process.  And, no, they don’t have clear objectives.  And they didn’t evaluate the CM last year.]

Zlody: She is evaluated at her job every year.  Standards need to reflect growing/changing goals of city.  Are we attracting small business?

Bergman: Feels once a year is not enough, quarterly, privately, with annual evaluation would make sense.  He has 11 bosses, system isn’t perfect, best one we have.

Coleman: CM has held elective office.  He listens to the pulse of the community.  Private with public input.

Gaffney: has knocked on 6,000 doors.  It’s an insider thing, but no voters actually care about it.  Nothing in rules or charter concerning matrix of manager.  [Note that this should really be decided on by the Rules Committee – N.]  Has conversations with manager on monthly basis as do other councilors.

Lukes: 11 people on city council have direct communications with CM.  To make this an inflexible matrix that’s impossible for everyone to agree on will not be conducive to real problem-solving.

Q4: Concerns schools have not been adequately funded.  Would you support more $$ for schools, how to balance needs?

Toomey: agrees, schools need more funding.  Been working hard to do that, this yar especially.  Doors, windows, building new schools, they have the bricks and mortar thing down [no mention of MSBA], grants that are federally-funded, maybe help through governor.  What about PILOT?  Non-profits may be able to assist.

Gaffney: lost $2.7 million because of school choice.  When parents take kids out of schools, problem.  $1 million in bus audit, look at administrative costs, why does WPS have a spokesperson, put $$ in the classrooms.

Parham: when you invest in ed system, way of moving people out of poverty and moving them forward.

King: “As a front-line social worker”, the most important thing you can do is give at-risk youth opportunities to be successful.  Sent CM letter to provide afterschool programming in conjunction with colleges.

Sargent: need to use $$ in better ways.  We’re used to crappy buildings, need more teachers, more stuff to help the kids, need colleges to step up.  Advocating for this from day one.

Toomey: need community school model back, more teachers, and functional buildings.

Q5: Ellen Dunlap mentions Juan Gomez’s economic plan, appears to have actually read it.  WRA has been working with city for urban renewal plan for theater district.  Do you support urban renewal/eminent domain in this and for cases of blight/absentee landlords?

Gomez: “Hitting me where I like.”  [I think that was a bit personal, no?]  Need to replicate without the city.  I am not sure where he’s going, but he is very excited.  Work with property owners, eminent domain has been used very successfully and believes we would have to use it.

Petty: doesn’t look at eminent domain as a failure, another tool in the toolbox.  He has to be honest, very nervous about eminent domain, but he’s not afraid to use it.  CSX has the power of eminent domain as well.

Zlody: loved watching urban renewal downtown, eminent domain makes her very uncomfortable, absolute last resort.  Would need standards.

Wally: supports urban renewal plan.  [Note that I cringe every time I need to type “urban renewal]

King: Urban revitalization is great, eminent domain last resort.  Be creative with negotiation with land/property owners.

Gomez: just like Kilby/Gardner, could be very successful.

Q6: over the last few years, tension between admin and CC regarding certain tax incentives.  Secure certain outcomes related to benefits/employment.  what is appropriate place for CC in these?

Coleman: CC votes on TIFs, really important that Council stay above the law [first Steven Seagal reference of the night?].  Linkage program with econ development, with mall, etc., that blew $60 mil away and we saw little benefit.

Gomez: he asked with CitySquare about local jobs for local people.  Today it is not legal.  City admin could negotiate in good faith, worked very well in MedCity.

Lukes: would like to pick up with what Juan said, needs to be in the public.  One TIF was negotiated behind the scenes, in an elected official’s office, lack of credibility.  We have to compete with other cities.  What are we going to get for tax incentive?  We have to get jobs and accountability.

Sargent: believes tax incentives bring development to the city.  There will be enough work for everyone for a TIF.  Doesn’t believe in telling developers who should/n’t be working on a project.

Zlody: believes in tax incentives, Worcester should look at local, small businesses.  Not just Osgood Bradley, but Futon Company.  Should negotiate with orgs to give as many jobs to local people as possible.  Can we leverage job training?

Coleman: we need to create an “overabundance of job opportunities”

Q7: You advocated for home rule petition that would negate Dover Amendment.

Bergman: as attorney, ask was whether we would run afoul of fair housing.  If you open a business in a residential neighborhood, you change dynamic of neighborhood, neighbors should have a say in changes to their neighborhood.  Cambridge did this 30 years ago.

Wally: too many instances where non-profit chooses a site, doesn’t inform neighbors.  Motion was made so that conversation occurs.  Issues can be solved up front.

Gaffney: this comes up when he door-knocks.  A lot of people concerned about non-profits and services they provide.  Dover Amendment originally applied to educational institutions, Bergman was just asking for information.   Concern is if this pushes non-profits into neighborhoods like Main South.

Coleman: when you hear people talk about this, are we trying to keep some neighborhoods exclusive?  When Prospect House and Henry Lee Willis bought properties, made some uncomfortable.

Petty: issue has been coming up since he’s been on the Council.

Bergman: twice he’s heard the premise that it’s an illegal law, not opinion of solicitor, Cambridge amendment has stood the test of time.  Simply suggesting it’s available, have the conversation.  If a business moves in next door and you live in a residential neighborhood, you should have input.

Q8: About community engagement.

Parham: as a city councilor, she can be bridge between city hall and the community.  We keep talking immigrants, engage with individuals.  Does naturalization program right in this hall.  Obligation as citizen that you become involved in civic life.

King: If neighborhoods are ignored, they will not engage.  Demographics continue to change, we need to teach kids in history class as part of curriculum about government.  Start at middle school.  CC needs to show sensitivity to neighborhoods and residents.

Sargent: The schools are not the problem, they are the solution.  Register kids to vote before they graduate.  [Would not have helped Nicole, who was 17 at graduation]  Use high school students to go into communities to sign people to vote, to tell people today’s the day to vote.  “If a kid’s sleeping in my class,” you would blame me, not the student.

Toomey: Incredibly important to get out of box and go places you wouldn’t normally go to.  Mentions her use of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, reach out to new residents.

Petty: diversity plan 75% complete, 15 high school students at polling locations, pamphlets in tax bill, mayor’s city academy in October, going into community is the most important thing.

Parham: good that we continue to get out.  When she got here, when you try to voice opinion, Council does not hear your voice.  When you feel that way, you will disengage from the civic process.

Q9: You have spent career focused on creative economy.  How to use arts, culture, creative community to solve social problems, drive econ dev?

Zlody: One of the primary ways is that arts bring everyone together.  You don’t need to speak Latin to watch someone do Latin dancing.  stART creates a community and synergy, people come under one umbrella.  Creates level of peace and community.  Small innovative organizations can be brought in to broaden tax base.

Coleman: arts have rebuilt many communities in New York.  We should continue to foster arts.

Wally: engage youth, many need emotional outlet.  Creative economy, economic development like in Providence.  Introduce makerspace, artists lofts in older industrial buildings.

Gomez: at Centro, employees have created an art therapy program to help 12 young people use arts to express themselves.  Work to replicate with music and other themes.  Government does not have a major role except to encourage it.  Will not have a creative economy if you keep electing the same people.  Current incumbents don’t think that way.

Toomey: former certified art therapist and art teacher.  Knows how cathartic it is for people.  Mentions Womens’ Industrial Union in Boston, do some more of that.

Zlody: Incubator model is correctly important, 97 Webster Street, Think Tank, Technocopia need to be supported.

Q10: Non-profits are exempt from local property taxes under state law.  You think they should contribute through PILOT.  How would you make that happen?  How would you assess a fair payment system?

Gaffney: we have hospitals, schools, a lot of non-taxable properties.  Surrounding communities disparage us, but their kids go to college in Worcester, they use Worcester hospitals, etc.  Gary Rosen mentioned student tax [actually, I thought this was Mike Germain?] and that brought colleges to the table in other places.  Some of the colleges can certainly contribute more.

Lukes: all new mayors are invited to seminars across country.  She was bemoaning this at one place, one mayor said he’d give his right arm to have that many colleges.  Need to see the value of these institutions.  We have been very effective with maintaining ties and asking non-profits to contribute to their needs.

Parham: Attended Clark, loves it dearly, but thinks it could do more.  About community development.  Hard decisions we must make, must go to colleges.

Bergman: 65% of us pay 100% of the taxes.  Adversarial relationship, no one thinks that non-profits don’t do wonderful things.   Mentions Boston’s system [remind me to link to a recent Globe article about it].  Be positive — my wife might not have married me if I asked “You don’t want to marry me, do you?” rather than “You want to marry me, don’t you?”

Gomez: they employ 10s of thousands of people.  Doesn’t agree with asking for PILOT.  Colleges are great pool for our future city residents.

Gaffney: starts talking law school stuff with Bergman.  Incentivize with parks, etc.

Q10: you have worked on affordable housing, much housing in Worcester is affordable.  Does Worcester have sufficient affordable housing, other questions I missed.

Wally: Worcester isn’t meeting housing needs, statistics show concentration of poverty does not help.  Surrounding towns should increase affordable housing, work with state to make sure it’s distributed equally.  Affordable market rents same as regular rents.  Individuals attracted to affordable housing because of quality of housing.  Private landlords need to put capital in housing.

Toomey: Winn Development’s Voke School, would like to see more opportunities there (like that?).  With market-rate housing, people come with disposable income, will create jobs.  Workforce housing, need to have affordable place to live.

Petty: look at different forms of homeownership, Union Hill police squad, inspectional services, etc.

Zlody: we have reached 10%, regional and statewide issue.  State needs to ensure that cities are not doing their share (versus the ‘burbs).

Coleman: affordable housing for who?  When he goes door-to-door, there are people into foreclosure, don’t have insurance, or money to repair, work with unions to improve properties.

Wally: Regional approach to issue that we want to make sure isn’t concentrated in Worcester.

Q11 (last question): You have spoken of issues of gang activity, safety.  What can city do re gangs, illegal drugs?  Should WPD wear body cameras?

Sargent: Yes, WPD should wear body cams, they want to wear them, community wants them to wear them.  Children need to be occupied from 3-6pm.  Need to have school activities, art, music, sports, colleges need to step up with tutoring.  DAs office said 800-1000 kids that identify with gangs; 200 hardcore gang members.  Give them activities so that they can choose another path.

Lukes: Public safety one of the foremost issue of the campaign.  Only one set of employees can threaten someone’s liberty, wants review board.  We are repeating same mistake where different agencies don’t affect one another.  Also, need more [drug] treatment.

King: we do a good job of community policing in the summertime.  Gang unit does a good job, need to do more.  Summer jobs and opportunities.  Fill void for afterschool programming in the community.

Parham: Body cams — good for police and citizens.  Need to give kids something to do in the “idle” hours.  We need to come up with structure for kids.

Bergman: jobs, after school activity, body cams appropriate and well-needed.  More science, more best practices.

