I find that at the beginning of most of my beautiful friendships, threats don’t really come up.
Not so with the City of Worcester.
As reported in the T&G and the WBJ, the Worcester Redevelopment Authority is now asking to expand its 2016 Urban Renewal Plan to include the west side of Green Street (and all side streets therein), the Burger King at Kelley Square, Table Talk Pie Bakery & Corporate Offices, and the Corner Lunch Diner. They are proposing to demolish 18 additional buildings.
Perhaps if the city had conducted public meetings about the proposed stadium more as fact-finding sessions and less as rallies for bread and circus, we could have found out a bit more about the grasping that would come from this agreement.
As it stands, the WRA (and, by extension, our new “friends”) are threatening that the stadium will not be completed on time and that the city will be on the hook for damages for the project not completing on time.
I haven’t read the full report, but I encourage you to. As far as I can tell they want the eminent domain abilities for (1) a new parking garage, (2) to expand streets, (3) to build residential that will have as much success as 145 Front Street, and (4) why the heck not.
One might wonder why a neighborhood that seems to be doing a pretty good job of revitalizing itself needs any outside help. One MIGHT EVEN wonder if the proposed changes would do away with much of the charm that attracts people to that neighborhood.
Since nothing says Worcester like getting rid of diners and other taxpaying businesses in order to line the pockets of rich out-of-towners, I suggest you come on down to the City Council tonight at 7pm and ask when they will start representing you and stop representing Lucchino, et al.
Tonight, the City Council will likely approve a deal to bring the Pawtucket Red Sox to Worcester, likely unanimously (or close enough, if Councilor Wally abstains).
Bill Shaner was there; I see some notes already on Twitter and will update this with more of his coverage as I see it.
As always, my notes are a bit loose but I tried to capture the spirit as much as possible.
While the house was packed at OLA, if you’re reading this you probably didn’t attend, so you can catch it on Unity Radio tomorrow night (8/29) at 6pm, Friday (8/31) at 6pm, and Saturday (9/1) at noon.
And — if you can — please vote in the primary next Tuesday, September 4!
Gary Rosen introduces the candidates: Loosemore, LeBoeuf, and Gemme are all running in the Democratic Party primary, Fullen as a Republican.
Hank Stolz discusses the format: every candidate will say something absolutely brilliant tonight. Hold applause. Two minute opening statement, one candidate will get a question with two minutes to respond, then each other candidate will get a one minute response, first candidate will get one minute rebuttal. Last half hour Lincoln-Douglas style debate with candidates asking each other questions.
Paul Fullen (Republican candidate): has always lived a life of service, time in US Navy, has served in WFD for 21 years. Thinks opponents take the label “state representative” literally – representing the state over the people (I think, sorry, kind of missed that). Families are foundation of society, and that they come first, he will fight for families. Mentions his wife and seven children.
Pam Gemme: lived challenges and obstacles that many have faced. Dropped out of high school as a single parent, experienced poverty and homelessness. She put herself through college, went to school and worked, both full time. Had supportive parents. Has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree, has been social worker for 28 years, has always served. Knows that access to good jobs, transpo, affordable housing, are important. Will focus on issues important to us, will focus on name-calling and blame game for others.
David LeBoeuf: shout-out to his mother, whose birthday is today. He attended WPS, attended Clark and then Harvard. Discusses his involvement in the community (ACE) – he began running last year because he saw a need. Identified issues important to the district, universal pre-K, fighting for small business, econ dev = community dev. Knows community, knows you, the people who live here. (This was quite good and unfortunately I couldn’t type it all.)
Stu Loosemore: to fight and work hard for constituents in this district. Worked at statehouse for 10 years, has worked for 6 years with small businesses. This is our home, wants to work for the people in this district. Focus on conservation, public safety officials need tools to keep us safe and to keep them safe.
[Sorry, sometimes the ladies next to me speak so loudly I can’t concentrate on the candidates at all times. Hey, that’s my job!!]
First question to Loosemore, from Walter Bird:
Q: Opioid crisis. 1 – safe injection sites: Y/N
Loosemore: the opioid crisis has touched everyone in some way in this room. Would want to focus on getting people into programs to get recovery assistance, to help overcome addiction. Does not need to focus on prolonging the problem. [Bird pushes for an answer] The city has done a good job with needle exchange, but probably wouldn’t support needle injection sites. We should be working to get help/counseling they need.
LeBoeuf: We don’t have enough information to see if this is an effective model. Gloucester model: no arrest, treatment on demand, Narcan can be in the same box as AED device. Supports city opioid lawsuit. Talks about the ability for treatment centers to pull back funding up to 2 years out. (Again, excellent answers – I couldn’t get to this all)
Gemme: has seen parents pass away from heroin overdoses. Chief Hurley from Leicester talking about the town’s issues – kits for parents to test their children. Injection sites would have to be tied to treatment.
Fullen: There is no such thing as a safe injection site unless it’s in an emergency room. 6/7 hits of Narcan to deal with some stuff that is loaded with fentanyl. We have methadone clinics, we take people off opioids by putting them on opioids. Talks about lawsuit and says it’s just for votes and to maintain bureaucracy.
[Well, I guess there’s no one-minute rebuttal…]
Q2 from Economou: education funding, lawsuits to try to recover $$ from the state. How do you go about changing or funding the new foundation budget for education?
LeBoeuf: funding as it exists now is child abuse. Formula was created in 1993, didn’t take into account special ed or health insurance costs. Disservice for communities that are working-class like Worcester and Leicester. Three things: nuts and bolts to determine the roots of inequality (low income, ELL, etc.); morals in regards to budget (moral conscience; why give breaks to tech companies and not fund Pre-K); fair share amendment or millionaires’ tax should be revisited – revenue should include more than property tax and tax overrides.
Gemme: in agreement about fair share amendment. Has seen education be the most wonderful thing for kids we serve, but also where kids are not having educational needs met. Fund education from PreK to college.
Fullen: we’re talking about raising taxes “with the fair share thing here”. Sooner or later we run out of other people’s money. The state brings in $100 million every day. South High should have been a trade school and serve the kids of Leicester who don’t have a trade school. Stops sending kids to colleges that are overpriced. Universal PreK is not effective. Best thing is to keep your kids at home – they get most of their care from their mother and father.
