Friday, September 18, 2009
2009 Mayor/City Council Elections Episode 1: District 3 Council Seat
So one of the things I wanted to do with this was not hound or try and convince the candidates to do these interviews. The way I see it, as I said in the email, this is an opportunity. As much as I want to, I am not going to spin these interviews in any fashion. The candidates words are going to appear as they write them, without commentary from me. To date I have not recieved any response from D-3 candidate Frank Beshai. Incumbent candidate Paul Clancy however, responded right away. We can talk all we want about how it's the apathy of voters that keeps the same faces in council chambers year after year after year, but maybe it's simply that these people know how to run a campaign. ANYWAYS, here are Mr. Clancy's responses.
Next week: District 2!
1. What do you feel will be the impact of Walmart, whether negative or positive, on the neighborhood of Quinsigamond Village?
The Walmart store, part of a larger retail proposal called “Worcester Crossing”, was a project that was vetted with village residents and retailers. The development should have a positive impact on the neighborhood. It replaces the blighted complex which was efficiently demolished by recycling most of the materials in keeping with the effort for a green environment. The project is being constructed with 100% union labor giving many jobs to area residents. It will employ over 300 full-time and part-time positions offering employment again to area residents. It will also offer shopping opportunities that do not currently exist in the immediate area.
The developer of Worcester Crossing has made himself available at local and municipal meetings. He was able to complete the engineering that was needed to allow for ornamental lighting on Blackstone River Road. He is working with city officials to deliver the right-of-way at the rear of his property to the City for future development – one of the few areas where the Blackstone River is visible. He was also instrumental in working with Walmart to get design changes that would better suit a village concept and in working with local labor leaders to insure that construction would include union labor.
All of these factors contribute to a better project for the Quinsigamond Village area.
2. What in your opinion are the biggest issues facing District 3 in the coming years and what plans do you have to deal with these issues?
The biggest issue facing District 3 in the next few years is the financial impact of decreasing revenues facing the City budget. This will have significant impacts on essential city services such as public safety and education. I have worked closely with the City Administration to maintain services by encouraging the use of PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes)programs with non-profits, by seeking reforms in health insurance costs through legislative channels and collective bargaining negotiations, and by seeking legislative relief through home rule petitions and acceptance of provisions of the Municipal Relief Act. These actions have redirected substantial dollars from fixed costs to maintaining many local services in the areas of education, fire, police, public works, library, etc.
Other key issues facing the district are the continuation of key capital projects such as street and sidewalk repairs, private street conversions, sewer and storm water improvements, park renovations, traffic improvements and school renovations. Through my efforts, the district has received a generous share of street and sidewalk repair monies, the majority of private street conversion monies, significant dollars ($2M) toward the Granite Street and Route 20 sewer projects, $1M to access matching state monies for a $3.5M renovation of Vernon Hill Park. Also, monies ($2M) from the Greenwood Street landfill capping programs have been redirected to Quinsigamond Village projects which to date include street scape improvement programs. It is the first time that monies from a city operation have been dedicated to a specific neighborhood use.
A few years ago, as Chairperson of the City Council’s Public Works subcommittee, I advocated for an increase in the capital budget for funding street and sidewalk repairs. This year, due to budget constraints, the capital budget was cut 17%. However, I again successfully advocated to maintain the previous level of funding for street and sidewalk repairs – which means that 60% of the capital budget is now dedicated to this item.
3. How do you feel about the job City Manager O'Brien has done thus far? What do you like about what he has done? Where do you think he needs improvement?
City Manager Michael O’Brien’s strength rests with his ability to deal with financial issues. He has done a yeoman’s job to trim fixed costs and redirect those moneys to fund essential services. He has advocated for health insurance reforms through the adoption of Section 18 and through negotiations with collective bargaining agreements. By reducing fixed health insurance costs over the past five years, he has redirected approximately $60 million to municipal services saving the City hundreds of jobs that otherwise would have been cut, crippling essential services in the areas of police, firefighters, teachers, public works employees, etc. At the end of the fiscal year 2010, the estimated savings from health insurance reforms will be approximately $100M.