Sargent: schools are not the problem, they are the solution.  Need meetings with related organizations.  “Everyone relax, we’re going to be fine.”

Initiative City Council Debate – Sept 30 – Notes


Also, Juan Gomez already wins the debate in the category of best hat.

Carisse Canalis welcomes the crowd.  I’d guess there are about 40 people in the audience.

The mic has already gone out; luckily we’re in the front row!

Tonight’s topic is on Economic Development and Youth Opportunities.

All candidates are in attendance.

Format: Questions addressed in alphabetical order, then move one person down the line.

More people trickling in.

Q1: Worcester’s youth in need of athletic programs.  How would you plan to budget for and facilitate year long youth & athletic programs?

Bergman: it costs money, this year was perfect example of giving schools as much as we could, good job balancing needs of city and schools.  Collaborative effort between city, schools, private enterprise.  Collaborative efforts cost the city less money, applies to non-profits as well.

Coleman, standing up: in 2003, the city got hit with $28 mil cut in local aid, local economy took downhill slide.  One of programs slashed was rec activities.  He kicked off program called Save Our Summer – $420k.  If kids are engaged, happier and less community problems.  Private and public sector to help.

Gaffney: when he was 14, had a job and was not able to participate in sports.  Same thing with art.  Can city budget for this?  Not on our own.  A lot of good collaborative efforts.  Emphasize coordination between activities.  No reason sports team/arts classroom should be not completely full.

Gomez: will not promise something that’s not possible.  Resources are limited.  Without more jobs/expanded tax base, will continue to have this discussion.  Consider that he is the only candidate with a comprehensive plan to bring jobs to Worcester.

King: Frontline social worker for almost 20 years.  Has witnessed firsthand difference athletics can make, follows people throughout life.  Lot of budget cuts over the years.

(room is now standing room only)

Lukes: we’re running out of room in this city, resources are limited.  South High pool closed years ago.  Wheels to Water was a collaborative effort, we can’t do it by ourselves (not enough money/ability).  Conflicts between neighbors whenever administration takes away park land.  Parks are the last real asset we have.

Parham: resources may be limited.  Come together as a community — not a new issue, we’re better together.  We don’t run from the issue, be creative to get grants, reach out to companies.

Petty: one 0f the most successful years for recreation this summer.  In parks, we had 10,000 visits to summer rec program.  Swimming, activities in parks, one week of special activities.  How do you do that year-round?  Probably through afterschool programs.

Sargent: teacher and coach in the city.  DA’s office says 3-6pm is the hour when kids do “something stupid” — if we eliminate one 6 figure downtown administration, how many programs would that sponsor?  Colleges have resources and have to provide programs for youth to attend in the summer.

Toomey, her teacher voice is ON! (mic still out): not an easy answer.  We had a great program: Community Schools program — would like to revitalize that program.  Programming: sports for mind and body.

Wally: reiterates what Sargent said: how do we build on what colleges have?  WE only have seasonal rec director.  How can we partner with colleges for year round opportunities?  Tennis courts & Tenacity program — build on current JV and Varsity programs.

Zlody: agrees with what everyone said.  Works at Clark.  Has seen the impact on youth of Main South.  Need to look at private/public partnerships as well as look at block grants.  More businesses as well.

David LeBoeuf: at the next forum, we can expect a question about mic funding for WPL.

Q2: How would you encourage businesses to create paid internships for youth?

Coleman: in 1996, created Summer Jobs for City Youth.  Encouraged companies to train and employ youth.  Was hoping that would get picked up by the city.  Set aside pool of money, find matching grants.

Gaffney: More internships for youth.  We don’t have a lot of large corps in the city.  Most are looking for college students.  Many jobs youth took (McD’s) are taken by adults.  Unfortunately, to get more youth jobs is to get more small businesses in the city.  Tax structure that encourages businesses.

Gomez: the first way to do it is to improve economic environment for businesses.  Fees and charges unnecessary, dual tax rate, undue influences that impact econ dev.

King: Jobs are important for youth.  “City of Neighborhoods” – he said this last time and it’s Nicole kryptonite!!  (I also find that this format leads to a lot of repeat answers and he’s similar to other answers).

Lukes: would be misleading for business to train and pay intern — 2-3 months long.  Alternative is to have a longer school year and more programs to keep kids occupied.  Reform educational system.  We don’t have enough trade schools geared to students who do not want to go to college.

Parham: Small businesses, United Way, work with them to take on youth and teach them basic life skills.  Look at UMass — they will come and teach skills for work environment.

Petty: youth leadership conference with Chamber of Commerce.  This year, CoW sponsored 16 internships, 300 altogether with businesses.  Very successful this year.

Sargent: Schools are not the problem — they are the solutions.  Offer more tech programs in schools.

Toomey: build on success of Chamber’s program.  A few orgs have been working diligently on this – Job One has been very successful.  Junior Achievement helps young people get the skills they need.

Wally: most companies will want to have college students, plug WCAC – Youth Works Summer Jobs program.  350 low-income youth hooked up with small businesses for jobs.  Leverage fed resources to provide jobs for youth.

Zlody: paid internships – small businesses don’t necessarily have the capital.  When you look at what someone can learn and earn in knowledge.  Lost an opportunity with Freight Farms moving to Boston.  What if we had taken youth into that startup?  Lost opportunity to teach kids about entrepreneurship.

Bergman: some discussion about retaining small businesses, the lower taxes on business – higher on residential, less disposable income.  Less concerned about paid internships, small businesses can’t do it.  Match skillset with what child wants to do.  Best thing to do is to go into a job and see if it works for you.

Q3: Given sharp decline in manufacturing, what jobs can we attract to Worcester for those with only high school diploma or GED?

Gaffney: (THE MIC IS BACK!)  Chamber of Commerce – Tim Murray in GLW talked about bringing manufacturing back.  Philly Plan would help rehab businesses.  Difficult to find good office space.

Gomez: growing manufacturing jobs coming to Worcester.  Chamber evaluated different elements: manufacturing is still strong.  Can attract all types of jobs.  LOOK AT HIS PLAN, ALREADY, PEOPLE!

King: identify what barriers are.  where’s red tape?  We have tax incentives, a living wage is very important.  Who’s employed in those jobs?  Folks working night and day to supplement their main job.  If you want to improve education, have to have living wage so you only work one job.

Lukes: Question assumes that GED/diploma is where learning stops.  All of us are lifelong learners.  Technocopia, started by WPI grads, going to 44 Portland St, offer classes for youngters thru adult to prepare for work.  This is one of those projects…

Parham: we already know we have a lot of diverse small businesses.  Tax incentive for existing businesses, to employ those who have formal or informal learning.  Give people jobs, and add to healthy family/community.

Petty: make sure people in Worcester have jobs.  CSX should have job growth, airport.  Over last year, (MIC IS OUT!!) set up Worcester Jobs Fund, (MIC IS BACK!) $350k to train people in train industry.

Sargent: commercial properties being bought up by non-profits.  (MIC IS OUT) can’t find office space for businesses.  Dual tax rate is not attractive.  Would like to see city offer two-year tax hiatus to anyone opening business in the city.

Toomey: (MIC IS BACK!) success already happening (MIC IS OUT) young man from North High runs his own lab in Boston, doesn’t have college degree.

Wally: steps in place to grow jobs and attract businesses, QCC Center for Workforce Dev provides low-cost, high-value tech skill training  In addition, not everyone will be able to work in Worcester, transpo issue to get to Westboro/Marlboro

Zlody: agrees with QCC job training.  Very specific jobs that CSX has that need training.  Expanding tax base to small businesses.  She has a GED and ran Futon Company for 10 years because someone gave her the opportunity.

Bergman: Focus at what strengths are: med technology, hospital and senior care — not enough, but some.  Retrain people that don’t have skills in popular areas now.  Immigrants come at a point in life when they cannot afford to go to college.  Address that in a very big way.  Give them hope and opportunity — readapt ourselves.

Coleman: goes through history lesson again (Crompton and Knowles, etc.).  We can think out of the box.  A lot of students should go to college.  How many people have written to Congress for free community college education?

Q4: do you believe reopening the Canal will be a major economic opportunity?  Would you pursue funding from feds, etc., for this?

Gomez: prospect has created economic turnaround in that neighborhood.  When it is, will be even better.  Anything that can attract more visitors, jobs, will be good.  Would work to bring resources to complete the project.

King: Absolutely.  Impact of pride in our city.  Means and funds available to move us forward.  Has spent time in Providence and we can replicate that.

Lukes: when MedCity was being built, and we excavated the center of the city, we dug up the sewer system/Blackstone Canal.  that was the time to do it, she recommended it, she was told that she should be committed to Worcester State Hospital because the cost was so much, monies estimated much lower than it will end up.  Positive in that area.  She is cut off – “I had more to say!”

Parham: Amy Lynn Chase, voke graduate, owns Crompton Collective; Michelangelo’s Barber Shop — had pipe that burst, Birchtree came together, etc.

Petty: Canal District very successful.  We’ve been talking about this since John Spellane, Allen Fletcher.  Would be great signature event (I think he’s talking of a Waterfire type thing)

Sargent: of course we would love to see the canal opened up downtown, point of pride.  Someone was shot over there the other night, keep things at a quality level down there.

Toomey: advocate of the canal but not in the way you think.  This would be a faux canal — a place where everyone’s ancestors came to this city.  World marketplace (I think she’s talking about what the Greendale Mall is like right now!)  If the Irish were able to build canal before, all of us can build Canal District now.

Wally: “It’s been a while; I’m going to read the question [aloud] again.” Two quick answers: yes and yes.

Zlody: has sat with John Giangregorio.  Stats are there, we lose people to Lowell on a regular basis, artist live/work spaces right on canal.  Did Start in district for two years, would like to do another event there.

Bergman: Canal put Worcester on the map/made it a city.  Agree with what everyone said, being in office — you learn realities.  City Council has done everything it could, unless state steps it up there’s nothing more we can do.

Coleman: This is the second debate I’ve been to this week in which Coleman has given the wrong date for when Worcester became a city.  He supports a canal.

Gaffney: petition Bergman mentioned was for a feasibility study.  No admin or legislative support for the study $$.


Q5: how would you prioritize the development of inner city neighborhoods and inner-city corridors  for inner-city development?

King: incentives to invest in neighborhoods.  When his dad employed others in his small business, … sorry, cut off.

Lukes: downtown has never been considered a neighborhood.  People can live/work at same time if old office buildings were redeveloped as housing.  First place developers go is downtown, free WiFi downtown.

Parham: [everyone needs to re-read the question because it is so confusing] We need jobs, once we find a way for small biz to generate jobs, make city grow.

Petty: good question, courthouse, neighborhood orgs can apply for a grant, facade program, all for different corridors in the city.

Sargent: small businesses in downtown.  Dual-tax rate is a problem, unless we look at that, more small biz not coming to Worcester.  Schools are our neighborhoods.  NICOLE KRYPTONITE: CITY OF NEIGHBORHOODS!  Instead of teaching to the test, teach kids business skills.

