Category Archives: Human Nature

Why I Personally Like my Plastic Bags, and NO, I’m Not in the Pocket of the Plastic Bag Industry

Gluten Free

Gluten Free

I just vowed I wouldn’t go there, put people ask me, “Why in the world do you want to have plastic bags so much?” And for anyone thinking or saying that I must be in the pocket of the plastic bag industry (because that seems to be the immediate reaction if you happen to like plastic bags), the answer is “No,” and believe me, I have opinions on stuff, people have accused me of a lot worse (see 7+ years of earlier posts).

I have something called celiac disease.  It has been ruled as a disability under the Americans for Disabilities Act (ADA).  Who knew? not me that it was ruled a disability, until all this research on plastic bags last week. See the link on ADA and celiac here.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has come out with a ruling saying something cannot be labeled gluten free, unless it is really and truly is gluten free, which they have said is 20 parts per million (20 ppm), in other words–a microscopic amount. You can read all about it here, if you feel like it. (That one I knew about, the FDA ruling thing. The White House actually sent me an email telling me about the new gluten food labeling by the FDA, it made my day, week, month, year.)

When I was diagnosed (and all of that info is on the blog if you want to go look for it) back in 2009, no one knew hardly nada about what celiac was. Now, gluten free, here we come, which as it plays out, is fantastic for people with celiac. I was told is that microscopic amounts would make me sick (as in eventually kills you), so scrub out your kitchen, throw out and replace all sorts of stuff.  I thought they were being hysterical nut cases. It turns out “they” were right. When I got rid of anything that might have microscopic amounts of gluten, I started to get better.

The weird thing about celiac is that if effects everyone differently, it has all kinds of different symptoms, and basically they still know mostly nada.  But I am one of those pesky folks where only digesting microscopic amounts takes me 6 weeks to recover. And am I paranoid about getting “glutened?” you bet I am.

Which brings me to plastic bags at the grocery store. When they open one of those plastic bags, I know that no gluten has ever, never ever, been in there.  I am safe, safe, safe. No need to wonder, did I bring home gluten stuff in this bag?  Do I throw this bag away? Do I throw them all away to be safe?  No, every plastic bag is a safe bag for moi.  And it brings peace of mind and serenity to the ever not wonderful challenge of going to the grocery store as a celiac (where gluten is everywhere and not in everything anymore, but still in tons of stuff). And I take those plastic bags that make me feel safe and never glutened, and recycle them back at the grocery store.

Whether people understand my fondness for plastic bags having celiac disease, is up to them. But for me, it is huge.

The Recycling Plastic Bag Slurping Machine

recycle-machine-happyChild

Fun recycling slurping plastic bag machine

I really like the idea of a single use plastic bag recycling slurping machine. (Please see earlier entry here.)

First of all, the plastic bag industry has a huge PR problem on their hands. The sustainable bag folks are right, plastic bags are wandering around not only our local environment, but all over the place.  And the approach at the moment is to ban them outright, which causes all kinds of friction in communities, all over North America.

And it’s time that the plastic bag folks worked with environmentalists instead of against them, because for the plastic bag industry it comes down to keeping your product which equals = $$ money.

For example, If you had a recycling machine that slurped plastic bags (without slurping in little hands that might feed them) for either a small amount of money, or maybe something like points that could be redeemed for money, you could be a hero to young mothers and fathers everywhere. What little child wouldn’t be mesmerized by machine that slurps plastic bags.

If a young mother or father who needs to go to the grocery store, and young Emma or Aiden is tired and cranky and doesn’t want to go to the grocery store, the young parent can say, “Honey, if we go to the slurping plastic bag machine first, will you help mommy or daddy go grocery shopping, and then we can use the rest of the plastic bags at the slurping machine when we’re done.” It might be a real incentive to a) recycle plastic bags and b) go cooperate with their parents at the grocery store. You, plastic bag company,  become a hero.

On one of those horrible rainy days when kids are stuck inside, a trip to your local supermarket or wherever, where young kids can feed in plastic bags to the plastic bag recycling slurping machine, could be a real godsend for something fun + practical to do.  Been in those parents shoes, know what it’s like.

And if little Emma or Aiden can make some money to boot, they are going to be begging their neighbors, their Nana for their plastic bags to take to this fun plastic bag slurping recycling machine.  Pretty soon, Emma and Aiden, whether they are environmentalists or not, learn about recycling because it’s fun, and they get lots of positive feedback from helping people as well.

Schools could have fundraisers using the plastic bag recycling slurping machine, make a little money, and learn how to help the environment while they are doing it. And you plastic bag industry look great.