Loosemore: One size fits all formula does not work well. We should not turn back to property taxes, funding model should be improved.
LeBoeuf: Studies show that Universal PreK works well for most children. Families in this district spend more on child care than they do on their mortgage or rent.
Q3 from Bird: are you in favor of comprehensive sex ed programs in public schools? What should be included or not included? How to get through the state house?
Gemme: if we’re going to have comprehensive sex ed, it should have wellness and health component. It might be that it’s getting bogged down because there’s not enough details included. Most people in American ed have had [sex ed] at one point. Our kids are experimenting and asking friends. They learn from their peer groups. They might not get the right answers that way. More input from parents, teachers, law enforcement, social workers, other stakeholders.
Fullen: not sure what you mean by “comprehensive sex education, would have to see the curriculum for it.” Schools should teach “reading writing and rithmetic, that would be helpful.” [Fullen is quotable if nothing else] We had health and safety class when he went to South High School. [Bird notes that rates for STDs are through the roof] Fullen doesn’t see it.
Loosemore: sex ed needs to have an opt out who don’t wish for the school to teach their children. That’s their right. But there should be the curriculum offered, should be statewide.
LeBoeuf: graduated from South High in 2008 and didn’t have comprehensive sex ed, questions in a box and luckily had a nurse that was clarifying that. Studies are there, it makes sense. Increase in STDs and teen pregnancy in states that do not have comprehensive sex ed.
Gemme: has seen young girls and boys, 10 and 11, trafficked in the streets of Worcester. Given drugs and alcohol, started with addictions, to work on behalf of their pimps. We need kids to understand what grooming is.
Q4, from Economou: WRTA has argued that state has level-funded for the last four years. How would you increase funding from state to WRTA? Other ways for WRTA to survive?
Fullen: the answer is to keep pouring money into it. Low ridership, low fares, can’t sustain itself. Uber/Lyft are being used. Doesn’t think it’s a sustainable option. [Economou presses for an answer] He would let it “run its course”
Loosemore: funding for public transportation same as public education: it’s broken. People use public transpo – not everyone has the luxury of owning an automobile or multiple autos. No public transportation can turn people into shut-ins. Would support moving it into trust funds.
LeBoeuf: three of the proposed cuts were through this district. No one at the state house was fighting for us. Met someone who lives on Green Street in Leicester, she has MS, can’t afford Uber and Lyft, and now there is no paratransit for her. If we can fund the MBTA, we can fund the WRTA. Companies coming here can contribute to public transportation funding. We deserve equal access to public transpo.
Gemme: When you visit other countries and states, they have more modern public transportation systems. Would never have made it through college without the WRTA. Need to modernize WRTA.
Fullen: we have some of the richest poor people in the world. So they should be able to take an Uber. They can afford phones, air conditioning. [Note: you could CUT THE AIR with the disgust in this room whenever Fullen talks]
Q5, from Bird: do you believe that schools are prepared with violence we have seen [such as in Florida]?
LeBoeuf: hasn’t seen the building plan for South High. (speaks a bit about design of North High contributing to some issues) Environment in the school system – guidance counselors, social workers, resource officers can be in schools so that students can share any threats they hear. School safety something we are scared about. Fortunately we haven’t had that in Worcester because we have a strong school system and community.
Gemme: not for any firearms for teachers. Kids should not have to be afraid about going to school. Schools are wiser about violence prep, but we should have ongoing discussion with administrators. Mental illness should be treated better.
Fullen: schools are unsafe from massacres because schools are gun-free zones so only criminals are there with guns. Israel has no school shootings because they have armed guards.
Loosemore: kids need to know where they can talk to adult about problems/issues they’re having. Stop talking AT kids, begin listening to the kids. How do we help kids overcome the issue.
Q6, from Economou: what is first issue you’d like to tackle and why?
Fullen: opioid crisis is biggest one facing our families. Program that is 22% of budget doesn’t work, [sorry, not sure what program he prefers to] which replaced program that did work.
Loosemore: education funding.
LeBoeuf: education as well, endorsed by Mass Teachers Association. Would rather invest in PreK than in AK47s in schools.
Gemme: pro-universal PreK through college funding. All kids deserve appropriate education funding.
Now we’re moving into a different round. Hank asked about the number 1 thing they’ve heard with doorknocking.
LeBoeuf: number 1 district people have talked about…healthcare, esp for seniors and working families. Proposal in state senate would raise eligibility gap, endorsed by Mass Nurses Association.
Loosemore: number 1 thing he’s heard when doorknocking is thank you. Folks are happy to talk about what’s important to them and to have someone listen. When one of us goes to Boston, we’re there to fight for the issues for people in this district.
Fullen: millions of dollars in Mass Health fraud
Loosemore says he does not feel guns in schools are the answer.
Gemme says folks are tired of the politics, want real truth in gov’t, want someone to stand up for them. Healthcare – seniors should not have to leave their homes because they can’t afford taxes. She wants to die in her home. Wants to work on that. Education – people are tired of being told that they’re losing teacher or assistant principal.
LeBoeuf: our district is a working class district, offended by “richest poor people” comment. Prescription health care costs go up radically when someone retires. People should not be squeezed. Why are you in this race if you don’t care about seniors losing their homes?
Gemme: it takes $22/hour to afford rent in Worcester. Will fight like hell in state house because she’s been doing it all her life. Will make relationships, knows how to get the job done.
Fullen: likes what Pam said about working across the aisle. That’s how things get done. So much animosity, people look for something to complain about instead of moving on. Rein in abuse of MassHealth.
Gemme: has managed a $20 million budget. The reason she is good at it is because she is creative.
LeBoeuf: budgets are moral documents. Where do we want to put our investments in? If you cut public health funding, people die. If you cut a health insurance exec’s salary, no one dies. If company gets a tax break, they need to meet promises. Incremental TIFs. [whoo-hoo, now he’s speaking my language!]
Loosemore: grab state agencies that don’t need to be in Boston, stop paying rent in Boston and move them to Central Mass.
