Editorial: A week’s worth of fireworks in Worcester

Worcester just enjoyed a week of dazzlers — and that’s not even counting Friday’s Independence Day fireworks display.

The succession of positive news flashes runs the gamut, and in some cases calls for patience or for optimism tempered by caution. But in the glow of a holiday stretch and with summer just getting started, we might as well sit back and enjoy it.

In terms of practicality and overall impact, the Central Building at 332 Main St. may be the biggest cause for celebration in Worcester’s good-news week.

Until a couple of years ago, the former office building had been on the demolition list. On Wednesday, the state announced that it will help redevelop it for housing. Of 55 apartments planned, 14 will be “workforce housing,” meaning they will go to people who have jobs but still can’t afford market-rate rents.

On Beacon Hill: A watched pot never boils

Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government
from State House News Service

BOSTON — The Fourth of July holiday, with any luck, may be just the dash of salt legislative negotiators need to bring to a simmer deals over a new annual budget and marijuana legalization legislation that proved elusive as the hours peeled away on fiscal 2017.

Shuffling off into the weekend, tails tucked between their legs, important decisions hanging over their heads, not even the enticement of fireworks, parades and an unencumbered four-day break could pull a compromise out of the back rooms of the State House, where frustration between the branches was mounting.

Two issues were in play this week, both with looming — if inconsequential — deadlines. Anticipation, unrequited, was high.

The new fiscal year began Saturday, but with an interim budget in place to pay $5.5 billion worth of bills in July, state lawmakers had the luxury of not trying to rush a deal if there was no deal to be made. Not only are lawmakers trying to decide what to do with Gov. Charlie Baker’s comprehensive Medicaid reform plan dropped on the conference committee last week, but unreliable tax projections have complicated the math.

As for the overhaul of the voter-approved marijuana legalization law, the House and Senate have been at odds over taxes, local control of the siting of retail shops, and the makeup of a regulatory panel known as the Cannabis Control Commission.

Leadership of the House and Senate set an artificial deadline of June 30 to complete their work, but nothing happens if talks spill over into next week, or the week after that.

The tax rate, according to some close to the negotiations, remained at least one of the sticking points, with the House entering talks at 28 percent and the Senate asking for an unchanged 12 percent tax rate, as prescribed in the ballot law.

Asked if a deal over marijuana was imminent late Friday afternoon, Sen. Patricia Jehlen, D-Somerville, shrugged. “How should I know?” said one of the few people actually in a position to be able to answer that question with any authority.

As Beacon Hill waited, last week provided enough actual news to fill what Gov. Baker described in an interview with State House News Service as the “black hole” that is the conference process.

President Donald Trump left mouths, including Baker’s, slack-jawed by the cruelty of his Twitter fusillade against MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski last week; Eversource and National Grid shelved plans to bring a $3.2 billion natural gas pipeline into New England; state Revenue Commissioner Michael Heffernan revoked a directive that would have required many online retailers to begin collecting sales taxes on July 1; and long-serving Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester passed away after a battle with cancer.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • Senate again passes bill to ban device use while driving
  • Warren tweaks CEOs on health care, Polito lauds Worcester investment
  • Eldridge teams up with Republican to close healthcare loophole
  • State rebuffs White House election panel’s request for voter information

Inbox [June 28]: News and notes from Worcester Regional Airport, city of Worcester, Anna Maria and Worcester Public Library

Have news you or your group would like to share? Let us know by emailing it to info@worcester.ma. Be sure to include a link to the full release on your site or Facebook page so we can include it and send Sun members your way.

Airport gains Worcester-Cape Cod flights

Rectrix Aviation announced the launch of a Worcester-to-Hyannis passenger flight with a ribbon cutting at Worcester Regional Airport.

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, Massport CEO Thomas Glynn and Rectrix CEO Richard Cawley were on hand to mark the expansion of the Rectrix Cape Cod shuttle. They were joined by Worcester Airport Director Andy Davis, Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis and Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Timothy P. Murray.

The shuttle service debuts tomorrow afternoon with the maiden flight arriving in Worcester at approximately 3:30 p.m. with Boston Bruins legend Bobby Orr as its first passenger.

Inbox [June 11]: News and notes from Coalition Against Bias and Hate, Anna Maria,  American Antiquarian Society, Worcester Public Schools, You Inc., and SmartAsset

Have news you or your group would like to share? Let us know by emailing it to info@worcester.ma. Be sure to include a link to the full release on your site or Facebook page so we can include it and send Sun members your way.