The plastic bag recycling slurping machine wouldn’t be good just for Newburyport, it would be good for everyone all over the world.  The plastic bag folks could then help solve a world wide problem, and be heroes instead of the goat.

Recycle_BagThe other thing, is that the production of the plastic bag recycling slurping machine would help create a whole new industry and lots of new jobs (preferably here in Massachusetts).

This also assumes that people know loud and clear where to take those single use plastic bags.  Having great big huge “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” logos on plastic bags, and exactly where to return them, would be real easy to legislate (much easier than an outright ban). And plastic bag industry, why not beat the government to the punch, and do that yourselves. Again, you would be heroes, instead of the people known for causing a major environmental problem.

The Ban Plastic Bags Ordinance – A Newburyport Progressive Political Overreach

OverReachForgive me, but here I go again.

What I see in the Ban Plastic Bags Ordinance, as it is now written and as it has been presented (see 2 earlier posts here and here), is “progressives” overreaching and making the same mistake they made in the 2008-2009 council.

People may not remember that the City Council passed the Wind Turbine through fast, very fast, and it passed with an 11-0 vote.  After the Wind Turbine went up, and there was such an incredible backlash, and people saw the effects that it had on real peoples’ lives, I can’t tell you how many councilors said to me, “What did we do?” and wished there hadn’t been such a rush to judgement. And I’m pretty sure, at that point, the vote would have been pretty close to 11-0 against.

I had hoped that this was one of the most level headed city councils ever. It got off to a good start by being careful, thoughtful and inclusive in its approach to protecting downtown (our brand), and our historic buildings (a whole other post).  (The Planning Board has not made its final recommendation yet, and the City Council has not yet voted–the process is still ongoing.) That governing template and process resulted in a bucketload of good will and trust in our city council.

This overreach, in my mind, is a legislative setback and now an “old school” approach.  And I could imagine exactly how it happened. The Citizens for Sustainable Bagging have been working towards the goal of banning “single use, thin filmed” plastic bags (the ones at Shaws and Market Basket) for 2 years, and they have supporters on the council, which is perfectly natural.  And what most probably happened, was the thought, “We have a progressive city council, finally, and we can now get our agenda (in this case it happens to be an ultra-progressive one) passed.”

Please don’t go there, don’t go that route.  If this passes, as is, without a more moderate approach, what will happen is “conservative” candidates will run in the next City Council election, on a moderate restoration of plastic bags, and you have no idea–they will get so many votes. And if the ordinance, as written, is not made more moderate, that bucketload of trust that this Newburyport City Council has right at the get-go, will be eroded so, so, so very quickly.

ConCom-PBags

Letter from ConCom, press image to enlarge.

Editor’s Note:  I have in front of me a letter to the City Council, on city stationary, from the Conservation Commission, that “does not endorse the complete ban on plastic bags at this time,” but supports “a reasonable and practical effort to minimize the use of plastic bags, as a reduction in their use would have a positive impact on the environment.”  (To read the entire letter, please press the image to the left to enlarge.) Seems fair to me.

Second Editor’s Note: The ConCom minutes of August 6, 2013 which are referenced in the letter above can be read here.

“Discussion of Proposed Plastic Bag Ordinance

Sheila Taintor of the Citizens for Sustainable Bagging discussed the ordinance to ban plastic bags that the group intends to put before the City Council. She asked the Commission members to support the draft ordinance. Members commented that they wish to have more details about the way in which the ban would work and how the ban has been implemented in other communities.

They said that while the plastic bags greatly impact the environment they might favor voluntary compliance or an incentive program over a ban. Paul Healy moved that a letter be sent to the City Council stating that while the Commission does not endorse the ban, it would support a reasonable and practical effort to minimize the use of plastic bags, as a reduction in their use would have a positive impact on the environment. Steve Moore seconded the motion. The motion was approved with Dan Warchol voted in opposition. Julia Godtfredsen will draft a letter for approval at the next meeting.” From ConCom minutes August 6, 2013 which can be read here.

Third Editor’s Note:  This is the complete last paragraph in the letter above to the Newburyport City Council from the Conservation Commission:

“While the Conservation Commission does not endorse the complete ban on plastic bags at this time (due to lack of information on how it has been successfully conducted in other similar municipalities), we would support a reasonable and practical effort to minimize the use of plastic bags, as a reduction in their use would have a positive impact on the environment.”

The Ban the Plastic Bag Ordinance – An Unfortunate Guide for Governing

plasticBag-2

I had two emotions watching last night Newburyport City Council during the public comment period (this is where the public can express their opinion to the City Council before the Council gets down to business).