Toomey: so many diverse, unique neighborhoods.  Trying to change what downtown looks like, have to stop looking at past (what downtown used to look like), look to future — walkable, bikable city.  Holds up business start up guide which she filed.

Wally: works in downtown Worcester, walks by empty storefronts.  Tipping point for downtown.  With a lot of the efforts being put in will see more econ dev — can’t forget corridors.  Mentions Seven Hills study that came out today.

Zlody: work in Main South, spends a lot of time in inner city corridors.  Incentives for people to revitalize buildings with good bones.  Don’t need to separate different areas of the city, we’re one big city.

Bergman: inner-city, much more condensed areas, allow folks to open businesses without red tape/ZBA, homeownership — inner city should have more homeowners.

Coleman: bring the buses back!!!!  people can’t get somewhere if they can’t get home.  A lot of people don’t have insurance on their house.  Our foreclosure rate has increased 88%.  Help rebuild houses in neighborhood with assistance from unions.

Gaffney: 30-40 times we keep hearing “small businesses” — past decade that large govt investments are going to trickle out and trickle down, been a failure for more than a decade.  Canal District and Shrewsbury Street developed because of business owners.  Clean up streets, lower crime.

Gomez: he’s been doing this for 20 years, microlender (for 4 years).  Speaks to the Main Middle corridor — no one except Clark has done any work in that area.  government cannot do it all, but can incentivize those who want to do the work.

Q6: given growing diversity, what can Worcester do to help immigrant enterpreneurs, esp those who do not speak English?

Lukes: most prevalent dynamic is small businesses started by immigrants.  8% of all businesses in last decade are small businesses.  She mentions some programs, they’re pulling the mic away.

Parham: over 100 different languages spoken in the city.  Make immigrants feel they are in a safe place.  Connect with colleges.

Petty: has immigrant roundtable, asked Seven Hills for that study.  English language skills are important.  Future of Worcester.

Sargent: celebrate diversity.  Get them in the same room where they can access the programs.  More collaboration, feet on the ground.

Toomey: create a business mentor for folks in different communities.  Have them be the central spoke for those in that community.  So  much information out there, Worcester Business Resource Alliance

Wally: in his job, goes into urban areas, increase capital to small businesses, many immigrants do not trust traditional financial institutions.  Why can’t city act as facilitator (like Buy Worcester Now)?

Zlody: key for those who reach out to existing business owners — start talking to existing business owners, work from there.

Bergman: I’m not always as smart as I think I am — sometimes we assume we have the answers.  Unaware of any effort to reach out to folks in their languages to ask what they are looking for, facing, — need to make the ask.

Coleman: speaks in multiple languages.  Doesn’t like immigrant — first generation Americans.  Asks for subcom of Ethnic and Minority Affairs.

Gaffney: Liked Ray Mariano’s plan for housing for addicts, wanted to fund that through CDBG.  Ethiopian Dream Center was funded, helps folks succeed.  How you can get ahead.  In Albanian community, Hargrove helped them integrate, networks for people to get this info.

Gomez: our government does not reflect the diversity of city, not committed to this sort of help.  MLK Business Empowerment Center was taken into SMOC, no longer “business” empowerment center.  If you are committed, do it for real, enough talking.

King: Family came from Bermuda, 2/3 of immigrant businesses capital comes from family and student loans (sorry, might have gotten that wrong).

Final question of the night: TIF is a public financing method.  Do you believe there should be a community-based public review process before TIF agreement?  What should agreements require (living wages, local labor) and how enforced)?

Parham: yes, when more transparency, it will make sure that you have people at heart, thinking about all things to make community move forward.  Get community involved before.  When jobs go to community, will cause economy, etc., grow.

Petty: big believer in TIFs, big believer in local jobs for local people.  Jobs Fund, board to review the TIFs, set appropriate targets, have local hearings, apprenticeship programs if possible.  Has no problem asking with TIF.

Sargent: there already is, it’s called an election.  If you don’t trust your elected officials to negotiate a deal that’s beneficial to Worcester, then vote them out.  Election’s on November 3, I’m 10th on the ballot.

Toomey: advocate for TIFs, DIFs, thinks it’s important that local people have local jobs.  Sick of out-of-state plates on the jobsites.

Wally: in an ideal situation, 100% local employers working on project.  Doesn’t feel comfortable with public review, hold City Manager accountable for agreement negotiation so that locals come first for jobs.

Zlody: we have all seen what good happens with TIFs (Osgood Bradley).  When she drives by Junction Shops, all RI and CT plates.  Thinks at least a percentage should be for people in Worcester.  Figure out way for % of jobs from Worcester.

Bergman: Advantage and disadvantage of being elected official: courts have said we can’t do this with TIF/DIF.  Our hands are tied with the way the law is written.

Coleman: Rob Sargent, dead on the money, Bergman, right on the money.  That’s a court case.  We need to have overabundance of opportunities for local employers. Public review = Worcester City Council.  You have 6 votes, start will William S. Coleman III, the hell with everyone else (laughs)

Gaffney: Bergman and Coleman were discussing REO, struck down as unconstitutional.  Issue with old courthouse project.  Some talk that investors would pull out because of community pushback.  Sargent’s two year tax hiatus is essentially a TIF.

Gomez: can’t be done, shouldn’t be done.  10 years ago, when he asked for that to be included in TIF for CitySquare, every single incumbent voted against it.  We have construction companies in Worcester; do you not want them to work elsewhere?  Supports free market economy.

King: if used appropriately, tax incentives can be an effective tool.  Can be disservice to the public.  Target areas that are economically distressed, city should audit every single tax incentive until it is phased out.  Public trust issue, responsible to ensure that needs of public are met.

Lukes: no choice but to look at TIFs, we’re in competition with lots of other communities.  Gives developer a ride on certain taxes.  In return, they have to create jobs and we have to monitor them.  Thorough review before (CC, Econ Dev committee, back to CC), state also oversees TIFs.  Fed courts have reviewed on two occasions and said what we were doing was unconstitutional.

Closing remarks:

Zlody: questions have given her a lot to think about, thoughtful questions appreciated.  Need to be friendliest city for small businesses.  Know people who have run into roadblocks in starting biz.

Wally: 20 years of neighborhood revitalization experience, has leadership and temperament to be a strong public servant.

Toomey: talks about her experience, my fingers are tired.

Sargent: major issues in race are public safety and education.  His whole family is cops, his fiancee and him are teachers.  Exact thing city wants to retain.  Represents young hungry generation.

Petty: lists accomplishments

Parham: started journey with daughter, who passed away last December.  Her daughter saw potential in city, has been living here 18 years, lived on the street.  Vote for her is a vote for broader group of people.  She is going over, and doesn’t care.

Lukes: All candidates here want to make Worcester a great city.  She wants you to pay attention to the School Committee race, it’s crucial for our educational system.  We’re at a crossroads.   As to diversity, there are four people who have experience with the immigrant experience on her side of the table (Lukes, King, Gomez, Bergman).  SHE HATES THIS FORMAT JUST LIKE ME!!  Konnie Lukes is once again my pantsuit spirit animal.

King: describes his background, very important that we have community voice to round out our Council.  About working kids and families, about making city best place to work, raise family, etc.

Gomez: talks about his background with Centro.  GO TO HIS WEBSITE ALREADY!!  He’s not just talking about doing this job, he knows what it takes.

Gaffney: “For the love of God, please read Juan Gomez’s plan”  You don’t do this job by doing business as usual.  Frustrated with same old (he acknowledged that he would frustrate ME with the use of the phrase “trickle down”)

Coleman: currently substituting at North High, come on down and check it out!  There are only six seats, all these people here are great.  Lack of diversity is an embarrassment.

Bergman: child of immigrants, thanks Lukes for mentioning that.  His parents eventually owned a home, he went to college.  Wants everyone here to experience that hope.  He takes opportunity not to see children or wife, but to attend meetings and see constituents.

WRRB/Chamber Mayoral Debate Notes

I have WiFi!  Sorry for not summarizing the School Committee debate; we’ll see what I can do with the mayoral debate.

Washburn Hall is quite lively tonight; nary an empty seat.

Next week (October 5) is the at-large council debate; district is on October 19.

Current city councilors: Gary Rosen, Rick Rushton (laughter when Tim McGourthy announces “Gary Rushton”), Tony E; candidates Nick D’A and Tina Zlody.

Format: 15 questions total; first candidate gets two minutes for comment, other candidates 60 secs to respond; original candidate then gets 30 seconds to respond/rebut followed by 30 secs for other candidate; original finally gets 15 secs.  (Got that?!)

Goal here is for debate; not to respond to general questions but to each other.

Moderator: David Forsberg of YOU, Inc; Karen Duffy and Raul Socia (sorry, I’ll have to come back for names and where folks are from)

Each candidate begins with three minutes:

Bill Coleman = William S. Coleman III.  All of us are very qualified candidates; he is a retired educator and current activist.  He has taught from preschool through high school.  Running to make sure city has government it needs.  He worked in Washington a number of years ago, for a senator ahead of his time.  It’s the people’s business, on the people’s terms.  Has been trying to break ice to represent people in this city.  Look at the city you have, it would be great to have government that reflects city population.  Glad to be part of this democratic process.

Mayor Petty: lifelong resident of Worcester, wife, three kids, believes city is going in the right direction.  “Campaign is about Worcester’s future, not mine.”  Quinsig has 1800 students across from city hall, MCPHS has 2000 students.  Worcester is alive with progress.  Old Courthouse market-rate housing, new hotel on Grove St., new hotels for CitySquare and Washington Square, Elm Park will be put back together, streets & sidewalks & tree replanting.  Nelson Place school.  “Worcester is moving forward because we have been working together.”  Vision one “of hope and optimism.”  Works well with City Manager; his job is to sell the city to employers and businesses.

Councilor Gaffney: Joe and Bill are very good people, differences in how we would accomplish things.  He quotes Douglas MacArthur on leadership.  He believes in Worcester, we have problems we need to address, not circling wagons or burying heads in the sand.  Hanover — Fred Eppinger saw it was about to go under, made tough calls, that’s what leadership is (and what we need to do).  Problems with safety in our streets and schools.  Problem with ever-increasing taxes, families struggling to start businesses, because we are following same old failed ideas.  Good projects Petty mentioned have not trickled down to the residents.  Empty storefronts.  (He’s been using the phrase “trickle down” a lot).  He wasn’t wrong when he said police should be in schools, more police in July, follow him, he’ll lead the way.  Mantra in the military, same today.

Q1: You have identified education funding as a top priority.  More money for ed = less $$ for other services; what would you cap? (addressed to Coleman)

Coleman: called prioritizing.  Over the years, councilors have said we don’t have funding, can’t do it, then catch up at 2-3 times the cost. Add Grafton Elementary to the list.  Certain grants available to the city – trash bag fee could be used as revenue source.