Bird, to Fullen: probably you have had the most offensive comments tonight, references LeBoeuf.
Fullen: I’m sure David is easily offended. Seen people living in the streets, nowhere to live. This country has so many programs to help people. People in CVS want copay waived because they’re on Mass Health but they’re driving Escalades. These people will eventually want universal everything.
[At this point, I am convinced that Bruce Willis is here “in the role of Paul Fullen” because this is so over the top I can’t even.]
Gemme: people should be treated humanely, esp if they can’t afford their copay
Fullen: they can afford their copay and they choose not to
LeBoeuf: Mass Health also protects disabled people. I want to live in a society where we don’t let people die in streets, colleagues on the Democratic side share the idea. Economic inequality is a major issue in this district. We have a crisis in Cherry Valley because of people facing foreclosure because of water bills. We can address this by respecting dignity of our neighbors and working together.
Loosemore: government’s role is to support. [Good answer, just still in the afterglow of Fullen’s response]
Gemme: Fullen, you have been at Planned Parenthood holding signs. What are your plans for women’s healthcare when you get to the state house?
Fullen (with 2 mins): I am pro-life, do not believe in abortion. Public funding for Planned Parenthood, doesn’t agree with. Country that kills its own citizens is without hope. Baby is not a disease, it’s a human being.
Gemme: the law is that women have the right to that kind of healthcare. Decision made between a woman and her doctor. She is pro-life but still believes in a woman’s right to choose. To have a man like you with a sign like that, you have right to free speech, but it’s bullying.
Fullen: not bullying, I’ve never held a sign, but I’ve prayed. This destroys families.
LeBoeuf, to Fullen: would you commit to people’s pledge – pay donation to charity of opponent’s choosing if dark money org advertises on your behalf?
Fullen: each of you has way more money than me. If org I don’t know about, probably wouldn’t, esp if your charity is Planned Parenthood [back and forth about in-kind contributions from Marlboro Republicans]
[Fullen is a touch amazing. I do not mean that as a compliment]
Loosemore, to LeBoeuf: what’s your solution to the water problem in Leicester?
LeBoeuf: the water districts are independent, quasi-public agencies. Recognize that this is not the fault of the ratepayers. Bring people together and leverage state $$ and look for fed $$ – no business development without access to clean water. Marijuana $$ coming into Leicester – maybe they can leverage some of that into helping with water district.
Loosemore: how can you turn it from unsustainable to sustainable?
LeBoeuf: wants to hear more voices of the people, needs to have community buy-in before taking any action. If consolidation is what they want, would help with legislation. Has heard a lot of different opinions.
Fullen, question for LeBoeuf: you like to tout support of H. Chandler. She voted to give herself a 147% pay raise. Explain to taxpayers how this is fair and justified.
LeBoeuf: this was regarding raising legislative pay. He would not have voted for it. What’s done is done. Even some who have voted against it took that raise. Harriette has brought dignity and respect to the Senate. Proud to have been her campaign manager when she defeated Paul Franco, proud that Matt Wally defeated Paul Franco. Proud that she passed NASTY WOMAN bill, dental bill.
Fullen: so you would have taken it?
LeBoeuf: glad you have a crystal ball to know what I would have done. More praise for Chandler [zinger was better than that, you’ll just have to listen to the recording to get it.]
Closing statements – I will only type anything of note as my fingers are out of practice
Fullen wrote everyone (or maybe Gemme?) a poem “because you like poetry” –
Poems are fine and poems are fun,
But vote for Paul to get stuff done.
(I would put that in the “doggerel” category, but there you go!)
PS — As with so many of these events, I saw a lot of people I’ve known through all walks of life – at least one of whom I haven’t seen since high school. I’m pretty much staying retired from public life, but it was lovely to see everyone!
At-large CC forum
In the audience: Tony Economou, Jim O’Day
Moderators: Andrea Negri, Christina Spellane, and Eric Nieland
(Opening statements – I will hold on typing unless it’s something new to me)
Bergman: echoes Bob Kennedy’s opening statement: “The future of Worcester is in our hands” – he is one of the good hands.
King: need more inclusivity, more representative government.
Lukes: “I started school not speaking English, and I often think my colleagues wish I’d never learned” (much laughter) Flaw in our politics if we do not have high voter turnout.
Straight: being a newcomer part of what he has to offer. Has lived in other cities and can bring different perspective. Served in US Navy for 6 years. After that, received bachelor’s and master’s degrees. We have seen a lot of progress in the city over the last few years. Bringing down taxes for everybody. Hopes you will consider him on November 7 – but whatever else, go out and vote.
Toomey: “I may not be the most exciting candidate out there but I do work with my colleagues”
Q1: Main Street, downtown: what is city’s next priority? Where should city focus attention?
King: city in midst of renaissance, result of leadership of City Manager. [I’m forum-ed out, folks, but — How quickly we forget Mike O’Brien. Not just his wonderful hair, but – let’s be real – if things are happening downtown, the momentum was really started, perhaps, with Tim Murray but continued for many years with our previous city manager.]
Lukes: if we could be more successful with PILOT with non-profits [It’s like all Nicole’s third rails in one forum!!!] Need to look at community investment outside downtown. Only 32% of school population is white, going through major changes.
Straight: neighborhood development. Short-term tax incentives to redevelop real estate, vacant buildings/lots. Look at some of tax exemptions on small business side of things.
Bergman: neighborhoods tangential to downtown (lower Belmont, lower Pleasant, which has a lot of vacant storefronts). [Needless to say, Nicole feels there are a lot of vacant storefronts downtown…] Likes uniform look of awnings. Thriving demographic changes in neighborhoods.
Petty: continue to look at recruiting and retaining businesses. Make sure everybody shares in our successes. Make investments in public safety.
Toomey: RT 20 – we should stay on top of it. Surge of interest with Amazon, next biggest economic corridor for us to build on. Can’t wait for Amazon to come in. Public safety and schools are priorities. One of our schools was built in the 1800s.
Rosen: Downtown should be considered as a neighborhood. Remember downtown as a child. Hopefully with all the residents it will lead to retail spinoff.
