December 9, 2017

Mariano: Why I can’t quit Worcester

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Worcester -- find out why Ray Mariano can't quit his hometown.

When Tom Hoover was city manager, I used to drive him crazy. If we were speaking at the same event, knowing that Tom was a transplant from Ohio, I would often reference that “Worcester is my home.”

Ray Mariano

In my comments I would say that Worcester was where I was raised, where I went to school, and where I was raising my children. I said it with great passion because I felt strongly about it. People in the audience always responded warmly.

Poor Tom Hoover. He would get so self-conscious about my comments, because he wasn’t from Worcester, that he would try to make excuses. “Well, I wasn’t born in Worcester, but we chose Worcester as a place to live,” he would say. No one else seemed to notice that he was so uncomfortable. But, I have to admit, I did enjoy torturing him just a bit.

All kidding aside, I am a Worcester guy. I know everyone does not love our city, but I truly do. Oh sure, there are things that we should fix: Worcester could be much cleaner, our roads and sidewalks could be in better shape, and Kelley Square is a mess. But, warts and all, Worcester fits me perfectly.

Why I love Worcester

I love going to dinner on Shrewsbury Street or taking my grandchildren to Elm Park. I love watching the fireworks from East Park and being able to catch a world-class show at the Hanover Theatre.

I love our colleges and universities and the diversity of our citizenry. I love that Worcester is a relatively safe place and that although we are a city, Worcester is a place where everyone knows almost everyone else.

I am excited about the new developments in our downtown and I am anxious to see what changes are still to come. And I love that we are in the middle of everything, that after a short drive you can get to so many wonderful places in New England but still make it home to sleep in your own bed.

But more than the attractions and our location, a big part of my affinity for Worcester is my great respect for all that the city and its citizens have done for me. My father was a disabled World War II veteran. My mother was an immigrant. We never had much. But the good citizens of Worcester made sure my brothers and sisters and I had a place to live, food to eat, good schools to attend, and parks to play in.

When it came time for me to attend college, I wanted to stay in Worcester. Both of my degrees are from Worcester schools: Worcester State College and Clark University.

Then I decided to serve the city, and ran for a seat on the School Committee. Over the next 30 years, I ran for and served the city as a member of the School Committee, City Council and as mayor.

When I campaigned, I went to neighborhoods I had never been to. After I was elected, I went back to those same neighborhoods and tried to help improve the neighborhood school and make the community better, safer and stronger.

I have always been a bit overwhelmed by the fact that so many people, many of whom I did not even know, voted for me and counted on me to help improve their communities. I realize that I am not all that special, but to have people trust you to lead them and their government, at least for me, forms a bond that is hard to break.

When I was in office, I always took any criticism of Worcester very personally. I have argued with leaders at The Boston Globe because they always seemed to ignore our city. I fought with executives at the major Boston television stations who often had trouble even finding Worcester.

I remember the day back when I was a young city councilor that my favorite weatherman, Dick Albert, on WCVB Channel 5, was following the track of a tornado. As he drew the path of the storm with his finger, he turned to co-anchor Natalie Jacobson and said “Nat, if it stays just to the west of us, we will be fine.”

Of course, the path that he drew, for the desired route of the storm, was right through the city of Worcester. I called the station, furious. “Hey pal, you’re rooting for the storm to pass through my house!” Of course, the station manager was very apologetic.

After I left City Hall, I went to work for the Worcester Housing Authority. I often referred to the families who lived in those apartments as “our families” and the children as “our children.” To me, they were. It was all a part of being a Worcester guy.

A family during tragedy

On Friday, Dec. 3, 1999, Worcester experienced a tragic fire. We lost six brave firefighters that night. As mayor, one of my most important responsibilities during the days following the fire was to speak for the city and its citizens.

I did not have to look far for my inspiration. All around me, I saw a city reaching out to ease the pain of the families who lost a husband, a dad, a son or a brother. I saw a city holding our remaining firefighters in its arms as their brethren searched the rubble for the remains of their lost comrades.

Long before there was “Boston Strong,” Worcester showed the country what it meant to be part of something very special. As mayor, I could not have been more proud of our people.

When it came time to finally leave Worcester

Now that I am retired and our children are grown, my wife and I talked about packing up and moving to the Cape. A number of our friends have retired there.
Over the summer, we looked at dozens of homes – my wife looked at hundreds in her online search. Finally, we found a great place, not far from an open ocean beach, at a very reasonable price.