Gaffney: WRT priorities, we need to prioritize safety in our streets.  Only increase of 154,000 to police.  Clearly our spending priorities are off.  safety in schools.  School-to-prison pipeline has not  panned out and has worked rather well (no idea what he said there).  Incentive for small businesses to compete.

Petty: one of the better budgets for the schools this year.  First time, CM and schools are on the same page, more teachers hired, more money into building infrastructure, not a matter of subtracting.  Public safety is a big issue, always been a priority for him.  They put in over $1mil for WPD this year with new class and equipment.

Coleman: we can’t hold back.  Prioritizing is an absolute must, we do have a safe city.  When you have high unemployment, still low crime.

Gaffney: we did increase teachers, because of Ch 70 funding.  Continues to talk about public safety.

Petty: It’s a good city, it’s a safe city, keep on targeting Worcester Public Schools, (talking to Gaffney here), we address issues and put plans in place, they are actually working.

Coleman: these people are sitting CC; he’s a community activist looking to implement these ideas.

Q2: Dual tax rate; goal was to relieve residents.  19th highest residential tax rate in the Commonwealth.  Is single tax rate eventual solution?

Petty: not a fan of single tax rate.  Has been a leader on this issue.  17 years ago, continuing to be below cap.  Has tax policy team requested by Economou; non-profits, residents, businesses.  Need to stop pointing fingers at each other.  Residential taxes are way too high.  Business tax rate needs to come down too.  Not point fingers but determine what is fair to both parties.  Non-profit taxing is not the answer.  Need to bring agreements with PILOT.

Coleman:Last year, Chamber endorsed a lower tax rate.  He supported that, and supported the single tax rate in 1984.  If he’s elected, he would lower the business tax rate.  Businesses stop in Shrewsbury, in Millbury.  ultimately would like to come to single tax rate, to encourage business & expand tax base.

Gaffney: Recognizing problem will not drive people out of city, not addressing problem will.  Keep increasing taxes with little to show for services.

Petty: not about cutting budget — are you going to cut WPD, WFD, DPW, teachers?  We need more teachers, police, firefighters.  Those are the biggest areas of spending.

Coleman: we can’t govern under the threat of “if you do this, you’re going to lose that.”   Businesses have done needs assessment and left, make commitment over 6-7 years to have a single tax rate.  Thinks we can do that boldly.

Gaffney: He suggests holding the line.  We must get better at managing our resources.  People can’t afford to be here.

Petty: Thinks we presented a great budget this year.  He didn’t hear any complaints – “dead silence.”

Q3: to Gaffney. City gaining a rep for gang activity, but violent and property crime has lowered over past decade.  Rep as safe city is at stake.

Gaffney: premise of question is at stake: MSN Money: Worcester has more violence than 90% of cities and towns in MA, one of top 100 violent cities in USA.  More police on streets.  Criminals have video cameras and harass police.  HE DID SPEAK HIS MIND ON THE BUDGET, BTW.  The city is not safe, police do not have resources they need.  Platitudes and committees don’t solve the issues, nor does ignoring it.

Petty: Gaffney voted against the budget before he voted for it.  Police and fire class this year, there were many retirements this year, youth violence prevention program this year.  Summer impact was never extended.

Coleman: we’re not peeling 100 people off the streets every night.  Opiate addiciton is major problem, lack of jobs and housing is a problem.  Those are the issues.  only 26 (less than 10% of police) for women.  13 of those women are ready to retire.  With your vote I can be elected.

Gaffney: I voted against the budget.  Did not vote against funding the budget.  Article in T&G that Ed A. put out in August — anyway.  (I have no idea what he’s talking about).  Opiates.  (Seriously, that is what he said)

Petty: Gemme thinks this is safe city.  Not just a police issue, a community issue.  About planning, collaboration, getting issues solved.  Effects have been taking place in the past few weeks.

Coleman: if I had magic wand, would want 25 more women of various ethnic backgrounds for police.  Quit talking about negatives, work on solutions.

Gaffney: Just to be clear: opioid issue leads to property crime.

Q4: Coleman has called for increased transportation, but has also called Union Station a failure.

Coleman: Downtown has lost 40% of business with bus terminal — proposed to get people away from city hall, but has destroyed downtown for second time; first time was when Galleria was built.  Now we have no place to gather.  How can you get somewhere if you can’t get back? Cutting bus routes.  We need a public hearing to assess transpo needs.  Trolleys could get us to Springfield, Boston, around the city.  Bus company should run two days for free, and ask people where it should go.

Petty: From a federal/state perspective, has not been funded the way it should be.  Nighttime service coming back.  Lo0k at funding from Boston; fed gov’t needs to expand train service, faster and more trains needed.  Working with Massport on increased air service.  Young people want to live where they work.

Gaffney: He agrees with Coleman on the empty bus situation, underutilized, underfunded.  MBTA is a significant issue.  He maligns the average MBTA worker to boot.

Coleman: thinking out of the box.  When he worked at UMass Amherst, school would fund public transpo for Five Colleges.  People taking bus when gas was $4/gallon.  Now not so much.

Petty: Trying to get colleges/universities more involved. Go back to idea of WPS.  Pump money into WRTA from bus funding for schools (I think that’s what he’s getting at?)

Gaffney: one of issues is adequate parking — downtown doesn’t have enough.

Coleman: make this a walkable, safe city (also what Gaffney said; I missed that).

Q5: Petty: WPS focus on IB model for innovation school.  Do you think inno academy will address needs of high-achieving students, keep middle class in Worcester?

Petty: Absolutely.  Committee headed by Tracy Novick went towards IB model.  The IB school – need to find location.  Other programs at WPS that people are not aware of: Goddard Scholars program, library programs, ETA at Doherty.  Some people are afraid that we will move students around to IB school — whole goal is to keep students here.  Used to have school similar to this years ago.  IB school will be tough.

Gaffney: issue of exam school was somewhat controversial when first brought up.  Not sure of criteria for IB school, would prefer exam school.  Have to give people a reason to be here, particularly those who are gifted.  Wonderful idea for the city.

Coleman: regarding education.  We have to quit bashing our public schools.  He could list countless educators in WPS who do great work.  Need to have exam school in every one of our schools.

Petty: Number of priorities for exam school: maybe criteria would include MCAS scores, infrastructure of schools is important.

Gaffney: went to voke school back before it was cool.  His math was behind when he went to college.  Negative to not have gifted students in classes.

Coleman: “The force is with us” — work with existing schools, colleges are fighting for our students because they want kids who will change the world.

Petty: need to be competitive, more AP Classes, infrastructure, rigorous courses in this academy.

Q6: Gaffney: focus on OPEB ($727 million).  City has no plan to address; annual availability of free cash.  City should have set aside $50mil (out of $600 mil budget).  How to address this?

Gaffney: OPEB wasn’t even mentioned in the current budget.  At state level, there was an effort to try to address this.  Some restructuring of contracts for health insurance have helped, but it only goes so far.  Don’t have updated totals.  Priority has been funding OPEB liability – will come due, can’t make promises and never fund them.  Feels it should be in the budget document.

Coleman: as a concerned citizen, Gaffney is correct that Tim Murray’s suggestion that state assist be followed up on.  If they haven’t put it in the budget, reason for that.

Petty: issue we are trying to address.  Down $400 million ish on deficit.  We do put free cash into the OPEB.  we have a ways to go, and we can’t do it by ourselves.  Where would $50mil come from?  State legislature needs to deal with this, years of service requirement for health insurance.

Gaffney: we broke promises to people by putting them on Medicare.

Coleman: We give developers all sorts of incentives.  Let’s try something that would benefit the people.

Petty/Gaffney respond — I need to rest the fingers

Q7: Coleman: Homelessness one of your campaign issues.  Ban of “aggressive” panhandling.  Do you feel ordinance is appropriate?

Coleman: Everyone’s standing on street corners asking for money, taking away trucks downtown, people’s opportunity to earn income, we need to address their needs.  He doesn’t support things that don’t work, feel-good legislation doesn’t work when the issue (homelessness) isn’t being addressed.  88% increase in foreclosure, division of owners/renters 50/50.  Propose we work out deal with unions to employ people to rebuild neighborhoods, make affordable living possible in the city.

Gaffney: Bill, stop talking negative about the city of Worcester (laughs).  Panhandling — freedom of speech is what he hears, they need help, can’t you give them help.  The purpose of the ordinance was to keep people safe.  We need to demand that state assist us because we are assisting other towns.

Petty: there were a lot of children, etc. downtown.  He was worried about everyone’s safety.  Just had a death where someone was hit by a car.  Supports it 100%.  Not being cruel to the homeless, we’ve put caseworkers on the streets.

Coleman: US is the greatest country in the world.  “Give me your tired, your poor…” These are your family, these are those who are down on their luck, we can do more to provide them safety.

Gaffney: Far too many people on streetcorners have serious drug issues.  Giving them money isn’t helping them.  Just fueling their drug addictions, need to provide them other services.

Petty: we do provide outreach workers, we have programs in place for housing.  Safety of kids and residents is something he is supportive of.

Q8: Petty: WPS have faced a challenging year re: school safety.  You worked with super to expand WPD presence.  Are schools safe?  What more could be done?

Petty: schools are safe, students are hurt by various candidates’ statements.  Safety is of utmost importance.  Police in high schools, rotating police in middle and elementary schools.  At North High, cultural climate changes put in the school.  Support mechanisms in place.  Schools are safe.  How many people here went to school and saw fights?  We did have a fight in one of the schools early in school year, zero tolerance policy.  No one was hurt in past incident.  None of these issues involve gangs. The kids fight in the schools because they feel safe.

Coleman: kids are sick and tired of picking up paper and seeing that their school isn’t safe.  Before your child leaves to go to school, tell them you love them and to have a good day.  That will make all the difference in our public schools.

Gaffney: mentions that students signed a petition to have police in schools.  He mentions putting police in schools, supposed to have a safety audit in March.  Dianna was yelled at because she asked about it in August.

Petty: go talk to the parents.  There are concerns, but most students and parents feel safe.  As far as a press release on a Sunday night, decision to put police in schools wasn’t because of that.

Coleman: tell your kids you love them, need to close down 28 kids per classroom.  Give substitutes more of a living wage.

Gaffney: no one ever brought a gun to his high school and threatened a police officer.  He mentions some sort of email from Petty about police in schools.  (Nicole finds this all very boring.)

Q9: Gaffney: students of color, many with other languages.  How should WPS improve educational outcomes for various racial/ethnic group?

Gaffney: that assumes that someone of different ethnic group learns differently which he does not agree with. “Not many teachers teach” — taken much of the teaching out of the classroom.  Far too many distractions in the classroom.  Back when he was in school, nobody would disrespect the teacher and think they could get away with it.

Petty: 85% of our kindergartens are ELL.  Look at test scores.  MCAS is out for 10th graders, numbers were up.  Shows that kids coming to WPS, can’t speak English, can succeed.  Proud of last week’s results.