The area where the City Manager needs improvement is in expanding his accessibility to the public and to employees. He needs to make a more concerted effort to attend neighborhood meetings and to make regular reviews of departmental operations.
4. The perceived lack of public safety in Worcester is a definite image problem for the city. Since in many instances perception is reality, what are your ideas on how to improve this perception and make not only our citizens but people from outside the city feel secure when they are out in our neighborhoods?
Each week the Police Chief and his command staff review all emergency and non-emergency call statistics to determine where the priorities of the community rest. These statistics are then compiled monthly, by neighborhood, and presented at the crime watch meetings held throughout the City. On many occasions, people are generally relieved that the actual crime statistics are lower than they had in fact anticipated. I would suggest that a greater effort be made to report these monthly findings to the larger Worcester community. Ironically, the City did not receive any federal funding in the latest round of COPS grants because Worcester is considered a much safer community than most given our crime statistics. This is a story that needs more attention and publicity.
5. On the issue of neighborhood's, many other cities have had success defining their neighborhoods and marketing them separately as different cultural options. How do you think Worcester might benefit as a city by doing something similar?
Worcester has many great neighborhoods which are vibrant for several reasons. Some neighborhoods, such as Green Island and Shrewsbury Street are mixed development areas with residential and heavy commercial components. Green Island has become a destination for entertainment while Shrewsbury Street is a draw for its many restaurants. In District 3, Quinsigamond Village has undergone a visual transformation with the completion of Route 146, the development of Worcester Crossing and the improvements through the village proper. There is currently a committee in place that will market the area for its cultural and historical roots. A central part of this effort is the renovation of the Moen building into a visitor’s center that will anchor the Northern Corridor of the Blackstone River Corridor Commission. To date, $11M of city, state and federal dollars have been set aside for this effort with the Worcester Historical Museum committed to be a major tenant at the site. As chairperson of the committee which has nurtured this project from its infancy, I am very excited about the potential that this endeavor holds for the neighborhood, city and region.
Other areas in the district are heavily residential such as Vernon Hill and Grafton Hill. Each has business and neighborhood organizations as well as a Community Development Corporation (CDC) that work to make improvements and to hold activities for their respective neighborhoods. When the city was designating Neighborhood Stabilization Areas (NSA), I lobbied heavily for the inclusion of lower Grafton Street for such designation. As a result, over a half million dollars of block grant resources are now available for storefront improvements. Two such projects are in the pipeline with more to follow. I also successfully introduced two parking overlay zones for lower Grafton Street and Quinsigamond Village. This allows small storefront businesses to waive restrictive parking regulations that would otherwise prevent them from opening. These initiatives help to create a more vibrant neighborhood business environment that further defines a specific area.
6. How do you envision the urban core of Worcester at the end of 2011? How will you lead us to that vision?
The urban core of Worcester has undergone significant changes during the past decade. The addition of numerous projects such as St. Vincent’s Hospital, the renovation of Union Station, the DCU Convention Center, the new courthouse and the garage on MLK Boulevard have all replaced a most blighted and underutilized area of the urban core. New businesses have sprouted along North Main Street and in the area of the Worcester Common as a result. However, more work needs to occur. With the final details of the City Square development completed and with the agreement of Unum as a major tenant, the demolition of the old Worcester Center Galleria will soon begin. Then the reconstruction of a street grid system in the city core will once again unite neighborhoods such as Shrewsbury Street and Green Island to the urban core while providing for expanded redevelopment. I am most proud of my leadership in all of the projects discussed above. There is not one project that did not have my direct contact. As chair of the previous Commerce and Development subcommittee of the City Council and as the present chair of the Public Works subcommittee, I worked very closely with development teams, the city administration, and my colleagues to ensure that these projects moved forward. I am most optimistic that Worcester’s urban core will once again become an area of activity for all of Worcester’s residents and employees to enjoy. To that end, I will continue my strong efforts to meet that goal.