The debate is over, the forums are over, the rallies and the standouts winding down. On Tuesday, Nov. 3, it will be up to the voters of Worcester to elect a new City Council.
The final month of the campaign has seen a whirlwind of activity: the announcement of 500 jobs moving downtown as part of a planned $70 million investment on Front and Commercial streets, plans for a $30 million upscale hotel at City Square, the opening of the Recovery High School, to name just a few.
As we note in our endorsement for mayor, though, there exists a level of anxiety over the direction of the city. The next City Council needs to have the backing of the community as it attempts to reconcile the competing views of the city. It needs to be sensible, smart and energetic. Most of all, though, it will require a collective moderate temperament not seen since the election season began in April.
There are 12 candidates for six at-large seats on the City Council, all of whom are worthy of holding elected office. Our job is to endorse six we feel best represent the community as a whole and have the required qualities to do the job as a single functioning body.
Three district council seats are also up for grabs, one of which, District 2, is guaranteed to produce a first-time councilor.
The Worcester Sun endorses Morris A. Bergman, Michael T. Gaffney, Juan A. Gomez, Joseph M. Petty, Kathleen M. Toomey, and Matthew E. Wally; Anthony J. Economou; Jennithan Cortes; and Sarai Rivera.
(In alphabetical order)
Morris A. Bergman has proved himself to be an intelligent, thoughtful voice of moderation in his first term on the City Council. His focus on quality-of-life issues includes advocating for increased levels of home ownership, proposing the city work to sell foreclosed properties to Worcester residents, striving for equality of opportunity, and a home-rule petition to counteract the Dover Amendment, which allows nonprofit corporations to bypass zoning laws and locate in residential neighborhoods.
Michael T. Gaffney has emerged as the new face and voice of the anti-establishment in Worcester over the past two years. He has proven to be smart, energetic and tough in his first term as an at-large councilor. However, he is also one of the most polarizing figures in Worcester politics in a generation, with critics labeling him a Tea Party Republican, at best, and racist, at worst. His base of support is growing, and he represents its views and interests.
Challenger Juan A. Gomez seeks to regain a council seat he previously held for five years. Gomez is president and chief executive officer of Centro (formerly Centro Las Americas), a nonprofit human services agency with an annual operating budget of $7 million and more than 100 employees. His economic plan includes worthwhile initiatives such as streamlining the business-permitting process, encouraging small-business creation and creating a micro-loan pool for small businesses. His call for closing the city’s dual tax-rate structure in five years is laudable, even if it’s overly ambitious.
It hasn’t been a great year for Mayor Joseph M. Petty. Violence in the public schools dominated the news in the spring and a rash of shootings dominated the summer. And then there was the tiny matter of his contentious, sometimes nasty, campaign for mayor against Gaffney. Seeking his 10th term as an at-large councilor and third term as mayor, he is hitting his stride of late, getting back on his message of collaboration, economic development and positive results in schools.
Kathleen M. Toomey has spent 16 years in elected office, six on the School Committee and the last 10 as a city councilor. In a city in which politicians seem to know everyone, she really knows everyone. Far more important, though, is how she knows them, as a friend. Her consistently high finishes in municipal elections speak to her ability to bridge differences and create consensus. A consummate listener, she has a distinct ability to bring together the right people to see that things get done. It’s retail politics at its best.
First-time candidate Matthew E. Wally has an impressive resume of community involvement, as former executive director of Worcester Community Housing Resources and a director of the Greater Worcester Community Foundation. He advocates for strong public-private partnerships to enhance the Worcester Public Schools, increasing the number of owner-occupied three-deckers, but his most innovative plan is to create a “Biz Worcester Now” program for small businesses that is modeled on the successful “Buy Worcester Now” residential model. Moreover, he is the only candidate in this election to make temperament an issue.
Disclosure: One of the members of the Sun’s editorial board, president and co-founder Mark Henderson, has served on the board of a local nonprofit, Matthew 25, with Wally since 2009, and Henderson’s wife, Jini, worked for Wally at Worcester Community Housing Resources from 2008 to 2012.
Anthony J. Economou is seeking his third term as District 1 councilor. Perhaps better known for his work on citywide issues, he has supported more than $44 million in school repairs and the new Nelson Place School. Parks in the district have seen more than $2 million in improvements. He supports a Payment in Lieu of Taxes program for large nonprofits to support city services, but is open to a fee-for-services arrangement. He, like Bergman, supports an exemption to the Dover Amendment.
Jennithan Cortes is making his second run for the District 2 seat. He lost his 2013 bid to Phil Palmieri by fewer than 250 votes. His focus on attracting and building small- and medium-sized businesses is right for this complex and vital district, as are his calls for jobs. He favors a holistic approach to economic development, saying “there are Taj Mahal areas and some areas that are left behind.” He has called for expanding the Summer Impact Program year-round to reach at-risk youth.
In her two terms on the City Council, incumbent Sarai Rivera has proved to be an effective communicator, collaborator and networker with a reputation for bringing together groups to seek solutions. She has staked a leadership position on many public health and safety issues, such as combating the opioid epidemic. Fairly or not, many equate District 4 with Main South, but Rivera is quick to distinguish the two and has shown a willingness and ability to work effectively on behalf of all of her constituents.
On an important omission:
This is an endorsement, not a prognostication. As such, there’s one name conspicuous in its absence, one person who will almost certainly be re-elected on Tuesday. Konstantina Lukes has been the voice of the anti-establishment for so long, it’s hard to remember a time it belonged to someone else. She took strong, sometimes unpopular positions without regret, but we believe the voice of the anti-establishment now firmly belongs to her ally Gaffney. On Tuesday, Oct. 27, she exercised councilor’s privilege and postponed review of the Mosaic Cultural Complex audit that would have likely benefited Gaffney in the final week before the election. While her goal was to get additional information prior to council review, the move had an element of putting the city over politics.