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“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena …”
— Theodore Roosevelt
A couple of months ago, I was teaching a graduate class at Clark University and one of my students asked me a question: She wanted to know if I was running for mayor in 2017.
Given that the student was a resident of South Boston, I found the question odd. I asked her what made her ask. She responded that her instructors in her previous class told the class they were convinced I was running for mayor.
I get that question — whether I am running for mayor — a great deal these days. Once I started writing a weekly column for the Worcester Sun, the number of inquiries increased. Recently, I was at a wedding reception and a couple of old friends offered to help manage the campaign and urged me to run. So, I suppose I should use this platform to announce my intentions.
But first, let me lay out what I would do if I ran for mayor and was successful.
Set an agenda for the City Council
It is no secret that I think the City Council is a ship without a rudder.
In one of my first columns, I wrote about the need for the City Council to do the job that it was elected to do. We have several very talented, hardworking members of the City Council. But there is virtually nothing that a councilor can do all by himself or herself.
The council now is directed by the city manager more than anyone else. That is not a criticism of the manager. If I were in his place, I would do the same thing.
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I believe that one of the most important roles a mayor can play, in our form of government, is to organize the City Council and set an agenda. As mayor, I would personally work with individual members of the council and set an agenda of action items. Some of those items would be the responsibility of the city manager. Other items would fall to the mayor or City Council to complete.
Once a preliminary agenda is set, I would ask the City Council to hold public hearings across the city to explain the agenda and solicit public input. At that point, a final agenda would be set and publicized. All of this work could take place within the first three months of the year.
I would ask that our agenda be a part of the regular City Council meeting agenda and that we receive regular reports on progress made for each action item. The city manager would be held responsible for completing those items assigned to him. The same would hold true for the mayor and the City Council.
Finally, I would schedule semi-annual meetings throughout the city to report on our progress and get feedback from the community.
Just like every member of a sports team has an important role to play, so too, each member of the City Council is important to the overall success of our community. But, without a game plan, people are less than effective.
Focus on public safety
The top item on the City Council agenda would be public safety.
I know that our crime statistics are better than many communities of our size, but I do not like the direction we are heading in.
Related editorial: Safety is the central issue
Before someone tries to twist my words, I want to be clear that I think our police do an outstanding job. But successfully tackling crime takes a community-wide effort starting with the folks at City Hall.
I love the construction in our downtown. Adding new business, apartments and hotels is very exciting. But the success of our community rests, in large part, on the strengths and safety of our neighborhoods.
Equally important is the perception of safety. Not only must our neighborhoods be safe, we have to communicate our efforts more effectively to the community.
When I was mayor previously, from 1993-2001, I spent a considerable amount of time focusing on the issue of gang and youth violence. Certainly, the partnerships and collaborations that helped make that effort successful would be front and center. In addition, some of the techniques that we used to reduce vice crime at [Worcester Housing Authority properties] Great Brook Valley, and the Curtis and Lakeside apartments by more than 98 percent between 2002 and 2015 would also be employed.
Among the action items, I would include:
- Invigorate community and crime-watch groups. No one in City Hall knows more about what is happening in our neighborhoods than the people who live there. The mayor and councilors need to lead an effort that brings more people out to attend community and crime-watch group meetings. Our citizens should help direct our public safety efforts. The City Council should accept responsibility for ensuring we have vigorous discussions and attendance at these meetings.
- Invest in hiring more police officers. The council needs to insist that the police department be at full complement at all times, if not higher. And throw the mounted police idea in the trash can, where it belongs.
The recent efforts by the city manager to increase the new police recruit class is a small step in the right direction. However, according to City Councilor Moe Bergman, Worcester still has fewer police officers than it did in 1998, and fewer officers than other comparable cities in New England.
- Increase street and neighborhood lighting. Bad guys look for dark places to hide. Working with neighborhood groups, the city should invest in more and brighter lighting. When we dramatically increased lighting at Worcester Housing Authority it had a significant impact on our overall public safety effort. And our residents loved it.
- Expand the use of cameras in sensitive public areas. It took the city a while, but in recent years, the police department has embraced the use of camera surveillance in public spaces. More should be done, including the use of license plate readers to find bad guys wanted for criminal activity.
- A vigorous community focus on neighborhood cleanups. It has long been established that attention to keeping neighborhoods clean and beautification programs help improve overall public confidence and safety. This effort should be led by the mayor and councilors. When I was mayor, we used local college students and collected as many as 50 tons of trash in a single morning. Each year, my office helped organize dozens of cleanups. We should do more of it again.
There is a great deal more that I would do as mayor. Next week, I will discuss some of the other major initiatives that I would pursue. Oh, and you can expect my formal announcement of my intentions at that time … probably.
NOTE: I’d like to hear what you think are the greatest challenges facing the city of Worcester. In other words, what should the City Council be focusing its efforts on? Please comment or email me.
Raymond V. Mariano is a Worcester Sun columnist. He comments on his hometown every Sunday in Worcester Sun.