The question Ronald Reagan posed to voters before the 1980 election is the standard by which all elections are measured.
“Ask yourself, are you better off now than you were four years ago?” he implored. As it relates to the Tuesday, Nov. 3, municipal election, we ask, “Are the city of Worcester and its residents better off than they were two years ago?”
Worcester voters have three choices for mayor: two-term incumbent Mayor Joseph M. Petty, City Councilor-at-Large Michael T. Gaffney and William S. Coleman III.
In the course of the last six months, we have spoken with thousands of residents. We’ve listened to the candidates at every public forum and debate. We’ve read what they’ve written and listened to what they said.
This campaign has been long, heated, and at times bitter and angry. Thankfully, it’s nearing an end.
In trying to determine which of the three candidates is best suited to lead the city in the next two years, we encountered an uncomfortable truth: While the city is moving in the right direction, the personal fortunes of many residents are not.
Worcester has a nationally recognized technical high school, but one that is so competitive that many of the students whose only career path is technical or vocational cannot attend.
Crime statistics are down, but high-profile shootings make many people feel unsafe.
Test scores are up and dropout rates are down in the Worcester Public Schools, but school resource officers have been deployed to combat a series of high-profile violent incidents.
Market-rate housing is being increased, but home ownership is down and there is an increase in the number of out-of-town owners who are not investing in their properties.
The unemployment rate is down, but, if Worcester is following national trends, it is equally a function of workers leaving the labor force as those finding meaningful employment.
So, what are we to make of the divergent views of Worcester?
Petty has run a campaign highlighting the long-term values of collaboration and economic development. His primary competitor, Gaffney, has run a campaign that stresses the lack of a direct impact these policies have on many city residents.
Petty’s vision of Worcester is rooted in sound economic theory. However, economic development takes time and resources, the fruits of those labors more so.
Gaffney’s version of Worcester suggests people are being left behind, which is also true.
However, over the entire period of the campaign, while he’s been crystal clear about that which he is against, the challenger has failed to present a detailed plan of what he is for, aside from being elected mayor.
In addition, while he has made a name for himself and is firmly established as the new face of the anti-establishment, he is just finishing his first term on the City Council and lacks the experience needed to be the political leader of a city the size of Worcester.
Coleman is a longtime civic activist who is making his 10th run for City Council and eighth for mayor since 1991.
He is the model of concerned citizen, a standard in civic engagement to which we hope thousands would aspire. His lack of previous experience in Worcester elected office works against him here.
The Worcester Sun endorses Joseph M. Petty for mayor of Worcester.
We believe there are positive long-term effects of working collaboratively with private interests and city, state and federal governments on economic development. Those effects are an increased tax base and economic activity from more downtown residents and nonresident visitors.
At the same time, this election should serve notice that the number of disaffected or disenfranchised residents of Worcester is increasing. These residents have a smart and energetic, if not many times divisive, leader in Gaffney.
If the policies Petty advocates do not begin to have a meaningful impact on the residents of Worcester, the voices of discontent will rally behind Gaffney, and Petty’s next term as mayor may be his last.