If someone is going to be a viable opponent to Mayor ‘Bulldozer’ Holaday; they need to begin the process now. It will be too late in the spring and a losing proposition in the summer/fall.
This, of course, is obvious to a political wonk. So why am I writing this article?
BECAUSE WE MUST BE CAREFUL NOT TO PICK AN ANTI-DEVELOPMENT MAYOR!
Mayor Holaday started off pretty good – politically daring, and known now to really get things ‘done’. The person in the Corner Office has brought about a new Senior Center, one new school and another refurbished. That same person has pushed for resolution on the waterfront, and a parking garage and a means to pay for sidewalks and park improvements. We now have a Parks Department, standards for our highway department and many infrastructure upgrades in our downtown. We’ve seen and will see new stadiums and track fields. We have a new extension to the popular Clipper City Rail Trail coming soon as well as a new Harbor Master Headquarters.
But she has also pushed for the destruction of the Newburyport Historic District through the demolition and gutting of historic buildings even though they are exempt from strict ‘green’ standards and the stringent Massachusetts Building Code. She is pushing for the Ale House without adequate parking and to the extent of giving a private land owner ‘public’ land and even having taxpayers paying for the foundational work by re-routing storm drains. She initially pushed for condo’s on the waterfront and again, the citizens have had to push back. She tried to force development of the Brown School by seizing the playground, and was only stopped by significant pushback by the South End citizens; and by a prior wise city council that had Beacon Hill designate that area as park. She is now trying to seize public land for a private developer in order to destroy the vast majority of citizen’s quality of life by eliminating access to the Library for a behemoth of a building. Even though the homeowners pay almost all of our city’s bills in one way or another, many in the business community have fled to Amesbury where non-retail industry is better treated. Before that, we’ve had non-profits and retail businesses leave our city due to this mayor’s policies. The Mayor is pushing hard for a future community in which lower middle class and the poor are forced into subsidized housing while the rich upgrade and live in the fine housing all around town. The middle class are increasingly looking to move out and leave this community because of this disparate and expensive future state.
Even as the city has established a Cultural District, and the city council has reinforced the strict zoning for our downtown and the Newburyport Historic District; there is a pervading sense in the city that we are losing our cultural distinctiveness and our history. It is literally draining away like pouring water on a sand castle.
Visitors will pull into the city and see sharp looking houses like Disneyland’s Main Street and yet, can sharply feel the loss of history. The locals can feel it in the air and all around them. Retail business downtown is increasingly not reflecting our culture and even today, are largely unaware of our city’s history. Under a real estate boom; our city is filling up with street after street of residents ignorant of our culture and our history.
The natural reaction at such losses is to choose a candidate that will ‘stop’ this erosion. Mistakenly, they will push for policies that favor locals. They will cry for a ‘stop’ to all this construction, weary of the rising taxes to support the new infrastructure and which tightens the personal budget. They will cry to ‘stop’ the influx of visitors to our city and to have a new Mayor who chases them away. The natural desire is to rise up an ‘anti-bulldozer’ mayoral candidate.
But not only will it be a bad mistake; it will be destructive to our town. There is a thing called ‘good development’ which results in mutual benefit to our citizens. There is such a thing, easily obtainable through our well-staffed planning office of thoughtful, productive city improvements that will guarantee Newburyport being a regional leader. As I have often indicated, our economy is based on living off our visitors, directly and in many cases, indirectly. We also have a culture that focuses on quality of life. People are moving here and paying taxes here, and spending money here because of it. We also have a city that has a huge fountain bursting forth called ‘history’. Visitors come to soak it in, to discover it and to enjoy its presence. Our old churches, old and vibrant museums and old, historic neighborhoods are like giant magnets that saturate the residents and visitors in ‘real’ culture. Our ecology is breathtaking and surrounds us as bald eagles and migratory birds fly over and around our city.
We need a Mayor who understands all this and is not the slave of developers and greedy homeowners whose’ only desire is to satisfy themselves rather than benefiting the community as a whole. We need a mayor who will look at the long term benefit to the citizens rather than short term tax benefits. It takes a mayor who has the vision to transform Newburyport into a gem, which will generate profits for a very long time,, not use it up as an over-packaged snack food to be discarded in the trash after it is all used up.
Using Newburyport as an historic lesson; this was done before. Byron Matthews did a lot of good things for the city; but his ‘bulldozer’ mindset became a long-lasting poison. He had lots of crazy ideas to ‘benefit’ the city. He also was a slave to the ‘popular’ development theories of his day. Some were thankfully shot down and unfortunately, we have to live with those he managed to enact.
The citizens elected Dick Sullivan, Sr as the new mayor. Under him, though he was certainly not perfect (who is) the city was able to settle down, focus more on quality of life and the serious business of culture. It was this period of time where affluence began to seep into the city and began to prosper. Under him, the Newburyport Historic District was established and strict standards for the downtown were cemented. He had an uphill battle because the waterfront Federal warehouses had been demolished and the area was a construction pit; Merrimack Landing, under the insistence of Byron, didn’t blend into the downtown and was a money loser; and the waterfront was mired in lawsuits; and everyone had to stare at the horrible Sullivan Building which was too high and resulted after 30 plus historic houses were demolished.
But the city recovered and prospered.
We too, next November – need a mayor who is a wise holder of all that is precious about Newburyport and who will focus on making it better, not replace it with the ‘shiny and new’.
Who will it be?