Q2: public safety important issue to residents. While crime stats compare favorably with similar sized cities, all the ‘burbs look better from a safety perspective.
Toomey: just had citywide crimewatch, crime is down. We have great police department. Invested in a number of public safety initiatives: community policing, mounted police. We are second largest city in NE, not going to be the same as a sleepy little town. One of biggest issues is that from safety perspective, police officers dealing with a lot of mental health issues. Not just safety. Fires have gone down as well.
Bergman: Height of 374 police officers, down but so is crime. Need full complement of police officers if we will address certain issues. Better lighting, more foot patrols. Safest parts of city have highest proportion of homeowners, need to encourage this.
King: engages daily with WPD as frontline social worker, running summer league for 22 years. Filed order recently to bring back bike patrols. Park safety is important.
Lukes: job description of police officer has changed over the years as needs of community has changed. Government only as good as the people in it; police chief is very good. Community policing is enormously effective. Establishing body camera program. Believes in civilian review board. [Lukes going over the limit]
Toomey: have major investment in ShotSpotter, police been right on top of shootings that have happened.
Q3: as winter approaches, challenging driving conditions. Are we prepared for winter storms? What additional resources are you willing to commit?
[I thought we were going to talk about homelessness and cold conditions…I guess not! As long as we can drive! And why wasn’t the proposed increase in compensation to private plow operators asked??]
Petty: this year will have proper equipment, management, will continue to look into it. Probably over a million in equipment over the past year.
[Whoever mentions the Snow Dragon first gets my vote!!]
King: first year on Council, clearly some issues with plowing. We have a City Manager in place, he did a top-down review of snow removal operation. We have seen additional resources and equipment. Those who are elderly, etc., can contact someone to assist.
Straight: after what we have just heard, I am very excited for this winter. He noticed that the problems that he saw were contractors and not city personnel. There was a week where a whole lane of a street was covered in snow, so hopes things will be better after these reviews. [Best response of the evening – I can’t get it all but this is good.]
Toomey: this year will be much better. Bring in WPI for assistance.
[No one has mentioned the lack of treating many streets before the snow really hits…!!!!]
Q4: PawSox…that’s it, I’m ready to leave. You know what the question is. Who is more tired of this question: the candidates or Nicole?
Bergman: Pawtucket is a different example. Although taxpayers of RI and Pawtucket have some risk, it is manageable. Question of risk and safety. PawSox – if level of risk is manageable, could pose huge potential for city. This would help our inferiority complex. Ditto Amazon.
Straight: It’s more of a risk-benefit analysis. Thinks PawSox would be a draw. People investing money should be ones benefitting.
Rosen: if he could, he would buy tickets tonight. [note that no one has, as yet, mentioned the Creedon family.] It’s like opening a business; you have to invest money. [I thought the PawSox WERE a business; perhaps THEY can invest money when they open a business.]
Petty: would love to have the Red Sox here. As far as public funding, we should treat as any other developer.
Bergman: rewards would outweigh the risk.
Q5: WRTA – disproportionate impact to low-income, etc., folks when there are cuts to funding, routes. Commuter rail.
King: when there is an issue with funding, advocated on Beacon Hill. We need to engage legislators. Bus on time could be difference between homelessness and having an apartment. Fair share legislation: money for infrastructure and schools. Work with transit authority – not just lending an ear, being sensitive to needs of community.
Rosen: WRTA is really hurting. A lot of people aren’t using the bus. [I WONDER WHY!!!!] We need more riders. Chamber, WRRB, etc., need to encourage people to take the bus.
Lukes: technology is changing. We haven’t caught up with it. Self-driving cars, Uber, Lyft, [I think we need someone to talk about ACCESSIBILITY right about now]. MBTA is “an employment agency masquerading as a transportation service.”
Bergman: need to have an independent study.
King: emphasizes reliability. Opioid crisis: folks need to get to treatment providers.
Q6: as a result of dual tax rate [ALL THE THIRD RAILS…WHERE IS FLUORIDATION??]. Worcester’s tax rate among the highest in the state. High taxes [do we really have high taxes or high tax rate…?]
Straight: increase economic development. Bring in more businesses and residents. Increase senior exemption. Short-term tax incentives can spur development.
Lukes: just listening here to the talk about tax exemptions. Just shifts it to someone else. Giving exemption to one group – we still need to fund services. Someone else will be paying. In Shrewsbury, value of property went way up, then selectmen lowered tax rate. Properties in Worcester are cheap.
Toomey: tax RATE that everyone gets upset about – assessments in Shrewsbury went UP. What you are approving in budget corresponds with tax rate. Need to broaden tax base. More businesses, more opportunity for free cash.
King: when we talk about dual tax rate to single tax rate, has been political issue that has been around a long time. His father was small business owner, very sensitive to that. Need to find more $$ for budget, need fair share amendment (for those making over $1million). Tax rate: not on back of disabled, veterans, elderly. Not feasible to do at this time.
Straight: all those groups that Mr King mentioned are exemptions. These are the people we as a society want to help.
Q7: what metrics to assess manager, auditor, clerk?
Rosen: Ed Augustus is intelligent, capable, conscientious, loves the city. Seen so much change in the last four years. Supports him 100%. As far as auditor – sometimes he surprises me, takes him a while to do research. He should be better prepared as time. City Clerk does terrific job.
Toomey: currently do have tool they use. We are the ones who make priorities. [Sorry, discussing the Boston accent with my companion and missed the response]
Petty: manager brings deals together. We used to have review of each of those departments, have gotten away with it for past ten years, perhaps should review.
Straight: CM is doing a heckuva job [paraphrase; I’m getting punchy]. City clerk is wonderful, no experience with auditor.
Rosen: economic development, public safety, public health, parks. He meets with Ed Augustus at least once a month. “Let’s keep him, we need him.”
Q8: Bond ratings…city pays $35 million in debt service, not including OPEB. How to lower cost of borrowing?
Lukes: 25% goes to city operations, then fixed costs, debt, OPEB. Was up to $1billion, down to $800 million. CM Hoover punted and put in a cushion of $8-10 million. We don’t tax to the max.