To be honest, it was almost exactly what we were looking for. But when the time came for me to go to sign on the dotted line, I hesitated. My wife and I agonized for 48 hours over what to do. This new home was too good to pass up.

There was only one thing holding us back – I could not leave Worcester. In my head, I know that buying that new home was the smart decision, the better financial decision. But in my heart, I just could not do it. Oh sure, we can spend a few weeks away on vacation, but leaving Worcester permanently was something else.

After all is said and done, Worcester is where I belong. It may not be a perfect place, but for me, it is the only place.

* * *

A few weeks ago, some wiseguy tried to give me a cheap shot, leaving a comment on one of my columns about President Trump.

“Steve” wrote: “… little ray never made it out of worcester.”

Well Steverino, I am not “little Ray” — that would be my grandson. And with a 6-foot, 4-inch son, I am not even “big Ray” anymore. So I guess I will have to settle for “old Ray.” I’m good with that.

As for leaving Worcester, the truth is that whenever I have had a chance to leave, it always came down to one thing: Worcester is my home. It is where I am most comfortable, where I belong. I could have left, but I never really wanted to.

My children went to college outside of Massachusetts. They have moved on to other places. They have wonderful careers that take them all around the country and the world.

But, for me, it’s like Dorothy said in the “Wizard of Oz”: “There’s no place like home!”

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 week in the Worcester Sun. His column will appear weekly in the Sun’s print edition, on newsstands Saturdays.

14 thoughts on “Mariano: Why I can’t quit Worcester

  1. Ray Great article.You always demonstrated your passion for the city in all your decisions of elected office and was a great Mayor.I know the feeling about not leaving as I have lived here for 38 years and have been retired for 20 years,no urge to move..Waltham was where I grew up,Served as Park &Rec Director for 8 yrs before moving to Worcester. and was PRks Commissioner for 21years.My passion for the Worcester Parks System has never wavered.

    • I’m sure the author of this..political gaga meant well, in his own mind, but couldn’t you let a normal person speak about Worcester? as opposed to someone who’s only going to paint it as grand, and himself heroic? Worcester is populated by normal people, not ex-mayors. You think for a voice we want a politician? Trump is a politician. Corporate republicans who stole all the money, ended democracy, the free press and jobs, and then gave themselves exemption from taxes and laws – those are politicians. Do we want A MANIPULATIVE POLITICIAN speaking self-servingly, to pretend he’s speaking for us, as if we can’t speak for ourselves?

      You know what would impress me? As an example…If when he brought up the “six firemen”, he’d said the excessive donating and crocodile-tearing was done mainly for social cudos, by people who hadn’t known the families at all; and that these guys had PICKED their job, knew the risks, AND WERE PAYED VERY WELL FOR IT. They’d gotten to have houses and fulfilling lives. Meanwhile poor people – who are the majority of the folks who haven’t the means to live somewhere better than a violent messy poverty haven like Worcester- die all the time, having never lived. Can you say that of the firemen? THEN WHY WERE WE SUPPOSED TO FEEL SO EXCESSIVELY SORRY FOR THEM? People die all the time, and no one says ANYTHING. And if this politician had SAID THAT, I’d have voted for him. Because: HONESTY.

      But hey, why would a country with crushing problems want HONESTY? Why would we consider it a must, to have leaders who acknowledge actual reality and deal with it? It’s much easier to send a worker to my door, to tell me the city has received a $10,000 grant to change the Main South area into an urban paradise, fit for art museums and raising children. She said to me, “we’re canvasing for ideas how this amount of money could accomplish that goal”. And I had to tell her when she has ten BILLION to come back. Ten thousand won’t CHANGE anything. Whose idea was it to throw such a puny amount of band aid money at such a huge gaping wound of an area anyway? Oh yea. Politicians.

      I guess they imagined a couple benches and a plaque might do it.

      Just like they think the best way to handle prostitution is to punch girls in the face.

      And that the homeless should be said to be all faking it, and they should be bum-rushed into the next town over. But we ARE the next town over. This is where it all lands.

      Why couldn’t this ex-mayor – whose last job it was to deny people housing who need it most – speak of THESE things? I’ll tell you why. Because he’s all done now, and reminiscing as if he fixed all the problems. But he did not.

