Editor’s note: Please continue to enjoy this free preview of Ray’s unique perspective and unmistakable candor, and 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.
[UPDATE: Matt Wally and Paul Franco advanced to the November general election after being the top two vote-getters in the Sept. 12 preliminary.]
Current District 5 City Councilor Gary Rosen refers to it as “Beautiful District 5.” When I asked him how he refers to the other four districts now that he is a candidate for councilor-at-large, he came up with a unique superlative for each district, but he said there was only one “beautiful” district.
District 5 is predominantly residential, with sizeable strips of commercial property. It includes a wide range of housing from upper-middle income to affordable/low income (see maps below).
As for the candidates, this is an impressive group. Although it is way too early to make a final decision as to who might best serve the district, here is an initial look at three of the four candidates’ strengths and weaknesses.
Note: Candidate Benjamin Champagne did not respond to multiple requests for information.
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Experience, training, education
Having experience in government, an exposure to current issues and a formal education, including an advanced degree, are not prerequisites for the job. Nor does having these things guarantee that a candidate will perform well. But given the complexities of government operations and the hundreds of millions of tax dollars spent supporting those operations, those attributes can certainly help.
Doug Arbetter: A candidate for School Committee in 2013, Doug is a current member of the city’s Community Development Advisory Board. He is a biostatistician, conducting research for clinical trials. He holds a bachelor’s degree from George Washington University and a master’s of public health from Columbia University.
Paul Franco: A practicing attorney in the city for nearly 30 years, Paul ran for state representative and then state senator in 2010 and 2014. He also served as a JAG (judge advocate general) officer in the Army, retiring recently at the rank of lieutenant colonel. He previously served on the Conservation Commission. Paul is very active in a wide range of youth sports and other community-related activities. He is a graduate of Syracuse University and Western New England School of Law.
Matt Wally: A candidate for city councilor-at-large in 2015, Matt has served as a member of the Worcester Parks and Recreation Commission. He currently is vice president of Government and Community Affairs at UniBank and also has considerable professional experience in housing and neighborhood revitalization. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the College of the Holy Cross and a master’s in community development and planning from Clark University. He has a lengthy list of community involvement.
ADVANTAGE: Each candidate is well qualified. The advantage belongs to Matt Wally, who has been actively engaged in local government and community activities for many years. His housing, planning and parks backgrounds are impressive.
When I spoke to Gary Rosen and District 1 incumbent Councilor Tony Economou, both said they spend 35-40 hours a week representing their districts. Economou was emphatic: “This is not a part-time job!”
So, how will these candidates measure up in terms of being accessible and responding to the needs of the people in this district? Assuming the job demands at least 30 hours a week, how will the candidate handle the duties while balancing their full-time job and family responsibilities?
Arbetter: Doug said his job affords him the opportunity to be available for emails during the day. He said he would be available evenings and weekends, and would use social media extensively to make communication easier and quicker.
Franco: Of all the candidates I called in the middle of the day, Paul was the only one to take my call immediately. He said his job provided him with some daytime flexibility. He asserted that being highly organized and using the latest communication techniques, such as social media, would allow him to provide the needed access for residents.
Wally: Matt said his day job does have some flexibility to allow him to attend meetings. He said he is committed to returning phone calls and emails within 24 hours. He acknowledged the heavy workload has likely kept others with traditional “day jobs” from running for City Council.
ADVANTAGE: My best guess here is that all of the candidates will work hard to make themselves available when needed. I am also guessing that they have no real idea how demanding the job actually is.
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Willingness to take on the establishment when needed
From time to time, a district councilor should be willing to stand up to his or her colleagues or the city administration and disagree, even fight, for the betterment of the people in their district. Of course, being argumentative for the sake of disagreeing makes a councilor ineffective. Nevertheless, the reverse is also true. Always going along with the city manager or mayor renders a councilor equally ineffective – especially a district councilor.
I asked the candidates to provide me with an example of them standing up to authority in their professional life.
Arbetter: Doug said that in his current job, as a biostatistician, he has to make his case to medical professionals who might disagree with his approach. He said he has not been hesitant to do so.
Franco: Paul said his first approach is to do things amicably. But when conflict arises with City Hall, he noted, “The city manager works for us.” As an example of dealing with conflict in his professional life, he cited his work as both a litigator and a JAG officer.
Wally: While executive director of a nonprofit, Matt disagreed with a previous decision made by senior management/the board because of a possible conflict of interest. In response, he developed a new procedure which avoided any conflict.
ADVANTAGE: As a former JAG officer and a practicing attorney, Paul Franco has considerable experience disagreeing in a professional setting. As a candidate he has not been reluctant to point to what he sees as shortcomings in City Hall. The test, for him, will be to see if he can maintain a reasonable balance.
Understanding the needs of the entire city beyond District 5
A district councilor holds a unique position. His or her first job is to advocate for their district. But they also have to vote on matters that affect the city as a whole. Navigating that path is no easy assignment. So, what would they do if what is best for the city is not what is best for District 5?
Arbetter: Handle each issue on a case-by-case basis; wants to see city as a whole improve.
Franco: District 5 first.
Wally: District 5 first.
ADVANTAGE: Over the years, large sections of this district have been ignored. The district councilor needs to fight for the district. The advantage goes to Wally and Franco.
Tell us something we don’t know about you
All of the candidates have press statements and materials for public consumption. They have websites and Facebook pages that tell you everything they want you to know about themselves and their candidacy. I asked each person to tell me something they have not already told us, something that might give us a bit more insight into who they are.
Arbetter: Doug mentioned the diversity within his own family. His stepdad is Vietnamese, and he has five siblings, including three siblings his parents adopted from China. Although he was raised in the Jewish faith (his father’s religion), he lived in a home with a Catholic mother. As a result, he has strong connections to both religions.
Franco: Working as a lawyer at Walter Reed Army Medical Center representing wounded warriors, Paul was concerned that disabled veterans were being pushed in a direction that would reduce their disability benefits. To force the hospital commander to follow the law properly, he recommended court-martial charges against the officer. The officer relented and the full benefits were provided to the wounded service members.
Wally: “I’ve always fought above my weight,” he said. As a student at Burncoat High School, Matt was an offensive lineman on the football team. Undersized at 5 feet, 10 inches tall and weighing only 160 pounds, he followed his coaches’ instructions, worked extra hard during the offseason and in his senior year, despite his size and lack of natural ability, was selected an Inter-High all-star lineman.
ADVANTAGE: These are all very interesting people. Nothing not to like.
As I stated earlier, this is a fine group of candidates. Each one brings strengths to the job. They have few obvious weaknesses. The question is, which candidate will best represent the people in District 5?
To get that answer, you need to do just a little homework. Over the next few months, there will be candidate forums in the district. Attend one. When a candidate knocks on your door, as most of them will, answer the door and then do more than shake their hand: Ask them a few questions and then question their answers.
I plan to offer my opinion as to who would best serve the district closer to Election Day.
Beautiful District 5 needs a councilor who will represent you and your family – someone you can be proud of. To get the right person, you need to do your homework.
Raymond V. Mariano is a Worcester Sun columnist. He comments on his hometown and global issues that impact it every Sunday in Worcester Sun.