Petty: Keep on the same path we’ve been on. Five point plan, now seven point plan. [I never thought of it this way…Mike O’Brien’s standard was the pentagram…?] Saved $2 million this year due to better bond rating.
Bergman: a lot of cities our size are envious of our bond rating. Sometimes we lose sight of increases in salaries, etc., “beyond our control”. Merge school costs and city-side costs.
Rosen: OPEB challenge for all cities and towns. Bond rating agencies are pretty tough. They give us a very high bond rating. They know wherever we can we put money towards this liability.
[this debate is turning me into a Mike O’Brien fangirl. Bond ratings, the most boring topic ever, was a big deal.]
Lukes: wants to have things both ways.
Q9: Worcester is a creative city. Arts have positive impact on econ dev. Do you think city has role in financially supporting the arts?
Toomey: stay out of their way because they’re doing a great job. Drives community, have people engaged from their community. Michelle May just did 10th year of Cirque du Noir. Start on the Street. Need to engage folks to provide housing, live/work spaces.
Straight: agrees with Toomey. Sorry, missed it.
Petty: $125 million in revenue comes from arts. 4,000 jobs. $9 million tax revenue. Many we create a fund for the arts. Add money from ticket sales for arts funding.
Rosen: arts in the parks, 100 events, certainly exceeded it. Namechecks the Joy of Music Program, so I will agree with that shout-out.
[no one has yet mentioned the Happiness Pony.]
Q10: Affordable housing, no adjacent community has achieved 10% recommended by state law.
Petty: this is one of the issues we should address as a Council. [One should really ask these people, so many of whom are incumbents, WHAT THEY HAVE DONE. My goodness, I don’t want to hear someone who has been in office for years that this is something that “should be addressed.” Just do it.] Mentions Main South, other projects. Supports affordable housing for everyone. Getting expensive in the city.
Rosen: Worcester needs both affordable and market-rate housing. Need to have regional approach. The solution is not Worcester takes more unless surrounding towns pay into the affordable housing we provide.
Bergman: problem not with towns but with the state. If you don’t do 10%, no stick/penalty; if you do more than 10%, no carrot/reward. Fact that people who own properties spend more in community. We need to increase homeownership.
Lukes: being a homeowner is expensive proposition. We don’t understand population in Worcester, constantly changing. More issues with homelessness, landlords in triple deckers keeping empty apartments because they can’t deal with business of being landlord. She lived through this with inherited property. Revenue coming in was as much as tenants could pay, and did not cover expenses of owning the home.
Q11: downtown’s commercial vibrancy of yore. Pedestrian-friendly business corridor emphasis relatively new. Urban design/planning.
Bergman: should be urban design guidelines [not his exact words] for planning board. New WRTA building looks like it was built in the 1970s. just because Worcester’s cold doesn’t mean we can’t use bikes. Evolve to accommodate other types of traffic, still have some ways to go.
Lukes: debate forums painful for candidates. This year we have gotten a consensus on architectural design review. “You’re not going to cut me off at 30 seconds, I was just getting warmed up” If city doesn’t look good, won’t get good first impression.
King: need to have inclusive urban design. Need to ensure that as Council. WRA. Asked for master plan for Main South area. Comprehensive approach to econ dev. Participated with Human Rights Commission, navigating with wheelchair. Moving in right direction.
Toomey: need to do research and look at trends. People want to live downtown, want to be able to walk to restaurant, theater, etc.
Q12: Tension over issues of race, gender, class.
King: start with representative government. Most diverse city council in history. Have to ensure people are part of the process. Need boards to have diverse representation. Steer clear of dog whistle politics, have seen some of that on Council floor. Most councilors have spoken up when they see that.
Toomey: nothing more exciting than when she attends social, cultural, or ethnic events. Doesn’t see a lot of people crossing over from individual culture. Would like to see a world parade, or world marketplace.
Straight: city has done some good in this area. Elections office put out PSAs in different languages. Crowdsourcing efforts about meetings (didn’t understand this one). City Council can set the tone and encourage participation.
Petty: worked hard over past 6 years to make everyone feel welcome. Hired chief diversity officer, in process of hiring another one. Making sure diverse in hiring practices. Work with Century to provide translation services. Clergy working with police. Jobs for youth, Rec Worcester.
Q13: in 2016, more than 1,000 overdoses. 53 were fatal. What do you think city should do about drug addiction?
Straight: high on list of his priorities. People become addicted in different ways. Not a disease that discriminates. No other way to address except dedicating resources to it. Lack of beds and services. Narcan distributed and has saved lives, but need treatment so that people can take back lives and get well.
Petty: education and taking stigma away. Have trained police, fire, health workers. Police and fire have Narcan. Karyn Polito – diverting people into treatment versus prison.
Rosen: crisis that knows no boundaries. Make sure doctors no longer prescribe opiates to young athletes, especially. Would have sports teams, young people educated. Have to prevent it.
Bergman: equal opportunity disaster. Council is not the experts, should defer to the experts. Shouldn’t be treated as a crime but as a disease.
[To those of us who listened to so much stigmatization from various Councilors of yesteryear regarding yellow boxes and various treatment efforts, this is a sea change. Would that these people, at least one of whom answered this question, had felt differently 15-20 years ago!]
Straight: part of taxes from marijuana shops should go to opioid addiction efforts.
Q14: Mt Carmel, Notre Dame
Rosen: has been working with Preservation Worcester. Little hope for ND, dwindling hope for Mt Carmel. We need to look at other historic buildings and developers for proactive preservation.
Bergman: respect private property rights, but needs to be balances with the city’s need. Once old buildings disappear, new buildings never as attractive. Needs to be good faith efforts during year of demolition delay.
Lukes: from public policy viewpoint, need to try to preserve these buildings and more. Look at buildings as form of public art.
King: Council clear about Mt Carmel situation. Important structures. Top 10 list developed by the city [as opposed to PW’s top 10 list…?!] There can be some work done in re econ dev. Not just about Italian Community, served youth, low income housing, across cultures, heart of community.
Q15: trash collection system. New approaches to litter, dumping.