On the one hand, I was enormously impressed that the young people in our community want to and are learning how, at an early age, to become involved in the “civic” process, and speak so eloquently, and at times passionately about an issue that they believe in. Would that so many other residence in Newburyport become involved in our the process of our city government in the same way.

On the other hand, it makes it very difficult for someone like me, who would like a more measured approach to this particular subject, the issue of banning plastic bags, to speak up and ask for a more moderate approach, without sounding like a complete douche bag (a contemptible and despicable person).

And the other thing, not to repeat myself, but to repeat myself, is that the proposed ordinance to ban plastic bags had seven sponsors.  It is my understanding that when asked to sponsor the ordinance, at least some sponsors were under the impression that they were the second sponsor (which would be the norm), and that it wasn’t until they saw the actually ordinance, as it was presented, that they understood that they were, unwittingly, part of the “gang of seven.”

I think that this is an unwise template for the democratic process on any level, and in this particular case the municipal level. I am glad that eventually a city councilor asked for the Ban the Plastic Bag Ordinance to go to a “Committee as a Whole” (which means that legally all the councilors can discuss the issue together).  And I hope that folks like me, who have a lighter green approach to life, have an opportunity to be “heard” and taken seriously, and not shunned, because on this matter, we have a different point of view on how to address this particular issue.

Proposed Plastic Bag Ban Ordinance — An Unwise Approach

plasticBagI don’t know how to write this post without sounding like a real “bitch.”

There is a proposed ordinance (piece of legislation) that is coming before the Newburyport City Council on Monday night, March 17, 2014, to ban the use of “single use, thin filmed plastic bags,” i.e. the plastic bags one gets at Market Basket and Shaws.

The first, very first thing that I have a problem with in this ordinance, promoted by Newburyport’s Citizens for Sustainable Bagging, and originally championed by City Councilor Barry Connell, is that it has 7 sponsors. (There are 11 members of the Newburyport City Council, and it takes 8 members to pass a piece of legislation.)

I’ve never seen this before. In my experience ordinances are usually sponsored by at most 2 city councilors.

It strikes me that for a proposed ordinance to have 7 sponsors, that it stifles debate, and undermines the democratic process, which to me is unwise. And comes across as manipulative, with the intent of ramming a particular piece of legislation through our city government, without proper input and feedback from the public. To say that I’m disappointed by this approach, when there has been a template for a truly thoughtful way of governance, with the process of the recent proposed zoning amendments (which has been called “brilliant”), is an understatement (the process of the proposed zoning amendments–a whole other post). “Brilliant,” this process of banning plastic bags, it is not.

The ordinance, as now written, has a punitive approach, which in my mind, if pursued, could cause tremendous resentment and a backlash for Newburyport’s Green Community, which has worked very hard over the last decade, led, with tremendous grace, by our Recycling and Energy Coordinator, Molly Ettenborough.

Backlash and resentment against Newburyport’s Green Community is nothing new.  Both the wind turbine, and the effort to turn off all of Newburyport’s street lights, did not win Newburyport’s Green Community a whole lot of friends. Not a good rerun.

And, if one looks back to the City Council of 2008-2009, it was one of the most liberal councils that I have seen.  A fairly robust liberal agenda was pursued, and a major backlash was the result. I would hate to see this council go down that particular road again, especially, when such a thoughtful governing template has already been demonstrated, with the proposed zoning ordinance process.  I’d be concerned with self-destruction a 2nd time. One would hope that history is something to be learned from.

And I think that there are councilors who would suggest a more incentivized approach to this issue, instead of a punitive one.  This might not please the Citizens for Sustainable Bagging.  However, such an approach could avoid a backlash, and make it a whole lot easier for the Newburyport’s Green Community to achieve its long term goals.

Newburyport’s Waterfront did have Buildings

Newburyport's Waterfront, courtesy of the Archival Center at the Newburyport Public Library

Newburyport’s Waterfront, courtesy of the Archival Center at the Newburyport Public Library

I’m sorry, I just can’t help myself.  I will read statements here and there from folks who desperately would like to keep Newburyport’s waterfront open, and the remarks go something like this, “Well, there never were any buildings on the Waterfront.”  Really, I hear this, sometimes, sometimes often.

Actually, that is not true. Not true at all.  And in this weeks Newburyport Daily News, John Macone wrote a fascinating history of the Waterfront, for Newburyport’s 250th anniversary.