Coleman: asked if you spoke Armenian and Polish (in those languages, I think).  standardized testing = $187 million a year business for this state.  Supports MTA for moratorium on standardized testing.

Forsberg asks him if he speaks Swedish, in Swedish.

Gaffney: scores = good teachers.  What can we do more?  Smaller class sizes not always doable. Hopes that PARCC testing will be better.

Petty: meet demands of Worcester Public Schools.

Coleman: I’ll be ready for you next time in Swedish!  Agrees with Gaffney and Coleman, stand with teachers.  Teachers make a difference in students’ lives.

Gaffney: good schools, safe schools, good teachers = economic development.

Q10: Coleman: WRA – urban renewal plan for Theater District, to build on QCC, Hanover, CitySquare.

Coleman: clear directions, good lighting, something to bring people to live downtown.  Supports what is proposed, would like to see more hearings.  Have to go as far as Clark and as north as Lincoln St.

Petty: Supports plan, likes eminent domain. look at CSX, they have eminent domain power, makes a difference in that development.  Last resort effort.

Gaffney: to be clear, not a proponent of eminent domain, un-American.  In the case we’ve put out so far, something we need to do.  Project in theater district to use govt money to rehab and put in a restaurant.  That seems a little less than capitalistic.

Coleman: unresponsive landlords not keeping up property — eminent domain is a tool for that.  Chance for people see city continue to grow.

Petty: very supportive of urban renewal plan.  You can see it happening, but it takes time.  Going to 18 hour day vibrancy downtown.

Gaffney: vacant storefronts, not trickling down to the neighborhoods.  Philly Plan, need a lot more good office space.

Coleman: sometimes after I listen to these academic geniuses here, I forget what I’m talking about.  Five seconds…I guess I’ll wait!

Q11: Petty: Were dialogs on race successful?

Petty: Yes, think they were very successful.  Had seven sessions.  Over 300 people attended.  Was very concerned after Ferguson for lines of communication.  You can already see it changing.  Clergy/Police happening again.  Communication is what it’s all about.  Demographics in the city are changing — “if we don’t bring these people with us” the city will not succeed.  CM hiring more diverse people in city hall, make everyone feel included in city of Worcester.  Immigrants are from all over, and need our support to be successful.

Gaffney: I’m going to be clear, I’m not going to discriminate against anyone based on race.  DOJ hearings, people came to city hall and said some really hateful things about the police.  What did DOJ meetings accomplish besides more discussion?  If there’s a problem with race in the city and you’ve been on the council for 18 years, maybe you should look in the mirror.

Coleman: that was a low blow.   Worcester isn’t a city of racists, people with dialog issues.  Rules committee has refused to meet to have a subcommittee on ethnic and minority affairs.  Chair of committee says he follows orders.

Sorry, missed Petty

Gaffney: Meetings and studies…nuf ced.

Coleman: Who am I to judge?  We need to say that when talking about what people are doing.

Petty: proud of what we did, would do it again.

Q12: Gaffney: Mayor is first among equals, you have been critical of other councilors, assert everything you have accomplished has been on your own.  How can you lead your group?

Gaffney: I disagree with your framing of question.  Mariano said that mayor is a super-councilor; has political power.  Leadership is not done by sitting in a room, if people don’t want to follow, that’s fine.  You have to put yourself out there.  past mayors got people out to vote, got people excited, I’m fine to call them a “mutual admiration society” — but a lot isn’t happening.  Being nice guy in the room doesn’t get city in direction it needs to be in.

Coleman: Running for mayor for opportunity to bring people together, to show the country we can do it.  Young city councilor Tim Murray challenged Ray Mariano, later on became mayor at lt gov.  You have to challenge the status quo.  As mayor, it’s a free-for-all.

Petty: role of mayor to coordinate, to get respect, not just come into room not knowing what issues are and throwing something out there.  Mayor’s supposed to be cheerleader, not to tear it down.  Look at schools, parks, recovery high school, about coordinating and talking to people.

Gaffney: I thought we were supposed to be having debates on issues.  Doesn’t believe question was appropriate.  Appreciates Bill C’s mention of Tim Murray.  Disagrees that mayor is cheerleader, mayor is leader.

Coleman: believes mayor and every elected official is a cheerleader.  Petty allows people to speak at city council meetings, appreciates that.

Petty: look at success of city in past four years, all because of leadership.

(Battery is running low!)

Gaffney: CitySquare was started 10 years ago by Murray!

Q: Coleman: turning out the vote

Coleman: 24-hour voter drive. access to polling

WRRB/Chamber School Committee Forum – 9/21 – Notes

I won’t call this a liveblog as I didn’t have WiFi during the meeting — I’ll try to post a summary tomorrow.  Apologies for the notes.  This was a VERY quick format, and sometimes the candidates only had a few sentences’ response.

Tim Murray opens the forum.

Introduces Bob Kennedy of Mechanics Hall – 158th year of business (annual meeting going on upstairs). (Strains of Blackstone Cuil come in or out)

Tony E and Matt Wally in the house as well.


  • 10 candidates for the SC
  • Two-minute opening statement from each candidate
  • Then twenty questions will be asked. One candidate will get a minute response, another three will be able to respond for thirty seconds, with a rebuttal of 15 seconds from the first candidate.
  • Last segment – the same question for every candidate


  • Robert Johnson of Becker College
  • Jennifer Davis Carey of WEC
  • Sue Mailman, president of Coghlin Electric

Opening statements

Dianna B: believes public schools are the city’s most important public resource. Need to expand beneficial opportunities for all students. Priorities are: continue to improve school safety; academic excellence, increase and improve Chapter 74; GET OUT AND VOTE.

Cotey C: first debate, pretty excited. 18-year-old graduate of Worcester Technical High School and current student at QCC. Currently public schools are not safe, has experienced school administrator’s incompetence in school safety. From his experiences and challenges in public schools, can serve well.

Donna Colorio – educator at QCC in psychology and sociology. One daughter who attends Doherty High; other two have graduated. Her unique background of parent, educator, and lifelong resident of Worcester qualifies her.

Nick D’Andrea – currently works at Fallon Health. Has been a longtime city youth organizer. Relentless pursuit of the positive. Recently seen those his age move out of the city for “greener pastures” (scare quotes his). Priority: petition to get safety squared away in our schools.

Jack Foley: has been privileged to server on the SC for 16 years; three children who attended and graduated from WPS. They have created best educational opportunities for children of Main South; has worked on boards of many organizations. Focus has been on high expectations for all students. Works with families to raise bar for all children – access for those children with special needs. Worked with finances quite a bit in the WPS, lack of resources to put across the entire district. Strong public schools are critically important for city.

Molly McCullough – lifelong resident of the city of Worcester. When she returned home from college, continued volunteer involvement. Gained a lot of leadership experience on various boards. Getting $$ to schools. Success of schools today contributes to success of city tomorrow. Three priorities: safety, academic achievement, and facilities.


John Monfredo – passion to make a difference in life of children and families – children make up 37% of population but 100% of future. Discusses his experience as principal – looking out for the children’s best interests. As an educator, knows what works. Has advocated for change and has not been shy about filing items that would better the schools and community.

Tracy O’Connell Novick – this marks her 10th year as a parent in the WPS, 6th year on SC. This is a different system than the one her eldest daughter entered. Unprecedented level of funding for the schools – new Nelson Place, MSBA funding, new South High coming. Undergone a comprehensive curriculum review; many millions in federal funding for technology. Bringing autism programs and others back in house to save money and improve services.

Brian O’Connell – the next two years can be a watershed time to enhance the academic challenge for the students: academic attention and achievement. Can develop self-esteem by mastering skills, habits of academic excellence. Changing budget priorities from administration to classroom.

Hilda Ramirez – comes from diverse background. Spent many years in corporate background, changed to education (arts and youth development). WSU working with Latino families about improving educational outcomes. Came to this country at the age of 10 needing to learn English. Represents that population. All individually have great ideas, but we are not planning together. Proud of filing something to make the group work better collectively.


Robert Johnson, moderator.

First question to Ms Novick, responding Colorio, Collins, D’Andrea: School funding. Commonwealth Ch 70 program requires certain levels of state and local funding. 60% of city’s FY16 budget is for school.

Novick: Foundation budget review meeting again in September, report due in November. Impressed that preliminary report listed health insurance and special ed as specifically being undercalculated (not even underfunded). Other areas: technology not recognized, vocational ed, early childhood, dual language immersion either undercalced or not considered.

Colorio: We have to look at our own house first. We don’t allocate funding properly. Take money from admin and allocate it to the front lines of teaching.

(the respondents only get 30 seconds)

Collins: fiscally responsible choice by evaluating principals – accountability plan that has cap of principals and assistant principals.

D’Andrea: when he thinks about budget, agrees with Colorio that we are spending too much on central admin.


Second question: In 2016, innovation academy for academically gifted kids. Do public schools currently address needs of these children?

Foley: lists certain programs for gifted children. IB provides another opportunity for academically gifted students. Great job of increased rigor to the classroom. If we are successful with pilot, bring it to other schools.

Biancheria: IB will add to advocating for why WPS should be a school of choice.

O’Connell: Goddard Scholars already exists. IB is not just for gifted students but can help expand children’s opportunities.

Monfredo: South High – kids playing in the band. (Cut off – man, 30 seconds is tough)

Foley: covered it pretty well, interesting to see how IB plays out.

(note that they missed Novick’s rebuttal on the first question)


Third question: WPS are increasingly diverse. 35% of students speaking one of 90 languages as first language. How to adapt to student body and accommodate for students’ needs.

Colorio: raising bar for everyone, not closing achievement gap. Doesn’t matter what color, language, etc. Let teachers teach and stop data-driven environment.

Ramirez: filed item to create teacher residency program to diversify teacher base. ELL or special needs, need teachers who can connect with students.

D’Andrea: grew up in two-language household, educate teachers in diversity, make them understand diversity they would be teaching with.

McCullough: bring in more community involvement. Expose all students from 3-12 to AVID program.

Colorio declines rebuttal.

Fourth Question: Level 3 schools – while public attention on Level 4 schools, how can we focus on Level 3 schools as well.

Biancheria: Improving student achievement – whether you look at level 1, 2, 3, or 4, need to include opportunities of interest for 25,000 students. Measurements are from a variety of avenues. We need to look at all the reports. New programs and community partnerships to increase student success.

(She’s reading all her answers.   Super weird)

Collins: attended Worcester Tech for env science. Learned to expand education. Only way to expand achievement gap: educational opportunities toward employment.

Monfredo: more preschool programs, encouraging parental involvement.

Novick: defines level 1, etc. school. This is a ridiculous way of measuring schools – they just keep dropping levels. Need a better method.

Biancheria: new nutritional program needs to be evaluated.


Fifth Question: What steps should WPS take to improve family engagement considering that many kids come from challenging home backgrounds?