Lukes: several years, has tried to have ban on plastic bags. We have moved too slowly. Look at whole issue of recycling and reuse. City can cut back on trash by 90% by 2040. Need plan in place to move in that direction.
King: has suggested to manager: increase hours of drop-off sites; bins should help keep items inside.
Toomey: non-profit collection bins had a lot of dumping, were able to establish permitting. Need more cameras in problem spots. Need to fine folks. KEEP WORCESTER CLEAN. [OK, now I really miss Mike O’Brien.]
Straight: trash caught in weeds on side of road. Hold state accountable for cleaning up on and off ramps of highways. Clear plastic bags to contain recycling. Money picking up trash, should put towards bulk trash pickup program.
Q16: public education – 60% of budget, educates 85% of youth. Strategic plan being developed.
Rosen: SC should consider foundation budget. If formula were changed – $90 million more for WPS.
Toomey: [Dianna and Brian came here after their forum]. When she was on the SC, advocated for change in Ch 70 funding. Put pressure on state and federal government to pay their fair share. We should be educating adults to prepare for new jobs, expand economy.
Petty: we are $90 million behind.
Bergman: more challenges in schools by virtue of different immigrants, socioeconomic differences. Formula will not be solved at the council level. We can engage in a class action with similar communities as a last resort.
Straight: likes some options mentioned above. Look at innovative ways to save in school system. BPS saved $3-5 million by optimizing bus routes.
Lukes: when we look at $90 million figure, we’re not going to get that. Look at Innovation Districts like Union Hill. (Sorry, might not have been the exact wording, been typing too long.)
King: always competing priorities. Investment in ed a priority. Middle schools sports can be brought back with outside funding. Great delegation, work with them to move things forward. Black and Latino Caucus with Sonya C-D, moving to adjust the formula.
Closing statements – I will skip
I was only able to attend one hour of this forum as the latter part conflicted with the Research Bureau At-Large City Council candidate forum.
Everyone in attendance but Molly McC (who has a flooded house)
WEC/CPPAC candidate forum – introduced by Jennifer Davis Carey
David LeBoeuf keeping time
Dianna Biancheria – looks at this as a Get Out The Vote effort; talk to your family and friends about voting. Emphasizes security. When she was on the SC for the first time in 2010, had budget of $20,000 in safety; now $100k, plus additional items like doorbells and walkie-talkies. Also, academic excellence. “You will know exactly where I stand on issues.”
Dante Comparetto: business owner; founded Stand Up for Kids Worcester, served on CPPAC, WPL Board, WAC, various school-related boards. Is a father to an 11-year-old daughter. Raised by single mom, homeless as teenager, with right supports he was able to turn his life around, wants to make sure other kids have the opportunities/supports he did. Social/emotional supports, wraparound services. Expand early childhood education programs.
Jack Foley: completing his 18th year on the School Committee. When his children were young, served on PTO, part of successful Prop 2 ½ override in 1991, finally ran for SC in 1999. His work in Main South (working for Clark) has been for those who have not had opportunities/place at the table. Worked to create a lot of small learning communities in high school. Three items: strategic plan, hopes everyone gets involved in process; budget process – foundation budget ($95 million gap); trauma/adverse childhood experiences — effect on students/classroom.
Donna Colorio: as educator at QCC, advocated for lower student/teacher ratio. Opposes excess standardized testing. Started drug task force that has improved drug/alcohol education. Advocated for safety in schools. Been involved in strategic planning for more than a year.
John Monfredo: became SC member after successful 20 years as principal at Belmont St School. Education has been and will continue to be great equalizer. Education needs to be priority in the city. Sees public service as a trust, many parents without a voice in the system. As educator, he knows what works. Last 12 years, has not been shy about advocating for arts, strong curriculum, strengthening schools. Started and collected needed funds for CPR program in middle schools. Honored by American Heart Association for his work. He has been active in community – Worcester The City That Reads and many other activities.
Brian O’Connell: CFO for Haverhill Schools. Visible changes/plans easy to quantify (school renovations). Area of academics less easy to see: need to set more achievable goals. Wraparound services. Students can do better and work harder with this support. Do not underestimate any of 25,000 students. Arts and music programs are growing; language initiatives (including Mandarin); bilingual education; expanded school day and year; public speaking skills; more clubs; PEAK program for gifted students.
Two questions that each candidate must answer.
Q1: Strategic Planning process led by WEC and WRRB – expected to be completed in late February.
O’Connell: use as organic, operative document. Do not lose track of plan over next few years. Two major meetings they have had so far – major interest. Good strategic plan looks at what challenges are, how to address. Focus on facilities & expenditures, also on academics. Need to bring more people into schools to support (non-profits, business partners) – needs to involve the entire community. Need community to play role in the plan.
Monfredo: working on strategic plan has been goal of superintendent since day 1. Embraced strategic plan with community input. No silver bullet in improving student achievement. Pay attention to data, where needs are. School improvement plan. Every teacher should know plan and should be approach. Absenteeism should be addressed; best practices; parent involvement; involvement of colleges and businesses. Foreign language and math. Full-day preschool. Summer of learning activities. Need budget adequately funded every year.
Colorio: has been an active member of the Worcester Strategic Planning Committee . City fortunate to have many partners. Would like to see academic growth in all groups, all schools. Offer proven instructional approaches. Culture where admins/teachers/community groups work together to make Worceter best urban school district in the country.
Foley: strategic planning processes are important; process most important part. Hopefully build common ground and understanding, then plan for how to go forward for next 5-10 years, then accountability. Process is as important as outcome. Hoping that we will see not just what SC will do but what community will do. Most important part of process – build understanding in community about significant gap in funding from the state. If we had those state funds, we could fund myriad programs. Education…then political process. We need to reflect the community’s vision.
Comparetto: excited on strategic planning process. Has concerns about inclusiveness and transparency of the process. Good attendance from non-profits, didn’t see the community fully reflected. Looking forward to working with SC and Superintendent to get more community involvement. Best way to accomplish is with community buy-in. To implement recommendations of the plan, need to advocate for the funding; more than city minimum, improve foundation budget.