Newburyport's Waterfront, courtesy of the Archival Center at the Newburyport Public Library

Newburyport’s Waterfront, courtesy of the Archival Center at the Newburyport Public Library

“This was a crowded, loud, dirty, busy, smelly, bawdy and in later years a somewhat dangerous place, thick with buildings perched on wharves that stretched far out into the Merrimack River. Vessels came and went from ports all over the world, and the riverside rang loud with the clang and bang of shipbuilding yards that lined the shore…”

The Waterfront c1920, courtesy of The Historical Society of Old Newbury

The Waterfront c1920, courtesy of The Historical Society of Old Newbury

And John Macone ends the piece by saying, “Newburyport’s great ship captains of the 18th and 19th century would find today’s central waterfront unrecognizable — too quiet, too neat, too big, and too open.”

You can read the entire article here, along with some fascinating photographs.

Newburyport Tells its Own Past

Photo courtesy of the Archival Center at The Newburyport Public Library

Market Square, Photo courtesy of the Archival Center at The Newburyport Public Library

This is one of my favorite quotes. And I love this photo of Market Square, which is courtesy of the Archival Center at the Newburyport Public Library.

“There can be no significance without memory…And if memory is necessary for significance, it is also necessary for both meaning and value. Without memory nothing has significance, nothing has meaning, nothing has value…

The city tells it own past, transfers its own memory…and it is memory that makes places significant.”

Donovan D. Rypkema, writing about the historic buildings in Newburyport, Massachusett

Peeps, My Bad and a Rubber Chicken

I was going to call this post, “The Mayor is Scary,” but then I decided against it, more fun with the weird title (and part of the title will actually make sense).

I went for a walk a few weeks ago and ran into an old, old acquaintance, and during the conversation, a little out of nowhere, my old acquaintance said to me, “The mayor is scary.”

I can’t tell you, with multi-multiple variations on that particular theme, how many times I’ve heard that sentiment. And if you are a reader of the Newburyport Blog, you’ve either probably said it, or heard it too.

What came out of my mouth in response, (and I think I said this the very first time someone asked me about Donna Holaday, when she first ran for Newburyport City Council), Donna’s husband is a serious, at one time, a real big-time rock and roll (Wikipedia link here) guitar player/singer, who sings a song with a rubber chicken on his head (also in the Wikipedia link) — really. And Joe Holaday has to be one of the most grounded and kindest people I know.  How scary can someone be who’s married to someone who performs a rock and roll song with a rubber chicken on their head, who is also grounded and kind, be? (Unless funky rubber chickens frighten you.)

And this is a woman, who in a recent City Council meeting, gave a history, without notes, with lots of confusing detail, about the Plum Island Water and Sewer mess. Let me tell you, I was impressed.

This is also a woman who can be politically deaf. It is one of her shortcomings. I saw it when Mayor Holaday was a city councilor and I’ve seen it as mayor.  My own personal experience was when it looked like the City could save a bunch of money by turning off all the street lights (really and truly).  I was upset, especially when I got a hold of the list.  And when I made the list public on the Newburyport Blog, a lot of other people were upset too.

Could I tell that the mayor was a little dismayed with me? Yes. Did I take it personally? No.  And Mayor Holaday and the Energy Advisory Committee came up with one brilliant solution, it was a win-win-win solution (way, way too complicated to explain here, but you can sort of understand it, a little bit, here).

Do I disagree with the mayor on some stuff? Yes. Do I wish that Mayor Holaday put more emphasis on things that are my passion, like historic preservation?  Yes.  Do I think she’s perfect? No?  Do I think that she is a good mayor? You betcha.

And I do have an anecdote. I had worked on first “saving” High Street, when it was almost destroyed by MassDOT (then MassHighway) back in 1999 (my intro to local Newburyport politics), and I worked on a Master Plan for High Street for 6 years.  When, in a weird political hurricane, it was denied existence (it was eventually resurrected and sits in the Planning Office, somewhere), then City Councilor Donna Holaday was the only person who called me up, and she said how sorry she was, and how she appreciated all the years of work that I had helped put into the project. That’s something you don’t forget.  At least, that’s something I don’t forget. And that is the Donna Holaday I know.

Two Things I learned during Newburyport’s 2013 Election — And it’s not what you Think

I am a local political junkie. I just can’t help myself. And on the evening of the mayoral primary 0f 2013, I went down to Newburyport City Hall to hear the results.

I love going down to City Hall to hear the whatever election results. There is an excitement and buzz, and no matter what candidate or candidates one might be routing for, there is usually some kidding around and a sense of comraderie. It takes a lot of guts to run for any city office, and admiration for the folks who actually do run for office is palpable.