Ramirez: asking parents to come into schools when they can’t.   Need to meet them where they’re at. Rebuild relationships between parents and teachers – incentives for teachers to do more evening work, weekend programs for families. Not everyone has technology to connect.

O’Connell: provide training for parents to help kids. We are not doing well to bring parents to schools, having school councils with stronger representation. Community school programs to give parents opportunity

Foley: make sure using their language, inviting them into the school, etc.

McCullough: hosting social nights, family literacy nights, foster learning connection between parents and teachers and students.

Ramirez: need to see parents as a resource to the children.


Sixth Question: School Safety: how to ensure safety in schools.

Collins: supports temporary police presence in schools. Schools have their problems – in his safety plan, promotes properly training security guards. Retraining them to know what to look for in an educational environment. Principals and assistant principals also need training.

D’Andrea: Are school safe? For the most part. There are gaps, safety audit – need a fluid comprehensive safety plan. Dynamics change, need community’s input.

Novick: Yes, the schools are safe. I wouldn’t be sending my kids there if they weren’t. A number of the things floating around are things that don’t work. Becomes a larger budgetary issue rather than a separate one.

Colorio: schools are unsafe, we have a report saying so.   Need to be transparent so that we can deal with problems.

Collins: schools are not safe. Knows people at North.


Seventh Question: How do you balance working with and standing up to administration? (Didn’t quite get the question)

O’Connell: SC members should not simply be following what the administration can. When Superintendent does a good job, I let her know; when she’s not, I say so as well.

Monfredo: Continued to show growth, she must listen more to community. What is in the best interests of our children?

Foley: role of SC is to move in collaboration with administration. “Respsectful tension” – thinks Boone has done a fine job of moving schools forward.

Biancheria: primary role is to advocate for people; if you don’t have discussions, don’t have successful system.

O’Connell: when good communication, and Super listens closely, — that was 15 seconds


Eighth Question: Suspensions: you have expressed concerns about MGL Ch 222. In past few years, decreased suspensions, keeping kids in desk and in schools. What more would you like to see happen?

D’Andrea: Suspension rates have gone down because of Ch 222. This is where safety becomes an issue. Students act out, and sometimes they shouldn’t be there. When he was young, kids were in in-school suspension or sent home. Do we want schools safe? Yes. Do we want students educated? Yes. So – need to re-evaluate Ch 222.

McCullough: Students who want to get an education, smaller group who wants to disrupt learning environment. Need to work with legislators on Ch 222.

Ramirez: Worcester has a huge issue with suspensions. One of the challenges is that it is implemented poorly – does not allow for timely training of teachers.

Colorio: should be advocating for our students with state legislators.


D’Andrea: need to work with state legislature to stop punishing kids who want to learn.


Ninth Question: How should poor performing teachers be evaluated, high-performing teachers rewarded?

Monfredo: We don’t need to look at MCAS as the be-all, end-all of teacher evaluations. If done properly, evaluation should provide teachers with areas to improve and ways to get there. Principal must discuss with teacher and set meaningful goals and progress. To improve qualitiy of instruction in our schools.

Novick: Telling that as part of RTTT agreement, we agreed to evaluate on test scores, we can’t figure out how to do that without getting sued.

Biancheria: need to have effective teachers, but make them confident, that culture is working well in schools.

Collins: Believes in teacher evaluation – couldn’t hear the rest because of the peanut gallery.

Monfredo: Goes right back to the principal.


Tenth Question: You argued that WPS served an econ development purpose. What role do you see WPS serving in that role, strengthening in that role?

McCullough: State of schools is extremely important to her. Need to bring in more corporate partnerships. After being mortgage industry, saw how important schools were in keeping people in the city. Need to provide employers with top-level employees.

Foley: One of the first questions families always ask is how the schools are. Critically important to employers for workforce development.

Ramirez: she is a homeowner in Worcester, important that we generate a good workforce. Students should be civically engaged, part of community.

O’Connell: train students in areas that will be economic drivers. Encourage families to stay here, businesses to bring people into Worcester.

McCullough: Important for success of city that students be successful today.


Eleventh Question: Testing. You have expressed concern about efficacy, etc. of testing in schools.

Novick: Best way to measure success is by day-to-day work in the schools. We want students to write well, so we have them writing every day. When parents ask about school system, they run far better than the test scores. Two of her children are at level 3 schools. That does not represent education they get at the schools.

Ramirez: Need to be thoughtful of assessment, grew up taking Regents Exam in NY.

Colorio: It’s a federal law, whether opinions differ or not. Opposed to PARCC – MCAS on steroids. If you think the MCAS is teaching to the test, wait ’til you see PARCC.

Foley: supports testing that measures student’s academic progress, gives student and teacher feedback.

Novick: under the waiver of ESEA, we do not need to be doing standardized testing.


Twelfth Question: Vocational ed question. How would WPS use expertise at Worcester Tech to improve career readiness at all schools?

Foley: Worcester Tech has been an incredible success. A number of students are not able to get into Worcester Tech. Putting Ch 24 programs in some schools. Would like to use Worcester Tech more efficiently, with an evening program for certificate for those at other (comprehensive) high schools.

Collins: that’s my school. Strongly believes in career opportunities – carry on tradition to other public schools. Yes, there’s a price tag on it. Other ways to restructure budget.

Biancheria: College and career readiness has been something she worked on as a school-to-career coordinator. More opportunities we have in comprehensive schools, better for everyone. Our high schools will then have Ch 24 available for everyone.

Colorio: Doesn’t want to diminish Worcester Tech – programs in other schools need to be strengthened. Public education is not pipeline for private industry, they can pay for training their own employees.
Thirteenth Question: Common Core. Part of curriculum since 2011. You are leading ballot initiative to repeal Common Core.   MCAS scores have increased in Worcester. Why return to standards from 15 years ago?

Colorio: Common Core has failed MA. On some test kids take in 4th grade, they went down. In next education poll, teachers do not want the common core.

O’Connell: Common Core has been successful for Alabama, Mississippi, and states like that. Not as aggressive as standards MA had from Ed Reform of 1993.

Ramirez: Sometimes the challenge is not what we are doing – we do need a revamp of curriculum – thinks Common Core provides higher order thinking skills. How do we train teachers and educators how to implement and improve Common Core?

Biancheria: One of our biggest challenge, need to look at options. MCAS set a standard in MA, created testing in all our schools. Common Core, different academic standard.

Colorio: It does not help critical thinking at all. Decreased literature 60%.


Fourteenth Question: Purpose of public schools is to improve outcomes for minor children, how to balance with transparency? (Mentions closed-door meeting at North)

Biancheria: WPS needs to work with everyone. Not having press closes the doors. Can’t afford to close the doors at any time. Parents should protect our kids’ privacy. Question of safety in schools, academic excellence, need to open the door.

D’Andrea: there was a private meeting on a public issue, where public issues were utilized. It takes a village to raise our children.

Collins: believes school administrators at DAB should be re-evaluated, have been covering things up. More public meetings regarding school safety and how to address school safety.

Ramirez: Often difficult to invite people to a public meeting – there are those who have put out incorrect information, jeopardizing lives of kids in school. Screaming disaster in city does not help anyone.

Biancheria: Transparency when it comes not to safety, also about budget.


Fifteenth Question: How can SC improve coordination and engagement with administration and public?

Ramirez: Collective will to do better. Set strategic direction, personal agendas holding us back from moving district forward. About strategic planning, aligning goals with superintendent, managing goals on yearly basis.

Monfredo: Cooperation among all of us is essential. Doesn’t think we have personal agendas, should be for what is best for students and community. This community depends on strong workforce.

O’Connell: have committees that go deeply into certain topics, invite public in, research topic deeply, and have discussion. Solid, transparent process.

Collins: SC needs more open-minded people. More rubber-stamp voters. Only two open-minded people on the SC currently.

Ramirez: people putting the children in the middle of every decision you make will help move Worcester forward.


Sixteenth Question: as a recent graduate of Worcester Tech, certain members have been “out of school way too long”. SC not just about education, but funding, etc. How have your experiences qualified you for managing a major public corporation?

Collins: Currently, teachers get paid $71k a year, that hardly increases. Every year, administrator salaries increase. Cut principal salaries to increase teachers’ salaries.

McCullough: doesn’t matter how long you’ve been out of school, doesn’t affect how you are as an SC member

D’Andrea: balances community and private life every day. With students every day. His project management skills…

O’Connell: as SC member, we get to be in school frequently. He’s COO for a school district, etc.

Collins: most of these SC members don’t have kids in public school.


Seventeenth Question: School facilities. WPS manages many facilities. 11 built prior to 1900. Only four renovated in the last 15 years. Where should WPS look to increase funding for capital projects?

O’Connell: look to state for capital assistance, really have been taking effective approach wherever we can attain them. The city has taken a strong level of support.

Novick: We have not spent as much time on capital budget. City’s budget for schools vs. other projects is out of whack.

Monfredo: MSBC helps with 80% of windows and doors.

D’Andrea: we have a lot of schools, everyone wants new schools, updated facilities. Need to come up with way to prioritize plan to modernize and improve schools.

O’Connell: We need to maintain a long-range plan to improve facilities.


Eighteenth Question: Improving Academic Achievement

D’Andrea: Better student engagement through community engagement. WE can always achieve better together.

Foley: pre-natal to age 5 is not funded, need kids to hit school ready to learn.

McCullough: more tech in classrooms, smart boards, all in grades 3-12 exposed to … program.

Monfredo: has been advocating for full-day Preschool. 12% absenteeism. Need to look at that and come up with a program.

D’Andrea – bring creativity back into teachers’ lesson plans – not teaching to a test.


Nineteenth Question: Improving ELA test scores.

Monfredo: putting books in kids’ hands are important, but having parents learn importance of reading aloud to kids is also important. Summer slide – need to engage United Way, Interfaith Groups, social service agencies, to make sure we’re on the same page.

Colorio: Cutting down on literature and drama. Increase IAs and tutors.

Novick: first, we’re not cutting back on literature. MCAS scores and literacy are not the same thing, are you being surrounded by reading you actually enjoy.

McCullough – we have three libraries in schools (can’t hear because of the peanut gallery)


Twentieth Question: administrators have regulatory and hiring flexibility. Should this be expanded and replicated in WPS?

McCullough: decision should not be made arbitrarily or in haste, principal work with others to make this happen.

Biancheria: Principals need additional professional development, not on the level as human resource professionals.

Foley: Schools create culture of school-based management (talking about Level 4 school). Best fit for school, hold principal responsible for what happens in school without letting them pick team.

Novick: question about involvement of staff; when Claremont plan was being considered, was being actively lobbied by Claremont teachers to approve the plan.


Final Question: about primary responsibility.   SC is responsible for oversight of superintendent and administration.

Biancheria: Encourages public to contact her with questions.

Collins: in accountability plan, will redefine responsibilities of superintendent. Her contract should be bought out if she can’t work with SC and teachers.