City to host forum on responsible journalism, fake news and alternative facts

The city of Worcester’s Coalition Against Bias and Hate will host a community forum, “Reporting the Story: Responsible Journalism,” at 6 p.m. Wednesday, June 21, at the Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts.

The discussion will center on media’s responsibility in reporting. In addition, the concepts of fake news and alternative facts will be discussed, as well as the community’s role in challenging those ideas.

A visionary Worcester under fire

Cranes left dormant for months have come back to life in the city of Worcester, as the thawing weather has once again opened the city’s streets and neighborhoods to the hum of machinery and smell of molten asphalt.

In each vat poured and block stacked, these alterations to the cityscape mark the partial realization of a vision for Worcester, its businesses and its residents. Yet the underpinnings of any vision emerge from a broad pool of opinions, and therefore are subject to debate.

For one Worcester resident, the standard-bearer for Worcester’s future is the city’s Main South neighborhood.

“I mean, you look at it [and] you have a very dense commercial corridor, you have mixed-use buildings that have storefronts and housing,” said Joyce Mandell, noting the mix of churches, schools and residential buildings in Main South. In short, the community exists as its own organism, with workers living within walking distance of their jobs.

The provocative idea to model the city’s future on a symbol of its troubled past often seemingly neglected in the present by the powers-that-be, arises from this resident of Worcester for over two decades, with a doctorate in sociology from Boston College. Mandell sees the city through her lens as a soldier of Jane Jacobs — the 20th-century New York thought-leader on urban development who believed in dense corridors, short blocks and a “power to the people” ethos, and who inspired Mandell on her yearlong blog Jane Jacobs in the Woo and Jane Week series in May.

Mandell is an enthusiastic and engaging individual; the type of person with whom you find yourself unexpectedly speaking for two hours on a Saturday morning, but not feeling like that time has been lost.

It became clear early on that while Mandell enjoys the city, she positions herself an outsider-in-residency working to challenge an establishment that may have new names behind it, but expresses an ideology that has shaped Worcester for the past half-century.

“We’re going against the tide with the powers-that-be,” the former adjunct-professor at Worcester State University said bluntly.

Worcester 2.0: An outsider’s inside look at the city’s developing future

In Istanbul, I was drowned in the city and its events, while in Worcester I have to dig in to reach them. In Istanbul, a machine of 15 million, I always felt disposable and replaceable. In Worcester, I feel more significant. … But where do people of color and/or lower income stand within this revitalizing/renewing Worcester? How much are they incorporated into this transformation? What are their roles?

Editorial: Taxes: Who pays and how much?

Thoughtful, meaningful discussions on tax policy are rare.

This is understandable, of course. The global, post-industrial age has changed the economic circumstances of a wide swath of the middle class. Concurrently, over the past 30 years the narrative that broad-based tax cuts spur economic growth has gained wide adoption.

Indeed, taxation, and the questions of who pays and how much, has apparently ceased to be a topic eligible for rational discussion. The issue has become personal, emotional and subject to the same polarization that plagues politics at all levels.

Mandell: Closing the book on Jane Week in Worcester

“Jane Jacobs offered us a different paradigm of development that is incremental, organic, holistic, small scale, and based on the talents and energy of locals. Some of the best examples of a taste of Jane are right here in the Canal District and in what I saw in full action on a [Jane Week] tour of Main South. Worcester is on the cusp of a true renaissance! Can’t you feel it in the air?”

Contractor license suspended, Jay Pelletz still leaving customers in lurch

Melissa and Brian Barrows moved in 2015 into a secluded subdivision among the evergreens near the Quinebaug River in Southbridge called Hunter’s Ridge.

The home was built in 2006 on a short cul-de-sac called Quail Run, just off of Red Fox Blvd. and before Whitetail Circle.

Sounds good, so far. Idyllic even.

Except the home was built by Jamaheja, Inc., a contracting company owned by troubled Worcester real estate agent and developer Jay Pelletz, who has left accusations of unfinished work, broken promises and tens of thousands of dollars in money owed in his wake, according to several unsatisfied customers over the years.

However, unlike many of Pelletz’s former clients, the Barrows haven’t had any problems with their home.

“Knock on wood, right now we have not had any issues with our house that stem back to the building process of it,” Melissa told the Sun recently.

Instead, like the other residents of Quail Run, town leaders in Southbridge and one local bank, the Barrows’ problems on the homefront stem from Pelletz’s refusal to meet his obligations to maintain the private roads of the subdivision.