And then our wonderful City Clerk, Richard Jones, comes out, looking distinguished and dapper in his bow tie. And with a twinkly in his eye and some gravitas, he reads the election results, city ward by city ward (Newburyport has 6 wards), and everyone is scrambling to type the results into their laptops.

(And as a btw Richard Jones is one fantastic artist!! Really. What he is doing in Newburyport City Hall, except bringing a countenance of dignity and calm, beats me. And if you want to see his work, Richard Jones’s new painting hangs proudly in the lobby of Newburyport’s bank, The Institution for Savings, in its home bank branch on State Street. And you can go there and look at it it. I do. Richard Jones’s website can be found here.)

That evening, for the mayoral primary, the chit chat was that the vote was going to be split roughly in thirds, and it was just a matter of which two candidates had some more votes (which btw that is how it “fell.”). And while I was chit chatting with a fellow political junkie they said, “Dick Sullivan has his “peeps.” (Dick Sullivan came in second in the primary.) And I said to myself “peeps??” “Peeps” sounds like ghetto speak. My fellow political junkie is about my age, and I’m no “hip,” sprightly, spring chicken. “Peeps?” I must be really out of it. A new word — “peeps,” which I could never imagine myself effectively executing. “Peeps?”

And during the election cycle I was going to meet with one of the new candidates running for Newburyport City Council. Coffee and chit chat that day didn’t come about, and in apologizing for the miscommunication, the candidate used the phrase “my bad.” “My bad??” I’m thinking, “homies,” “rappers,” and urban ghetto speak?? “My bad??” Am I ever out of it. (I might be able to say, “my bad” one day — perhaps, but I’m not sure I could pull off “peeps.”)

So during the 2013 election I learned two new words/phrases, “peeps” and “my bad,” which might bring me further into the 21st Century, possibly. An etymology lesson during the Newburyport election of 2013, who knew??

Perspective from Newburyport City Councilor Meghan Kinsey

I really appreciate the perspective from Newburyport City Councilor Meghan Kinsey that was expressed in an email to her constituents.

“I would fully agree with Councillor Cameron’s assertion that the Council (10 of the 11 were present) did not “balk”. Quite the contrary. We were intrigued and impressed by Councillor Eigerman’s ability of to remove much of what made the previous LHD proposals so unattractive to many and start new with a zoning change.”  …and “Let me start by saying that this community is quite fortunate to have Councillor Eigerman, and all the expertise he brings, on our council. As a land use attorney who is trained in city planning, we got a lot of “bang for our buck” in him.”  Councilor Kinsey points out that the three proposed ordinances “are heavy with legal-speak and we, as a council, are still trying to get our heads around them.”

Councilor Kinsey’s entire email can be read here.

The Jackals are Out – Newburyport Zoning

It didn’t take long. And yes, they are back.  The Say No to LHD Jackals are back.  Lyndi Lanphear, who got soundly defeated in November’s election for Newburyport City Council at Large, coming in second to last, is out with a Letter to the Editor in today’s Newburyport Daily News, that once again twists the facts, misrepresents the facts, and tries to scare the wits out of people by telling them stuff that is blatantly not true.

And Larry Cavalieri is in the cheering commenting section of the Newburyport Daily News, with comments that one can only think are meant to not only twist the facts, but intimidate people into not speaking up as well. “Vicious” and “foul,” are words, in my mind, that are not meant to be an “opinion,” but words that are meant to be invective.

And The Newburyport Daily News, btw, all sorts of anonymous commentators are also back.  Might want to clear that one up.

I can only hope that this Newburyport City Council can stay above the screaming fray, and come up with a good and equitable decision on Newburyport City Councilor Jared Eigerman’s three detailed and thoughtful zoning proposals.

And if you would like the correct information please press here.

Update:  Lyndi Lanphear has organized a meeting this Saturday to try and stop the zoning proposals from ever happening. Newburyport City Councilor Jared Eigerman has offered to explain to the people at that meeting what the zoning amendments are actually about, and what they hope to accomplish (zoning is complicated).  It is my understanding that Mrs. Lanphear has not taken Councilor Eigerman up on his charitable offer. It is my opinion that Lyndi Lanphear would rather confuse, obfuscate and frighten people with fictitious statements, than acknowledge the facts, and make constructive and helpful observations, the way Dick Hordon, the chair of the Say No to LHD group, who Councilor Eigerman sat down with, already has.

Have an Opinion and Make People Angry

I came across something to the effect on Facebook of, “Want to make people angry? Have an opinion. Wait.”

This is now my 8th year writing The Newburyport Blog, and I’ve had lots of opinions, on lots of things, and pissed a lot of people off at one time or another. I piss off “Conservatives,” “Natives/Townies,” and, yes, “Progressives.” Conservatives and Townies have one way of reacting, and Progressives have another, equally pesky, way of reacting.

Conservatives and Townies will call me things like “vicious” and “foul,” send me stormy emails, or leave me ranting Facebook messages ALL IN CAPS!!!!!  And accuse me of outrageous felonies and misdemeanors, in print, to the point where I might have a very good case for suing them for libel.  However, since I am among a whole string of fairly illustrious folks that have been accused of libelous actions, I’ve decided to let that one go, at least for now.

Progressives, on the other hand, seem to take to the phone.  I’ll get long and very “intense” phone calls, and when I say, “I think I’ll hang up now,” they call back and continue. An attempt to reduce me to tears is sometimes pursued, and not to rule out possible threats of lawsuits. And sometimes follow-up, guilt-trip emails from young children and college students, in an attempt to get me to change my mind about whatever.

The people who don’t pull these various and sundry maneuvers, interestingly enough, are our local politicians.  Either their possible displeasure is left up to surrogates, or they have developed a thick enough skin, having been in “the game,” to know that people having opinions about things, issues, campaigns and candidates, is part of the democratic process. It’s called free speech.

(And P.S. whether it’s a Conservative, townie or a Progressive that pulls one of these vagaries, believe me, I do not forget.)

The Story of the Newburyport Turnpike, Rt 1, with Thanks to Gordon Harris

newburyport_turnpike

The Newburyport Turnpike, courtesy of Gordon Harris, originally from Massachusetts Beautiful, by Wallace Nutting, 1923

I’ve discovered a wonderful new (to me) blog, written by Gordon Harris of Ipswich, Massachusetts. The blog is called “Stories from Ipswich.” And I discovered it via Facebook.  Mr Harris has written the story of the Newburyport Turnpike or what we now call Route 1, and how it came to pass.

In 1803 a group of Newburyport investors incorporated as the Newburyport Turnpike Corporation in a commercial venture to build a straight toll road from Boston to Newburyport (the highway we call Rt. 1). The intent was to bypass Salem and promote Newburyport as a commercial destination. Proponents claimed it would cut travel time by a third compared to the old Bay Road (Rt. 1A).”

To read the entire fascinating account/history, please press here.

And many thanks to Gordon Harris for letting me borrow/steal the photo of the Turnpike for this post. To see a large version, please read his blog post.  And if you download the photo, please give Gordon Harris and his blog credit (it is now one of my pet peeves that I find images that have been collected by me, the editor of The Newburyport Blog, for the last 7 years, all over Facebook, without any credit to The Newburyport Blog or the place where the image originated).

Peace With Your Enemy

Peace with your enemy

Peace with your enemy

“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.” (From Long Walk to Freedom, 1995) – Nelson Mandela

This quote seems very appropriate for Martin Luther King Day. It also seems appropriate for Newburyport politics (and all politics).

The NRA is not a STD

NRA = Newburyport Redevelopment Authority
STD = Sexually transmitted disease

One of the first things that struck me when I first saw the “Save the Open Waterfront” signs around town, was the phrase, “Stop NRA.” Not “Stop the NRA,” but “Stop NRA,” as if the NRA was not a group of Newburyport residents, but instead something like a STD, a sexually transmitted disease. And maybe that was the point in the marketing strategy, I don’t know.

What I do know, is when I walked and talked to folks during what seemed a very, very long election, the Waterfront always came up, and when the NRA was mentioned, I would try to explain that the members of the NRA are real, actual caring, human beings, not weird, wired, automated machines, cyborgs. Sigh.

And the chair, Tom Salemi, has got to be one of the nicest, fairest, kindest human beings in town–not toxic waste. When I would get beyond the tactfully stated, on my part, “not toxic waste” thing, and tell people about Tom Salemi, they would relax a little, and say, “Really.”  And I’d say, “Really. Really and Truly.”

And judging from the article in the Newburyport Daily News, see earlier entry, it is really and truly true. The members of the NRA are not some uncaring monolith (a large and impersonal political, corporate, or social structure regarded as intractably indivisible and uniform), but people who care about this small New England City and the people who live in it.  Will everyone in Newburyport believe that, probably not, but “really and truly,” that is true.

Newburyport’s Waterfront, Resolved in my Lifetime?

I asked a friend of mine, who not only knows about such matters, but is also “wise” (a much overlooked character trait these days), about why, when the  history of the NRA (Newburyport Redevelopment Authority) land had been massively built on (lots of photos and maps to prove it), did the residents of Newburyport, no matter how long they had lived here, short time, long time, in-between time, seem so passionate about having it stay as an open waterfront.