Colorio: voted for more of a communication between SC and superintendent. First step when she was on SC.

D’Andrea: transparency seems to be the norm. Plans to have office hours, go into community even more to discuss with superintendent.

Foley: communication is important. Will encourage further collaborative effort to bring families, etc., together with SC and admin.

McCullough: clear channel of communication is essential. Very clear that community wants this communication, lack of it from Superintendent.

Monfredo: communication and transparency mentioned tonight. Must all be engaged in spirit of cooperation.   Job is not to rubber-stamp, but to ask tough questions. Enter into a collaborative partnership.

Novick: MA Association of School Committees code of ethics – will continue to bring concerns of community to admin, always available on social media, thinks it’s crucial that we follow open meeting law and public records request.

O’Connell: recommendations about Super’s transparency still stand.

Ramirez: strategic goals, staying on top of it, will bring results

Candidate Forum Summary – September 16

I know it’s difficult to read a long liveblog (almost as much as it is to try to keep track of who’s saying what).  This is a slightly biased summary of the candidate forum; Telegram coverage is here, and I hope there will be video available at some point.


There were seven questions that all candidates were given a minute to answer.  No opening remarks, but each candidate was given a minute at the end to make closing remarks.

This was a tough format.  There were nine at-large candidates at the event — Sargent, Zlody, and Parham did not attend — and it was tough to remember what the question was after the fourth candidate or so.

Since each candidate had to answer every question, it turned into a Rashomon-like struggle to remember what the question was.

The questions themselves were fine — I appreciated the question about transportation especially.


The room only had about 20 people when I arrived (candidates excluded) but quickly filled to overflow by the time the forum began.  While there were many usual suspects (myself included) there were plenty of folks I’ve never seen at City Hall or other political events and that was great to see.

Who did well

The topic (community development) was suited for Moe Bergman and Matt Wally, both of whom I consider to be the candidates with the most knowledge/interest in this area.  I thought they both did rather well.

I had been very impressed with Matt Wally when I saw him on 508, and I thought in this forum he came across as well-informed and experienced. He seemed to have a good knowledge of the housing stock in Worcester and acknowledged that some three-deckers in extremely poor repair are never going to be habitable again, and should either be redeveloped (as housing), or turned into small parks or community gardens.  He seemed to want a balance between market-rate housing and affordable.  Perhaps he appeals to the wonk in me, but I thought he did fabulously (and I’d be interested to see how he handles questions in other forums).

I haven’t been paying as much attention as I would like to the day-to-day life of the City Council — so perhaps this isn’t news to anyone else — but I really appreciated Moe Bergman‘s positive attitude.   I liked his emphasis on walk/bike accessibility (in addition to other transportation concerns).  I liked his mention of the Albany program that used Section 8 vouchers to turn renters into homeowners.  He came across as giving a crap about increasing homeownership, and about making sure the city presents opportunities to future generations in the way it had done to past.  He did a great job.

Juan Gomez did pretty well — and I’m no Juan Gomez fan!  He’s articulate, he’s got a plan (which he mentioned a few times!) and he was able to shift the conversation on public transit away from the WRTA and towards livery, Uber, etc.  He’s going to appeal to a certain voter — if you’re no fan of Ray Mariano’s A Better Life Program, or if you cringe when someone says there’s a political machine in the city, he’s probably not your guy — but he was articulate and I thought he made good points about areas of the city that do not have strong institutional partners.

Other thoughts

Bill Coleman was engaging as always, and had a lot of intelligent comments and good ideas.  Unfortunately, the forum format lent itself to a lot of “I agree with”s, but he made a good case for moving the police station to the Wyman-Gordon site and to having the city rehab vacant homes and encourage local ownership of rental properties.

Khrystian King also did well, but he used my kryptonite phrase (Worcester is a “city of neighborhoods”) and made a lot of emphasis on the need for public safety and good schools.  Those are important, but I just wanted to hear a little more about specific development ideas.

As for Konnie Lukes, Kate Toomey, Joe Petty, and Mike Gaffney — is anything said at this forum, or anything I say about this forum, going to affect whether or not you vote for them?

Toomey was late due to a public works committee meeting she chaired, so I’ll give her a pass — none of her answers were inspired, I thought her comment that public transportation was better when more people used it was a bit odd (perhaps people don’t use it because it’s not so great?) but — face it — if you’re going to vote for her, it’s not because of how she answered a few questions about community development.

If you’ve listened to a City Council meeting in the past two decades, you know how Konnie Lukes would answer any of the questions in the forum.  She was able to name-check Ronald Reagan and neighborhood councils in one breath, and bring up some of her other ideas (merging police and fire departments, competition in transportation).  Like Toomey, if you’re going to vote for her, you’re going to vote for her.

Petty did better than I expected, though his answer to the transportation question revolved around the elderly getting to medical appointments (as opposed to King’s comment that reliable transportation can be the difference in having a home or being homeless, which was more relevant).  He made much of investments in Union Hill, name-checked inspectional services every chance he got, and rattled off enough community development projects that you felt sure he’s done something in his time on the Council.

Gaffney had a “I had a choice between a root canal and this forum, and I should’ve picked the root canal” attitude.  I don’t want to be too negative towards any particular candidate, but if I lived in the needle-ridden, free-lunch-taking, worst-walkable-city in America that Michael Gaffney lives in, I’d just move.

Candidate Forum: Community Development and Neighborhood Revitalization

I’ll liveblog when we get started; right now there’s a crowd of 30-40 people here.

Candidates here: Bergman, Coleman, Gaffney, Gomez, King, Petty, Wally.  (That’s right — no women)

This forum is sponsored by:

-Worcester Branch NAACP
-The Initiative for Engaged Citizenship
-Worcester Common Ground
-Worcester Education Collaborative
Oak Hill CDC and The Neighborworks HomeOwnership Center of Central MA
-Main South CDC
-Southeast Asian Coalition of Central MA
-YWCA of Central MA
-Worcester Community Labor Coalition
-Neighbor 2 Neighbor Education Fund

6:08 – Konnie arrives

Also, City Hall legend Keith Scott

More folks filing in; I’d say more like 50 people here now.

No opening statements; candidates will have a 1-minute closing statement.  They will have 1 minute to answer each question.

Councilor Toomey will be coming later on after a meeting she is chairing; Sargent and Zlody not able to attend.

First question: What is one community development initiative you would like to lead to revitalize inner-city neighborhoods in Worcester?

Bergman: foreclosed properties, given that foreclosure rates have increased, match up people who want to live in their own homes with a home owned by absentee landlord– this is a missed opportunity

Coleman: Agrees with Bergman; folks out there paying $1100-1200 for rent when they could be paying $500-700 for mortgage.  He thinks the process of foreclosure when people don’t pay taxes needs to be repealed.

Gaffney: storefronts, no one is going to want to move to a neighborhood, shop where needles are.  Control crime and addiction problems.

Gomez: Centro las Americas is invested in Main Middle — no man’s land with no major institution — with resources we will put together revitalization plan.

King: if people don’t feel safe, if schools don’t meet kids’ needs, they will not stay in the neighborhoods.  As a social worker, owner-occupied home and small businesses invest in the community.  Can’t talk about community development without talking about small businesses.

Petty: Union Hill, inspectional services, police, taking a neighborhood back.  Wal-Mart neighborhood (Worcester Crossing), a number of great projects like Kilby-Hammond-Gardner.

Wally: inner-city economy built by small business growth.  Businesses in Worcester need to have access to capital.  Biz Worcester Now program, like Buy Worcester Now program.  Downtown, he feels, has a foundation and need to complement with business corridors with access to capital.

Lukes: has supported all the incentives that we resort to as a city council.  Reagan: Hello, I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.  Neighborhood councils would make a difference.  In the charter over 25 years but no one has looked at it.

Given finite municipal resources, what criteria would you use to focus community development $$?

Coleman: we keep hearing can’t do it, city manager who has been an elected official who is moving forward with projects that would have been stifled in years past.  We need a new police station.  Money in Washington, why not use Wyman-Gordon.

Gaffney: will need to leave by 7.  We have scattershot approach.  Doesn’t do anything.  What’s happening is Canal District, Shrewsbury St., need to move it out.  Move the whole force into other neighborhoods.

Gomez: low and moderate income individuals, lack of institutional stakeholders, crime stats, should all determine eligibility.  Reminds everyone that he is the only comprehensive economic plan; pretty thorough.  Time for folks to think about the big picture.

King: there’s been a lot of development downtown.  Invest in neighborhoods.  The business is coming, but the way we move forward as a city from inside out, focus on small businesses and neighborhoods, targeted tax breaks for the small businesses.  Without public safety, we cannot move forward.

Petty: not sure there’s a finite dollar amount, need right partners to take a neighborhood back.  Union Hill neighborhood, had Oak Hill CDC.  Just like Kilby-Gardner project with Main South CDC.  He mentions SWIP, ripe for development.

Wally: look at two things: high unemployment/vacancies, and level 4 schools.  Allocate resources to those areas.  But do not forget areas where private capital is — focus on two different areas.

Lukes: only one candidate has said words need to be said: Juan Gomez: big picture.  We may deviate from a vision, but should be looking to the long-term.  If we merge fire and police, then we can look at a new public safety complex.  That eyesore, the Wyman-Gordon property, can solve a lot of problems.

Toomey: came in during the question.  Dollars are short some years, need to take priority perspective.  Public engagement: by talking to folks in community and identifying areas of need, we can understand where to place $$ the most.  Reach out into the community.  You can’t do it all at once, but do need a big picture.

Bergman: Return on investment, but not just in dollars and cents.  What will bring us back the most tax money, but also moral/ethical role.  Spread in areas where people can have hope; next generation can prosper and succeed.  Not necessarily a short-term or long-term approach, but want to make Worcester a better place.

A large portion of federal funding has been allocated to projects by private developers.  Do you think greater portion should be allocated to non-profits?  Why or why not?

Gaffney: Not sure if I agree with the premise of the question; significant amount of funds go to CDCs, 3.4 million dollars penalty (not the word he used).  TIFs tend to go to private developers.

Gomez: reality is that not any one developer/entity has what it takes to revitalize the city.  Happens to disagree slightly with the question, have to use all the tools available to us to positively impact life in the city.

King: have to exhaust all options.  Project-by-project basis.  The one thing we want to be assured if it’s local jobs for local people; ensure that our folks have access and opportunity to jobs.

Petty: doing an excellent job with private and non-profit developers.  Private mostly gets TIFs; mentions the El Morocco development proposal from last night.  All working together on the same page with various partners; mentions Main South.

Wally: no one knows what community needs better than CDCs.  Larger projects like old voke school – Winn was able to leverage their resources better.  Not an either/or — can be a mixture of both.