Biancheria: community people: neighbors, business owners – reminds her of being district coordinator for WPS. Partners that have a commitment is always a challenge. Need to provide internships for Ch 74 students. Programs for students in summer to visit college campuses. Goals and benchmarks. Plan will always be in process. Need commitment from parents, look at programs that are beneficial for all students. All contingent on how we look at funding.
Q2: Worcester schools compared to those of other Gateway cities, but parents comparing to those of contiguous towns. What do you tell parents?
Biancheria: we have wisely looked at what classroom really needed; items have been listened to by new superintendent. Nelson Place has brought technology to the forefront. As we look to repair schools, need to look at curb appeal. Older buildings is not what some people want – when you walk in doors, welcome. Libraries are open different times of day. Free lunch for every student. Worcester Tech open for Creamer Center students. Expanded Ch 74 courses. Looked at arts, STEM to STEAM.
Comparetto: SC members need to be cheerleaders for the district. We do a lot with a barebones budget. World-class educators turn out students who go to world-class schools. Look at upgrading school facilities.
Foley: 1 – look at opportunities that are abundant at WPS; tremendous opportunities for students and schools; 2 – rankings based on total population; look at where students are going to college; 3 – tuition and dual enrollments at various schools; 4 – your career will be with international workforce; diversity of WPS is great preparation for a successful career
Colorio: when she doorknocks, she tells them that she has taught at QCC, WPS is where she sent her children. She can talk about what Jack said; she told her daughter that diversity in city is one of its gifts. She tells people what she did and was happy with choice. Universal standards like Common Core are in private schools as well.
Monfredo: two children were products of the WPS. We need to market good things taking place in our schools. Work with Chamber of Commerce in making video about schools. Perfect superintendent to move things forward. One of key elements is strategic plan. Middle-school level: give parents reasons why the WPS should be schools of choice. Gamechanger for econ growth in city is public ed.
O’Connell: look at school choice program. Students from outside Worcester choose to come here, for diverse programs, whether AP calculus, lots of languages. Diverse population of students. Opportunity for students to get to know others from different backgrounds. Opportunities to help students with specialized needs. New schools state-of-the art.
Fishbowl questions (taken out of a basket).
Q for Foley: according to DESE, Worcester’s comprehensive district review, SC members make motions that require administrator comment, many motions not aligned with needs/priorities of district?
Foley: he agrees with assessment. Many agenda items could be handled with a phone call. Should be more judicious about recognition in meetings. One topic per meeting or month, reading material given, then we have a longer discussion/conversation about where school department could be going. Can talk amongst themselves and get more feedback from administration. We should take a different look at how meetings should be structured; should be more about strategic direction.
Q for Comparetto: gov of PR expecting exodus to mainland. Worcester likely destination for family of these families. How can WPS welcome and support these families/students?
Comparetto: as student population increases in number & diversity, look at dual language immersion programs. A lot of students from PR may need wraparound services, increase number of wraparound service coordinators. Better communication with families. Make sure schools are welcoming to these families. More ESL programming.
As previously noted, there were two forums tonight; Tracy is covering the School Committee forum (and is formatting her notes much more nicely than I have ever formatted mine!!).
(I will hold on typing the introductions; you know who all these candidates are!)
At this point it’s 6:23pm so we’re running quite late. The candidates had just wanted to move on to questions but the organizers insisted on the introductions.
Candidates in attendance: Bergman, King, Lukes, Petty, Straight, Toomey (so, no Rosen)
About 30-40 people in attendance (feels like more than last week)
Emphasis of tonight is on Labor.
Q1 from SURJ: What are the most pressing racial justice issues in Worcester community? What to do?
Lukes: during tenure as past mayor, first outsider/woman/minority superintendent in history. As city councilor, only one to vote for Oscar Rodriguez. Racial justice – people in power need to reflect the community. When we talk about racial justice, talking about jobs and money – that determines value in society. No ability to generate income, no justice. We need to see that whatever jobs are available need to take affirmative action goals into account and reflect community.
Petty: study on incarceration in gateway cities. Being strong on crime, three strikes you’re out doesn’t work. Mary Keefe is working on this in the statehouse. Putting drug users to jail for long time no use. Jobs frontier in city – making sure people get opportunities, esp youth. Hiring inner-city youth over the summer. Dividing people is just wrong. Continues to bring people together.
Straight: (1) City Council can set inclusive tone. (2) Economic disparities. Increase econ dev in areas surrounding downtown. (3) Affirmative action isn’t enough, doesn’t keep pace with population increases.
Toomey: has been advocate for educational opportunities. Ensure public schools are there, doing best thing for students. Every child should be given appropriate opportunity, communication is an issue, job training.
Bergman: (1) schools. Although City Councilors have little roles in schools, do have a role in school budget. Schools in certain districts don’t get representation. As City Council, can diminish racial divide by making sure that schools are funded equally. (2) CORI Reform. Some people get advantages because they have had records sealed. Should be automatically done regardless of their ability to pay for a lawyer.
King: Criminal justice reform, socioeconomic disparities, high recidivism rate. As long as we have political will to support federal/state initiatives, we can address this head-on. We as Council should support this on the Council floor so that Beacon Hill knows where we stand as a city. Need for livable wage.
Q2, from LWV: when we talk about economic opportunity, who is included in this effort: business, non-profit, education, youth, immigrants, (a few other things I missed)?
Petty: community effort in this city. Jobs Opportunity Fund. CDL license availability. Youth Opportunities Corp. Immigrants represent 30% of small businesses in the city. Good-paying jobs for long-term period. Education is important to jobs. Technical high school, for people who don’t want to g to college and want a good-paying job.
Straight: revamping Small Business Exemption, right now not adopted by City Council. Would give small businesses more of an advantage. Youth jobs great program.
Toomey: one group not mentioned: single parents, very often working in service industry jobs. We need to help them grow in their jobs. Those folks need to be at the table. Talking with social, religious, ethnic orgs. 37% of businesses in Worcester are minority-owned. Recently Worcester #2 in country for small business development and support. That says that we are supportive. So take that, Boston!
Bergman: two groups that need to be protected: (1) immigrants, we could do more (example of Buffalo and Hartford – mentors to immigrant business owners/college business students can help); (2) high school students could get better sense of that by mentoring by adults, esp retirees. Afterschool programs for those interested in medicine, law, etc.
King: families. Livable wage would impact 40-47% of workforce in city. If we continue to increase minimum wage, higher percentage of single-parent, female homes. Men are out of the home (due to prison, etc.) – this impacts the family. Starts with City Hall. We can see that diversity on committees. Councilors need to advocate more outside City Hall.
Lukes: She, Bergman, King, can also speak to the immigrant experience. When immigrants come here, may not be highest trained folks. She started working in family restaurant at 8 years old. Whole culture of Worcester is changing, can’t expect people to start businesses on their own [without assistance]. Even to be auto mechanic, need computer program expertise. Tech School in Worcester prepares you for college; do we have something that prepares for the trades? Local union internship programs meeting some of that gap.
Q3, from Local 107 Carpenter’s Union: 145 Front Street – wage theft. Workers cheated out of pay, taxpayers cheated out of payroll taxes, development projects subsidized by taxpayers should not go to cheaters. Would you support ordinance to create conditions/qualifications on general contractors/subcontractors on these issues? (long question; didn’t get it all)
Straight: Yes, if you are doing an honest day’s work, should get an honest day’s wage. If anyone is getting TIF, should have good record of taking care of workers. Anytime this sort of thing has happened, should be reported to AG, union.
Toomey: supports the Local 107’s efforts at 145 Front Street. Going back as far as her School Committee days, they awarded contract to company that had been convicted of not withholding wages, taxes. How can they get contract? Would like to see language of ordinance, but would support it.
Bergman: agrees with it, has talked about this before. When you apply for special permit or variance, need to certify that you don’t owe city any money. You should have to certify that you don’t owe employees any money. Language would have to be pretty specific, proof (not just allegation) of wage theft.
King: wage theft is an epidemic across the country. Was proud to stand with a number of trade unions downtown outside a development that was engaged in wage theft. About everyday working people. No longer should our working class, laborers, get short end of the stick. He is an elected union official and will continue to fight for working families.
Lukes: “I don’t want a reporter to find a hot mic situation”. Developers who come before us with special situation, like TIF. When we deal with these companies, are they dealing fairly with employees? Have requirements about local workers, racial/minority classifications. Clearly we don’t hire these folks again for another job. Not our business to prosecute them. There are enough protections that would solve that problem. The City Council has said that we don’t support illegal activities.
Petty: Yes. Person not paying the employee correctly, if you have undocumented, they have no leverage. More teeth the better in this. Every dollar counts. If there is a history, like Beacon Street project, you can track it. Put teeth into ordinance. A lot of this should be done through AG’s office.
Q4, from Worcester Community Labor Coalition: CM Augustus chose not to include local residents [in some recent contract]. Residency requirements for future contracts?
Toomey: she has already done that, Mayor Petty has as well. If you work for the city, high-paying executives should live in the city. Support local hiring initiatives. Workforce housing. Can we provide incentives versus hitting people over the head? Rent to own with equity on buying a house? [Nicole aside: I honestly don’t understand this; isn’t that what a mortgage is?]
Bergman: Yes, with caveats. This would be violating some union agreements. Can only approach with new contracts going forward. More receptive if you find some way to make an incentive. Builds neighborhood stability. There used to be federal programs to encourage firefighters/police to live in the city, but those don’t exist anymore. Will need to make our own program.
King: daughter just graduated with MSW in July. Classmates wanted to know where the jobs are. We want families to be close. Have to make sure young have an opportunity. Should give preference to those born/raised or currently residing in the city. Make folks more civically involved. A lot of kids want to stay in Worcester but have to have opportunities.
Lukes: she was firmly supportive of residency requirement when she joined the Council. But learned a couple of things: (1) unions don’t want these and we will need to pay dearly for it; (2) there are people who lie about their address – move out after six months. Difficult to enforce (and have legal standing to enforce).
Petty: would support, makes a difference for people to live and work in Worcester. How we get there is a little difficult. Almost every WPS position is exempt by statute except for superintendent. Police/fire is similar. But we could discuss…
Straight: we’ve heard a lot of things. Seems to like incentives [sorry, Nicole is developing forum fatigue].
Q5 (the last question, Konnie announces), from Worcester Youth Center. What are your views on how to reduce poverty? How to alleviate persistent poverty among certain groups?
Bergman: there are things we can do, but no magic bullet. Emphasizes education, even before people have children. Immigrant communities – better mentoring. Majority on Council voted for $15/hr. Compared to other communities, we are relatively affordable for rent and buying homes.
King: raise minimum wage, create jobs, support pay equity, criminal justice reform. Need to get men back in the home and in the workforce. He knows that if it’s the political will of the Council and administration, it gets done. First quote from Dr. King of the night. We must use the AG’s office for wage theft. Need to educate the workforce.
Lukes: Senator Daniel Moynihan’s publication on the War against Poverty: every single black male child deserved a black male parent. Education and hard work are the other answer. When we talk about poverty, challenging a lot of results of destroyed family structure. Voluntary lack of education, drug use, etc. We have superintendent that understands what kids need to be the point of clean clothes. Starts with family structure.
Petty: job opportunities. TIF policy that suggests they hire city workers, can’t enforce it, but if you educate employers/developers who are willing to listen, goes a long way. Education is important.
[I feel like we’ve had a whole candidate forum without hearing about the foundation budget, so we’ve missed Bingo tonight…that was my free space!]
Straight: attacking from every angle we have control over. $15/minimum wage. Working over 40 hours a week at second job “a different kind of incarceration”. Increase elderly exemption for real estate. Financial training programs about basic financial literacy. Affordable housing.
Toomey: Hope. Letting people know that there is hope to get out of poverty, talking to people who have succeeded themselves. It can be done. We need to let people know that with hard work, dedication, educational opportunities, they can overcome poverty. Friendly House works with WPI to talk to young people about jobs in STEM fields. Adult education. Need to commit to support that. Will help people get out of poverty.
(no closing statements, I guess?)