      Get angry if you want, but Worcester – as it is – sucks. And I get grumpy when I hear someone speaking as if it’s all grand and wonderful and full of opportunity. You know what Worcester is really full of? Drug addicts, hookers, and kids with guns, using them. And the city itself is a litterscape of triple deckers, the ugliest architectural mess one could die and find out Hell is actually composed of. I’ve seen ten shootings and a stabbing since I’ve lived here. Eleven years, eleven murders. SIX of these were at the end of my driveway, 40′ from my couch. And my walls are not made of Kevlar. Also, I’ve been unable to take a walk to stay healthy, because 4 times I’ve had a gun pointed at me, or been surrounded by thugs with fists and knives, etc, and I just got lucky a cruiser came by when it did and escaped. But after FOUR TIMES getting lucky like that, you don’t go out and take a nice walk again, expecting a fifth.

      So tell me again, Mr Ex-Mayor, about this “great city”, where I can’t even take a walk. ..and I have to watch cops punching girls in the face who really should be going to college, not being lost in drug addiction (which IS treatable, but hey, lets just punch them instead right?). …and I have to see shootings right outside my window, and people shooting up. This is “great” alright. By Trumps’ definition of great.

  2. By the way, $2 a week to read the privileged kids congratulating themselves? Do you not realize why your readership is tiny? This is a city FULL of 184,000 people (other than your privileged few), most of whom can’t afford a car and have to use EBT cards to buy groceries. And you want two bucks weekly from such folks? At a time when online publications DON’T CHARGE READERS ANYMORE? Oh well. *wanders away, unwanted*

  3. Ray,
    Thank you for your leadership in Worcester and for all that you did as Mayor and as an individual living in Worcester. It’s most unfortunate that we have so many negative individuals knocking Worcester but not assisting to make it a great city. Let’s all try work together as a community. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if one could follow the advice of Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.” Let’s have Worcester lead the way!

  4. Good column, Ray! Nice to see you writing. Worcester is a great place. I love it too.
    But I hate to see you malign Kelley Square! That is the greatest intersection in the universe. It works perfectly. You just have to know the rules. The main rule is: When you’ve got the right-of-way, TAKE IT.

  5. Thinking about your position as boss of the Worcester Housing Authority Mariano. You and all those old WHITE MEN are solely responsible for hurting, hindering and destroying the lives of thousands of needy poor BLACK and HISPANIC citizens. You knowingly hid behind a system of institutionalized racism Mariano. You and other racist WHITES hid behind a wall of WHITE politicians, WHITE bureaucrats and WHITE laws intended to intimidate and force out BLACKS and HISPANICS or threaten to prosecute them using your WHITE laws. You didn’t see any racism in your GOOD OLE WHITE BOY system? A system run by WHITES for WHITES. You made no effort to call it out or change it. You made a joke of it, called it tough love, you intimidated and harassed decent poor BLACK and HISPANIC people, especially women, forced them to take crap jobs under treat of eviction or imprisonment. You are a despicable racist Mariano.

      • A large number of the people who run the WHA and are employed by the WHA are Latino. The largest number of people housed by the WHA are Latino.

        As for the ABL program, we more than doubled the number of people employed, TRIPLED their wages, tripled the number of people going to school and helped more people succeed so that they could move out of public housing. By every measure, the program was an unqualified success. It’s single focus was to HELP residents of public housing toward a better life -and it continues to be successful.

        • Oh, one more thing. Not a single resident was ever evicted from public housing for failure to participate in this program -not one!

          • Mariano can draw on select facts with impunity and the public has zero possibility of proving him wrong. Fact is Mariano bragged incessantly about his “tough love” program, basically a program using the legal system and city housing policies to put Blacks and Hispanics under duress to get with Ray’s program or get evicted. Whether Mariano is a racist is debatable although his actions as head of the WHA put him in conflict with a high number of non-whites. The results he claims are of course unverifiable. I for one do not believe him, he’s a tool-of-the-system drawing a sizable pension. And as we all know bureaucrats are prone to inflate their self-proclaimed achievements.

  6. The facts that we have published are those that are at the heart of our program – employment and education. The facts are indeed verifiable. Extensive records are maintained and have been reviewed by others. In fact, the Commonwealth is now using the WHA’s program as a model and extending it to other housing authorities. They would not be doing so if they had even the slightest concern about the veracity of our data.

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