Disclosure, I am one of the only people I know who likes, and will admit to liking, the proposal by the NRA and Union Studios for Newburyport’s Waterfront.  I was born and raised in Manhattan, NYC, I like tall buildings, I like tall buildings that lead to the mouth of large rivers (the Hudson River for example). As far as I can tell, when talking to people, I am in a minority of one.

What my very wise friend said, was that when buildings get demolished, people get very attached to the open space. Boston’s Greenway was given as an example.

And the residents of Newburyport are very attached to the wide open space called “The Waterfront” along the mighty Merrimac River in Newburyport, MA. When I would walk and talk to folks, what I heard from all sorts of folks is that they would rather have it just the way it is than have anything built on it at all. This is from folks who have lived here, a short time, a long time, an in-between time.

And this past 2013 election has been, in my mind, about a whole bunch of things. But I think it might well be the final “swan song” for anything ever being built on that land. Yes, maybe “it,” the Waterfront, has been resolved in my life time.  “Leave it open.” But, how to pay for it and maintain it, that has always been the question. And hopefully my “wise” friend might have some thoughts on that challenge, that puzzle, that head-scratcher, that perplexing conundrum.

The NRA Changes Direction on Newburyport’s Waterfront

From an article in today’s Newburyport Daily News, the entire article can be read here.

“The chairman of the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority has indicated the organization is changing direction and will cooperate with elected officials and residents to envision a future for the 4.2 acres of land the NRA owns on the central waterfront.

“I met with the mayor this week,” said Tom Salemi, chairman of the five-member NRA during an interview with The Daily News. “We’ll definitely be working more closely with her and the city going forward.

“With the change in (city) councils, I’m going to suggest the NRA hold off on any developments regarding Union Studio’s project until the new year.”

The NRA met Wednesday night, and members indicated they were in accord with Salemi’s statements…

Salemi in recent weeks suggested that it would be difficult to pursue the Union Studio plan without the support of the mayor and city administration.

In the recent interview and in comments at the recent NRA meeting, he said the NRA wants to work with the mayor, councilors and residents.

“The mayor would like time to talk with the new council (and those returning) about their views on the waterfront,” said Salemi.

“Then once everyone is settled and up-to-speed, the city and the NRA will decide on a future course.” “

Our Neighbors, Stella Mae Culpepper and On Linden Square

On Linden Square by Kate Sullivan, used with permission (press image to enlarge)

On Linden Square by Kate Sullivan, used with permission (press image to enlarge)

After a long, hard, often nasty Newburyport election 2013,  I found this book On Linden Square by Kate Sullivan (and, yes, it’s a children’s book) to be mighty refreshing.

Stella Mae Culpepper is the heroine of this tale, and she has watched her neighbors, but she has never spoken to any of them, and they have never spoken to her (sounds so New England familiar to me). Along comes a New England blizzard, and all that changes (and in the best of cases, is also so New England familiar to me).  And it looks like from the drawings in the book, that Stella lives in an historic city, not Newburyport, but a lot of bricks and stuff and New England homes (and of course I like that a lot).

And the author of On Linden Square, Kate Sullivan, has a wonderful project, the “Who’s Your Neighbor” Project, the “Write to Stella” project, or in my mind, “the neighbors and folks in Newburyport that I am so grateful for” project.

Instead of all the awful things about people, that seemed to come to the surface this election, to think about all the good things about neighbors and the folks around us, and write to Stella about one or more of them. Also anyone could have their child, children’s friends, grandchildren, students, nieces, nephews, neighborhood children write to Stella as well. And in return, Stella will send you, or whoever writes to Stella, a note back, and a postcard signed by of of Stella’s neighbors in the book, On Linden Square, your, or your child’s, grandchild’s, niece’s or nephew’s very own piece of artwork.  And your note to Stella, and a picture of your neighbor, if you draw one, or your child, niece, nephew, grandchild draws one, might also be featured on the book’s website, which is pretty cool.

Stella Mae Culpepper, used with permission (press image to enlarge)

Stella Mae Culpepper, used with permission, © Kate Sullivan 2013 (press image to enlarge)

So I’ve written to Stella about three of my neighbors (really and truly). I sent my notes by email, you or whoever could also send it by snail mail or through the book’s Facebook page.  And I and my neighbors can’t wait to see what we get back. And writing about what my wonderful neighbors do for me, our neighborhood and our city, a great feeling, let me tell you, especially after what often felt like a slimy, unpleasant, noxious, never ending Newburyport election.

You can see the “Write to Stella” about a neighbor project here.

You can see all about the book On Linden Square, by Kate Sullivan here.

And you can see Stella and On Linden Square’s Facebook page here.

PS. Kate Sullivan lives in Newburyport, and I’ve never met her (sort of like what happens in the book). And maybe a snow storm, or some other New England event might change that. And the only thing that I know, at this point, about Kate Sullivan is what I’ve read from her bio. The fact that her last name is “Sullivan” could be coincidence, or maybe just wildly ironic.

Here are the drawings of my neighbors that I got back from Stella!!

My neighbors on the Brown School Playground

My neighbors at the Brown School Playground

My neighbor helping me with my driveway in a blizzard.

My neighbor helping me with my driveway in a blizzard

And here is a drawing of Stella Mae Culpepper getting her hair cut by Newburyport’s very own Esther Sayer at Inn Street Barber.

Stella gets a haircut at Newburyport's Inn Street Barber

Stella gets a haircut at Newburyport's Inn Street Barber

Both Jabberwocky Books at the Tannery and The Book Rack on State Street in downtown Newburyport, sell On Linden Square.

Not Qualified to be Mayor

As I recall, in the 2001 election, people voted for Al Lavender, as a reaction against Mayor Lisa Mead (not a “for” Al Lavender vote). I thought Lisa Mead was an incredibly competent mayor. And I feel that we are still recovering from the consequences of two years of Al Lavender’s tenure in the corner office (we are still cleaning up the landfill, which has caused untold misery–something that came out of Al Lavender’s two year term).

I would like a smart, well educated (more than a high school education), competent person, who can deal with an array of complex issues, in the corner office for the next four years, someone with a lot of executive experience (this is one complicated city to run) (a retired firefighter and a Home Depot greeter does not do it for me).

I think firefighters are incredible people, unbelievably brave, but with a skill set that, in my mind, does not translate into dealing with the incredibly complex issues that the Mayor of Newburyport deals with.

I would surely like to see the electorate vote with their intelligence, instead of reacting emotionally, and to see this not just as a one issue election (i.e. the Waterfront).

And I also think, given his resume, that if Dick Sullivan didn’t have the last name “Sullivan,” no one would take his candidacy seriously for being the CEO of this complicated city.

Miss Manners has a Few Things to Say on her Facebook Page

Miss Manners, moi, has a few things to say on her Facebook page.

The tone of this election season (don’t even get me started about an illegal, destructive and anonymous flyer and robo-call that happened this weekend) has been so off the charts, that I sat and thought long and hard before putting up the most recent Facebook post about the NRA and the Waterfront. How to make it so that there wasn’t a collective meltdown, uncouth, brawl. Passion about issues is one thing, complete un-civility on the part of the electorate is quite another. It can happen other places, but not on my Facebook page.

And as for setting a “tone” for the upcoming election, the “male” who survived the mayoral primary, has, in my books, done one lousy job. Maybe “chivalry,” in this day an age, is way too much to ask for, even, apparently, in a local election. And I guess being a “gentleman” would be completely out of the question. But being that “uncouth,” as someone who would like to be the leader of Newburyport, our small New England city–you have got to be kidding me.

To show up at a press conference, that one would suppose to have been agreed upon, a press conference that was, I thought, supposed to be about denouncing the underhanded, destructive, anonymous and illegal political tactics that took place over the weekend. To then say that the press conference didn’t seem necessary, and use the opportunity to bash one’s opponent… if I was mayoral candidate Dick Sullivan’s mother, I would have taken him by the ear, not caring how old either one of us might be, and given him a good whoop’n.

Some of the candidates this electoral season have set a tone of “classiness.” Mayoral candidate Dick Sullivan, has not been one of them.

I digress.

So what do I, the editor of The Newburyport Blog, do about setting some boundaries on The Newburyport Blog’s Facebook page?

As of this morning a “comment policy” is now in place:

“If you do choose to comment on the Newburyport Blog’s Facebook page, please be civil, polite (which could be perceived as a radical concept), and constructive, otherwise your comment will be deleted (even if it slightly crosses the line) and you will be banned (something I really would not like to do); you may (or may not) get a “warning” if I feel that “banning” from this Facebook page is warranted. (How about that for a disclaimer!!) Mary Baker Eaton, Editor of The Newburyport Blog.

(One of the ways to make your comment “polite,” is to use “I,” as in “I feel that this would….” instead of “You,” as in, “You are…” or to have no preposition at all, which can come across as not being “polite.” )”

And I, Miss Manners, mean it.