Lukes: When I listened to the question, I immediately nodded no that’s not correct.  Several small property owners feel at disadvantage with CDCs.  We look at tax incentives, which make us lose taxes on promise that jobs will be created, but we never confirm that jobs are created.  We should not be allocating few resources we have this way.

Toomey: Very often federal funding comes with caveats.  Take it on case by case basis; not one size fits all.

Bergman: agrees with Toomey.  One thing we do poorly is divide: commercial vs residential tax rate.  Projects need to be evaluated on case-by-case basis.  Don’t pit one group against another — don’t look at groups as enemies of one another.

Coleman: Back in 80s, we made commitment for linkage programs, we don’t hear that anymore.  He supports both non-profits and for-profits.

What would you do to enhance local public transit system and make sure all our neighborhoods have reliable access?

Gomez: Transportation is a problem in every urban center.  We have to rely on private sector for people who are looking to get jobs.  In 2004 and 2005 – fought to protect those who could transport low and middle income people — entire municipal structure fought it.  Work with individuals developing private transport.

King: Reliable transportation can be difference between homelessness and a home, stable family environment and not.  Not question of private and public, look at Local Aid to see if state legislators can bring in additional $$ for transportation.  Nothing more important than reliable transportation within and without the city.

Petty: important issue, esp when comes to elderly getting to their doctor’s appointments.  How do you make a more vibrant transportation system?  Perhaps huge transport system with Worcester Public Schools.

Wally: Look a pre-existing resources.  There were a lot of concerns about the Hub.  A lot of those issues have been solved.  Continued dialog – public sessions where riders can express concerns.

Lukes: Bus company cannot work the way it has been.  Fixed routes cannot be only way – boutique services.  Competing with the marketplace: Uber, taxis, livery.  This area is ripe for reform.  To say we are doing a good job is being charitable because we are not.  Sees major changes coming in that whole environment.  Bus company should be more responsive.

Toomey: Usage issue.  We had better public transportation issue when more people used it.  Jobs in suburbs, people can’t get to them.  You can’t be everything to everybody.  Car sharing, bike sharing, all different ways of getting people places.

Bergman: One of the reasons is that the WRTA isn’t responding to consumers are is that the city council has not asked them to.  Isn’t there a better way to be doing this?  We need to start with asking consumers what they need.  Throwing money at the problem isn’t going to solve it.  Walk/bike paths part of solutions.

Coleman: The Hub is a failure.   Bring the buses back to City Hall.  Businesses around there have lost 40% of foot traffic.  Proposes that in Nov 3 election, WRTA target certain polling places for free.  They did it in 2008 for presidential election.  They still need to help people get around city.

Gaffney: agrees with Councilor Bergman, lots of empty buses.  Coleman as well – change to Hub hurt some downtown businesses.  Worcester one of the worst walkable cities around; we are looking at state money for Main St revitalization.  Transportation as a whole can be improved.

The term “affordable housing” often has a negative connotation.  What do you understand of term and impact in community? Do we need to increase, decrease, or maintain levels?

King: Number of construction projects: Osgood-Bradley, old courthouse.  All these are important for our city.  Gentrification – want to be able to have affordable housing to not lose the culture of neighborhood.  (First use of “city of neighborhoods” in this forum!)

Petty: Affordable at all income levels.  Been trying to keep it that way.  Fine with 13% affordable housing.  Affordable Housing is not poverty; you want to mix housing with market-rate.

Wally: misunderstanding in community that those in affordable housing do not work and do not care about their neighborhoods.  Thinks there has been a concern about too much affordable housing or not enough.  500 units of market-rate housing downtown, benefit to community, but need to make sure everyone’s needs are being met.

Lukes: Housing is an emotional issue because it affects how the city looks.  Significant funds available for affordable housing, not so much for market-rate.  Worcester is a bargain — cheaper to buy a house than to rent.  Government intervention will make a big difference in this.  We are over the state limit for affordable housing.  We are doing more than our fair share.

Toomey: everyone has a different perception of what that means.  Can’t have one kind of housing in community — needs to be mixed.  Match jobs and housing.  We want to bring companies into the city too; element that should be looked at.  We have existing housing that needs to be looked at.

Bergman: According to the housing study the city spent a lot of money on, we have enough affordable housing.  His preference would be to give people who want to the opportunity to own a home.  Worcester is 50/50 renters/homeowners.  Small businesses, neighborhoods, schools benefit when people buy a home.  A lot of time mortgage is less than rent — Albany gave mortgage vouchers instead of rent and it was great.

Coleman: if you own a home, you build up equity.  Supports homeownership.

Gaffney: we’ve got a free lunch program here in Worcester.  If we don’t support more market-rate housing, we won’t be able to support anything.   Three-deckers: if you have one tenant that doesn’t pay, that can ruin things for you.

Gomez: to him, affordable housing is accessible to individuals who are lower-income, working class, as well as those who are poor.  If we want Worcester to grow, we need jobs.  No affordable housing, no people to have those jobs.  Market rate will come.   we need more affordable housing in the city.

Some of our city’s neighborhoods have high foreclosures and low owner-occupied rates in commonwealth.  How would you create new homeowners and support existing ones in these neighborhoods?

Petty: Union Hill, close to 80% renters.  We put $5 million into the neighborhood to make it stronger.  Would like to see police and fire class be given money for down payments to have them be neighbors, or other government workers.

Wally: financial literacy.  Homeownership Center of Worcester – folks who have ability to buy a home find an opportunity / capital to buy a home.

Lukes: not everyone can take advantage to buy home in Worcester.  In order to get that kind of constituency, city employees should live in and invest in the city.  Stable middle-income layer to our city.  Sees it shrinking more and more.

Toomey: rent-to-own program would leverage our dollars, and stable way to make homeowners.  So many absentee landlords; one of our big problems in the community.

Bergman: doesn’t want to tell certain people that they can’t buy a house.  That’s the American Way.  As a city, can work with local banks with incentives to buy in the city of Worcester.  When we identify homes in critical neighborhoods, perhaps city should buy them and stabilize the neighborhood.

Coleman: we allow outside entities to buy foreclosures and flip.  would like city council to opt out of this.  We can acquire 10-12 homes and have them refurbished and offer a lottery for first-time homeowners.  Environment they can afford to live in.

(Gaffney has left)

Gomez: Mariano has Better Life Program.  Doesn’t see any current elected official supporting that program.  Get out of cycle of dependency – give them opportunity to buy their own home.  Local banks need to CRA/invest in community.

King: Tax breaks for locals who want to rehab their homes.  More pride in neighborhood, but you have to keep them there – schools, public safety, parks, etc.

In the last year, 80% spike in foreclosures, many need extensive repairs.  How do you envision this would be accomplished?

Wally: that spike was because of backlogs, of banks seeing how the court decision on foreclosures would play out.  There are 15,000 3-family units.  Many graded in poor condition.  19% vacancy rate.  There are a number of properties in such a state of disrepair that they cannot be brought back to re-habitation.  Need to be torn down, built back, or made into community gardens or pocket parks.

Lukes: Inspectional services will make them torn down, etc.  CDCs or other orgs who focus on housing in needy neighborhoods should get the properties.  Many people say that inspectional services are too heavy-handed with landlords.  We will have to dedicate private space to public.

Toomey: Utilize the people in our community (labor orgs, CDBG, students) who can help with restructuring and rebuilding some of the homes.

Bergman: we need to be careful that residential tax rate doesn’t go up beyond people’s ability to pay.  Can’t choose between taxes and repairs.  Need to be vigilant about properties owned by absentee landlords.

Coleman: When you have an 80% increase, would like Council to be on record to take tax title property and sell to outside people.

Gomez: stop electing the same people who have been in office 10, 15, 20 years.  We keep electing them and expect different outcomes.  There is a political machine that is designed to keep certain people out and only provide opportunities to those who are politically connected.

King: Concerning statistic.  We have to have safe neighborhoods.  City residents, have incentives for city residents who want to buy and rehab.

Petty: Disappointing when we lost the Springfield case with the $5,000 bond.  Worst thing for a neighborhood is to have a number of blighted houses.

Closing Remarks

Next Forum: September 30 – at WPL about Youth

Wally: Twenty years of direct community development experience.  Have helped design comm dev program at Roger Williams University.  Has educational background, for-profit, and non-profit experience.  His experience would make him a great candidate for at-large candidate.

Petty: We did a lot of great planning over the past year.  About working together with the federal govt, state govt, businesses, a number of projects he is proud of.  South, Doherty, and Burncoat will all be done!

King: has been a front-line social worker for 20 years.  By the time he was a sophomore in college, he was a pallbearer at two of his friends’ funerals, due to gun violence.  Through his work, has had fortune to work with WPD, Mayor’s Office, runs Crompton summer basketball league.  You can’t talk about community development without talking about jobs, public safety, status of education, engaging all partners.  We need a community voice on this council.

Gomez: I will be, with your vote, and God’s will, your city council.  Thirty years of service — no question about whether he is committed or has skills.  Took a small organization and made it into a full-service org.  Will tell the truth, when emperor has no clothes.  Has to make this government responsive, not just to private interests.


Coleman: that was Juan’s sister (laughs from the crowd) He has been a community activist, though he wanted to be a parish priest.  He was in Washington many years ago, he’s started running in Worcester in 1979.  It’s been a challenge running in this city.  Never felt that race was the biggest issue holding him back.  Ran Cribs for Kids, raised $500k when city ran out of money in 2002.  We have people on one side of the aisle and council on the other, and ne’er the twain shall meet.  He’s a 24 hour direct connect candidate — call him.  You can go out to breakfast — it’ll be on him!

Bergman: He thinks Initiative and those who attended deserve a credit.  There’s not anyone here who does not care deeply about the city.  The most important thing on his resume is that he’s a child of immigrants.  He understands what hope is, to not understand the language, to live in a three-decker, he saw all those things.  He struggles with wondering whether we are giving everyone the same opportunities.  That won’t show up on a piece of paper — he wakes up every day wondering how to make your lives better, and your children’s and grandchildren’s lives better.

Toomey: Grateful to all who have put the program on and who have attended.  Incredible honor to have served on CC for 10 years and SC for 6 years before that.  Has been involved in parks and school sports.  Knows that kids are getting a good education, wants to make sure it’s basis for continued growth in development.  Can’t look at city myopically.  Need to be able to engage young people, school system, educate kids for jobs of the future, safe streets, police, fire, infrastructure.  Stop broken windows theory in our community.  (Though I think she just used that incorrectly.)

Yesterday’s News Today!

Well, wasn’t yesterday an exciting day for politics in Worcester?  Let’s recap (in anticipation of tonight’s candidate forum):

The Strangely Saddening: Phil Palmieri drops out of the race.

The Bright Side: Linda Parham is bumped up and will likely be on the ballot.

“Will She or Won’t She” — the Answer! She won’t.

The Reassuring: Bill Coleman will!

The Confusing: A promotional police chief exam will be offered in a couple of weeks.

The Unnecessary, yet Welcome: Gary Rosen’s lawn signs: