Meetings that Push Agendas Rather than have Thoughtful Critiques — Recently the Reuse of the Brown School

Push an agenda

Last year I worked on a national level to save the Affordable Care Act (ACA) from Republican repeal efforts. It was fascinating and not unlike local politics. And my experience in local politics helped me emotionally navigate this new political terrain.

I joined up online with a bunch of folks at Vox.com, the group is called “A Community for Obamacare Enrollees by Vox.com.”  And one of the things we did was organize people to go to Capital Hill for committee meetings on health care. I watched a ton of meetings on Capital Hill, and my frustration was immense. The meetings by the Republicans in February 2017 were completely choreographed to produce a result that promoted their agenda, it wasn’t about an honest discussion at all. Later in the year, there was actually a great series of health care committee meetings, and they were completely different. Everyone on both sides of the aisle listened to a variety of witnesses with very different viewpoints. They were rational, constructive and very informative and a really good example of governing. I was really impressed.

In Newburyport we are not immune from meetings that are what I call “push agenda meetings,” that have a specific end goal in mind and are not an open discussion of different possibilities and options. The first one I went to was a sub-committee on plastic bags, it was a nightmare, the process was so bad that I blogged about it.

I remember writing that the meeting seemed to me to be more about a homily to a plastic bag ban, than a how could we problem solve this together as a community. It was stacked with anti-plastic bag folks from Newburyport as well as folks from as far away as Boston.  There was a woman at that meeting, not from Newburyport, who had the gall to say that plastic bag lobbyists lived among our wards and were giving bribes to our city councilors – which was absolutely nuts. Did the folks who were running the meeting, who were City Councilors, bat an eye. No they did not. And any suggestion of having a nuanced approach was shouted down by people in the meeting. The meeting was completely out of control. I vowed I would never, ever go to a Newburyport civic meeting again. But I did.

I went to the public meeting on the 40R, it was a joint meeting with the City Council and the Planning Board. I had a lot of questions about the 40R and so did a lot of folks. My impression was that the meeting was stacked in favor of the 40R (and later a City Councilor quite proudly told me that yes indeed, the meeting was stacked in favor of the 40R, they made sure that it was). Lots of folks spoke in favor of the 40R and were warmly received. Anyone with questions, were dismissed. I walked out. Friends of mine who went, who had lots of very smart reservations about the 40R, asked me what was going on, they could not believe it. Unfortunately I said they were right. Any sort of practical or thoughtful critique of the 40R proposal was not part of the “agenda.”

The recent “neighborhood” meeting on the reuse of the Brown School was a stacked meeting for affordable housing. Anyone who knows me at all, knows that the fact that Newburyport has become so unaffordable really upsets me, and I am all for affordable housing with a big and small “A.” The meeting was not for the neighborhood to constructively discuss what to do with the Brown School and discuss what to do about affordable housing in Newburyport and at the Brown School. The meeting was to push an agenda for the Brown School by the current administration. I’ve been told that there were folks from outside the neighborhood (all well meaning) who showed up to speak in favor of all affordable housing for the Brown School, which is very different from what the city proposed in 2014And I’ve also been told that the neighbors who had reservations about the idea felt intimidated about speaking up. This surprises me not at all.

So, for the neighbors of the Brown School who would like a say in what happens (and it’s very complicated, I’m not saying it’s not), please email the mayor and all the Newburyport City Councilors with your thoughts, ideas and concerns. They will not be able to make an informed decision if they do not hear from you. The City Councilor’s contact information is here.

Push

Local Elections — Not Voting with the Tribe

I would like to offer my congratulations to Mayor Holaday on winning the mayoral election and to all the Newburyport City Councilors, At-Large and Ward Councilors who won, and a big thank you to all who ran but did not win. Thank you all for stepping up, showing up, and caring so much about the community that we all love.

89-91 High Street, the Ridge, Newburyport, MA
89-91 High Street, the Ridge, Newburyport, MA, Courtesy of the Newburyport Archival Center

This local election was really interesting. I supported a candidate for mayor, an honorable man who has served this community with passion and commitment, not just as a Ward Councilor for 8 years, but in other capacities as well, and not our current mayor — it was quite an eye opener — I didn’t vote this year with “the Tribe.”

It appears to me that people were shocked that I and Ward 2 Councilor Jared Eigerman supported Bob Cronin and were vocal about why we were not supporting the current administration. I absolutely understood why people voted for Mayor Holaday, I certainly would never hold it against them, in fact I completely understand why they voted the way that they did, and I am pleased that they cared enough to show up and vote, to get out there and care about our local civics enough to canvas, put up signs, organize. This is Democracy, thank goodness, I thank them for their passion. Apathy is what I dislike the most, not civic engagement, good grief.

There were some lovely people whose response to my “weird choice” was, “We will agree to disagree,” God Bless them and “thank you.” The anger that I saw directed at Councilor Eigerman and at times myself seemed way out of proportion. He and I have agreed that it feels as if we are pariahs (Jared’s phrase) and have semi-officially created “The Pariah Club.” I had thought of calling it The Newburyport Pariah Club, but “The Pariah Club” seems to be the moniker that appears to be sticking. It’s a fairly exclusive club.

What I saw directed at Councilor Eigerman and myself were bizarre rumors and character assassinations. I had people thank me for having the courage to publicly support Bob Cronin. I had people apologize for their fellow citizens. I had people tell me I was nuts and that I should keep my sentiments to myself, they certainly were, and would never let anyone know who they were actually voting for.

I’ve written about this on The Newburyport Blog, over the years my father would shake his head and tell me I needed to learn how to “play the game.” I’m lousy at what my father used to call, “playing the game,” it’s just not in my DNA. Apparently it’s not in Jared Eigerman’s DNA either, which is probably one of the many reasons that I “resonate” with him, and I am proud to be a co-founder with him of “The Pariah Club.”

The Ridge, High Street, Newburyport, MA
The Ridge, High Street, Newburyport, MA, Courtesy of the Newburyport Archival Center

Now as a btw, I would hate to see that anger which has been directed at Jared Eigerman result in a super to the left (if that is possible) challenger for the next City Council election, should Jared choose to run again for Ward 2 City Councilor in 2 years. (The Pariah Club doesn’t have any real world consequences for me the way it possibly could for Jared.)  Jared has been invaluable on the Council. Jared has the expertise, legal expertise, finesse, and political will to make things happens for historic preservation (one of my great Newburyport loves) that I have wished for.

Back in 2012 as the LHD wars were completely disintegrating, then Councilor Ives, now Senator Ives talked to and listened to all sides and came up with a compromise (which as a btw is one of Senator Ives incredible gifts that she has so wonderfully brought to her role as State Senator, I could not be prouder). Jared Eigerman, a then pretty much “unknown” wrote that piece of legislation which Councilor Bob Cronin co-sponsored. It went nowhere. In 2014 Jared Eigerman was elected as Ward 2 City Councilor. As Jared said in his recent Letter to the Editor, Bob Cronin worked with him on “creative legislation to prevent tear downs of historic homes and review major alterations downtown.” In 2014 a version of what Senator Ives had been trying to create became a reality. Since then Councilor Eigerman has had the political will to continue making zoning to protect our historic assets possible. The latest one, which he wrote, and was co-sponsored by City Councilors Ed Cameron and Barry Connell, protects “the Ridge.” I have been wanting this since 1999 when the city fought to save High Street–my own introduction to “civics.”

Just another btw, it used to be that local elections had nothing to do with party politics. It used to be that no one knew what political party local officials belonged to. Not so this election. I was dismayed (and lots of people do not agree with me) to see Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and Congressman Seth Mouton (I’m fans of both) come and stump for one particular mayoral candidate and for the Newburyport Democratic City Committee to run one candidate’s Facebook posts on their Facebook page and to my knowledge not the other candidate. And that’s all I have to say about that (at least for now).

The historic photographs are Courtesy of the Newburyport Archival Center, the link to their online collection can be found here.

The Mayoral Election 2017

 

Canvassing with mayoral candidate Bob Cronin
Canvassing with mayoral candidate Bob Cronin

I’ve know Donna Holaday and her family for about 25 years, I’ve known Bob Cronin for about 8 years. As you can see from the photos, this year I am enthusiastically canvasing for Bob Cronin for Mayor.

I wanted to tell the Mayor Holaday personally (as well as a couple of people very close to her) why I am not supporting her this year. We are a community, we are neighbors, and I admire anyone who is willing to step up, who wants to be the mayor of this amazing city. I am beyond grateful to those who are so willing to serve in the most difficult position in Newburyport.

I told Mayor Holaday that I am grateful for all the many things that she has accomplished in the last eight years. However it is my own feeling that after eight years it is impossible not to be in a “bubble.” I told her that I wished that she had stepped down, picked a candidate and gotten behind the cart and pushed.

What I have seen now from over 25 years of following local politics, is that the pressure of being mayor is enormous. It seems to me that it squeezes people’s souls. The fact is that we as a city never have enough money, there is $8,000 for $8 million dollars of things that need to be done. Every department is underfunded. The strain is enormous and I have seen over and over again, how it takes its toll on people who hold the corner office. I once saw a note on the door of City Hall by former mayor Peter Matthews, it said, “Being mayor of Newburyport is the loneliest job in the world,” obviously he was having a very bad day. I am grateful for Mayor Holaday’s eight years, I think 12 years is 4 years too many.

Bob Cronin has served this City faithfully as a Newburyport City Councilor for almost 8 years. He is a man of strength, commitment, diligence, and integrity. I’ve agreed with Bob on issues, I’ve disagreed with Bob on issues. I’ve never known him to come to a decision without having wrestled with what he feels is best for our city. I’ve heard wonderful things as I walk around the city about Bob. I’ve also heard puzzling things. People have said things to me like “He’s a cop, he doesn’t know anything.” Please, if you feel that way sit down with Bob and talk about something as intricate as the City’s budget, you will come away understanding what a smart and impressive man this is. I’ve heard things like “He’s a bully.” If you are a person who is reading this, look at the photos, obviously, I certainly would strongly disagree with that statement.

Bob co-sponsored with then City Councilor Ives (now State Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives) the compromise after the Local Historic District (LHD) wars (that tore apart this city), and that middle-ground eventually became an ordinance/law. It was one of those compromises that gave something to everyone, and not everyone got want they wanted. It’s called governing. I trust Bob’s commitment, his humanity, his intelligence, his strong work ethic, his integrity to run this city if he has the privilege of being elected mayor.

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Please Vote in our local election Tuesday November 7, 2017. You will be voting for Mayor, for your Ward City Councilor, for five Newburyport City Councilors at Large, for three School Committee members and a non-binding referendum question on the proposed downtown parking garage.

Canvassing with mayoral candidate Bob Cronin
Canvassing with mayoral candidate Bob Cronin