October 29, 2017

Mariano: Some thoughts about the upcoming election

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This is the most boring local election in recent memory.

Ray Mariano

Think about it. We have almost no candidates running for City Council at-large and School Committee, we have no real race for mayor, and many of the candidates who are running have little or nothing of consequence to say.

The local media is straining to find anything worthwhile to write about.

But we do have a few good district council races. As you go to the polls, here are some thoughts to keep in mind:

More Mariano: On Amazon and Worcester’s self-confidence

District 1 race

Sean Rose: Based on the results of the preliminary election, Mr. Rose has a sizeable lead, perhaps an insurmountable lead. He has been campaigning tirelessly for months, and also has the advantage of being related, by marriage, to Tom White, a popular former elected official who still has more than a few friends in the district. He also has the support of the current state representative, John Mahoney.

Mr. Rose’s campaign strategy seems fairly straightforward: Keep campaigning hard and stay away from anything close to a controversial issue. His responses to my questions were often overly cautious. But he was passionate about the need for affordable after-school programs for middle school students as a way to keep them engaged and out of trouble.

Ed Moynihan: Mr. Moynihan, who has been endorsed by popular incumbent District 1 Councilor Tony Economou, started the final stretch behind, and is clearly being outworked. It seems his strategy is to focus on an issue or two that might improve the city. In the preliminary, he kept talking about the need for a master plan to help direct the city’s growth – a good idea.

Now in the final election, Mr. Moynihan has come up with an idea to get local colleges to give Worcester students who get accepted into their institutions a break on their tuition equal to somewhere between 10 percent and 15 percent of the tuition cost. While this would be a voluntary program, it has merit and is worth exploring. He has also proposed extending street-crossing signalization times to assist seniors and the disabled in crossing downtown streets.

Sun graphic / Amy M. Capobianco

Source: Candidate interviews

District 3 race

George Russell: A low-key councilor, Mr. Russell is most proud of the numerous improvements that have been made during his tenure to area streets and parks, including the city’s first dog park.

Mr. Russell was the target of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, which sent out a mailing criticizing him for supporting a dual tax rate, which keeps residential taxes at a lower rate than the commercial tax rate.

[Editor’s note: The current per-$1,000-valuation gap is $19.22 vs. $32.93, respectively.]

Davis Asare: A first-time candidate, Mr. Asare is running because he thinks Mr. Russell has not been visible and responsive to the district’s needs. When I spoke to Asare he said, “win or lose, I want to wake him up.”

Mr. Asare, a native of Ghana who grew up in Webster, wants to bring new ideas and energy to City Hall. He cited the lengthy tenure of many incumbents as a reason that change is needed on City Council. If elected, Mr. Asare said he would focus on job creation and the development of a program of internships for local graduates of Worcester’s colleges and universities.

Sun graphic / Amy M. Capobianco

Source: Candidate interviews

District 4 race

I really did not understand this race at all. In the neediest district in the city, with two very different candidates, there seemed to be no issues of substance being discussed – at least not with any consistency or passion.

If I were one of the candidates, I would be standing on a flatbed truck on Main Street in Main South screaming for a stronger police presence and a more aggressive cleanup program.

Now the challenger, Coreen Gaffney, has suddenly withdrawn from the race. What a shame. This district really needs the attention that a spirited campaign would bring.

District 5 race

This is far and away the best race in the city in that it has the very best candidates. In the preliminary, there were three solid choices. Now there are two. Either candidate is worth voting for.

Matt Wally: For a relatively young man, Mr. Wally has considerable experience in local government, including in the areas of planning, housing and parks.

Paul Franco: A practicing attorney for 30 years and a former Army JAG officer, Mr. Franco, like Mr. Wally, has been involved in a wide range of community activities.

One of the primary differences between the candidates is in their evaluation of the performance of City Manager Ed Augustus. While Mr. Wally has rated the work of the city manager as “excellent,” Mr. Franco gives the city manager mixed grades, rating his performance in downtown as “good” and his performance in the district as only “fair.” Perhaps more importantly, Mr. Franco has indicated his intention to be somewhat less deferential by saying the city manager works for the City Council and not the other way around.

A second distinction is in the use of a dual property tax rate. Both candidates stress the need to build the current tax base. But Mr. Wally wants to gradually reduce the difference between the commercial and residential rates over time. Mr. Franco supports keeping the rates roughly as they are now.

Sun graphic / Amy M. Capobianco

Source: Candidate interviews

More Mariano on the election:

At-large City Council race

ZZZZZZZZZ.

There are no issues of consequence being discussed and, now that Michael Gaffney has withdrawn, only seven candidates are running to fill six seats. Just thinking about this race puts me to sleep.

Gary Rosen is leaving his seat representing “beautiful District 5” to seek an at-large council seat. I told Mr. Rosen I thought he was an excellent district councilor – sort of a pest who hounded city officials until they did something he wanted in his district. That pesky quality may not be viewed as such an asset in an at-large councilor.

Of the incumbents, Michael Gaffney has been a lightning rod who attracts attention to himself by raising sensitive issues and by his personal attacks on his colleagues. With him gone, I am willing to bet that most regular voters would have trouble even naming four of the current six at-large councilors.

School Committee race

With only seven candidates seeking six seats, it’s hard to get excited about this race. The lone challenger to the incumbents is Dante Comparetto. Mr. Comparetto has gone out of his way to let voters know he has dealt with both addiction and homelessness, and turned his life around. He is campaigning tirelessly, and my guess is that he wins one of the six seats.

This past January, when public school students threatened to walk out to protest the inauguration of President Trump, the superintendent made it clear that students who walked out of school would face disciplinary action. Mr. Comparetto applauded the students’ social activism and criticized the school administration.

As a former student activist myself, I love seeing young people engaged in politics. But School Committee members, and those who aspire to serve on that body, have no business encouraging students to walk out of school.

The race for mayor of Worcester

To say that we have a race for mayor is almost silly. Konnie Lukes is only running to heighten her profile and help her chances of getting re-elected to the City Council.

After almost three decades in City Hall, Ms. Lukes has lost almost all of the zip on her fastball. She is no longer much of a factor on the City Council. Beyond that, she suffered through news headlines in January that detailed her former ownership of several troubled properties in Green Island. Those properties were riddled with code violations and the news report all but called her a slumlord.

The incumbent mayor, Joe Petty, who was gearing up for a bruising battle with Michael Gaffney, will now likely coast to an easy win on Election Day.

* * *

Even with the limited number of candidates and the lack of a robust discussion of issues, the most important thing anyone can do on Election Day is to take a few moments and vote. With more than 80 percent of those citizens of voting age expected to stay home, what you do on Election Day says as much about our democracy and our community as anything the candidates might say or do. Please vote.

Editor’s note: We hope you’ve enjoyed this free preview of Ray’s unique perspective and unmistakable candor. Be sure to check back in coming weeks to find out how you can keep on reading Worcester’s best commentary without becoming a Sun member when the preview ends. Ray can be reached via email at Mariano@worcester.ma.

Raymond V. Mariano is a Worcester Sun columnist. He comments on his hometown and global issues that impact it every Sunday in Worcester Sun.

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