Highlights From Wednesday’s LWV City Council Forum

Candidates for Haverhill City Council prepare to answer questions from moderator Rebecca Backman, of the League of Women Voters of Andover/North Andover.

Common themes of enhanced public safety, combating a heroin epidemic and civic engagement in Haverhill neighborhoods were sounded during a candidate forum Wednesday night for the November city council election.

Thirteen out of a field of 15 incumbents and challengers, seeking nine council seats, spoke out on how to address what each perceived as most important challenges facing the city. The forum, broadcast live by WHAV, was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Greater Haverhill and took place at Haverhill High School library.

Candidates discussed methods of attracting new economic development, expanding housing for senior and low-income residents and addressing the heroin epidemic. Challenger Katrina Hobbs-Everett said the city’s drug problem “comes from a hurt.” Incumbent Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien said the city should embrace anything it can get from different levels of government or by local collaboratives to make the city step forward from the opiate addiction problem.

“People expect to be pain-free. And I can tell you, as a nurse, that there is some pain in life that means you’re healing. But for some reason we have developed into a society that wants to take a pill and not have any pain. That is a very, very big problem. And we cannot forget that this drug problem is a major worldwide business. There are multi-millionaires, probably billionaires, on the backside of this opiate problem,” Daly O’Brien said.

Challenger Andy Vargas proposed bringing back neighborhood groups for greater resident representation and leading to more civic engagement.

“We’ve been going door to door and we hear folks tell us they feel that their city is not adequately representing them, that voting does not matter and that participating in local government seems like a waste of time,” Vargas said. “Now back a few decades ago, some of you may remember, Haverhill had about 13 neighborhood groups. Before I put this plan together, I worked with several individuals who are trying to brings these neighborhood groups back and we have about two or three that are active now.”

Incumbent William J. Macek called for bringing business development to “full operational tilt” to bring new jobs in the city.

“We need to have new jobs and we need to continue not only working on downtown but also working on what’s going on in our business parks throughout the community and different zoning areas. We need to bring that to a full operational tilt so that we have jobs for people to move to the city, buy housing, live here and thrive,” Macek said.

Also incumbent Thomas Sullivan proposed to convene a forum on homelessness, an issue also highlighted by challenger and former councilor Kenneth Quimby Jr.

“Nothing tears my heart apart more than seeing homeless people wandering the street and living in parking garages, like we saw earlier this year. Everybody in Haverhill and in this country deserves a place to sleep at night,” Sullivan said.

The three-hour forum, featuring city council and school committee candidates, will be rebroadcast several times by WHAV. Check WHAV.net for dates and times. High-quality audio within the school library and over WHAV would not have been possible without the assistance of students from the Haverhill High School AV Club.

Municipal election day is Tuesday, Nov. 3

10 thoughts on “Highlights From Wednesday’s LWV City Council Forum

    • I heard many things, and much of what I heard were not answers to anything. I’m more than happy to take criticism of my viewpoints, so please, fire away.

      Here’s a perfect forum for you to expound on your personal platform since hardly anyone attended that night, especially in a city where voter apathy reigns. This puts you at a disadvantage as you’re an outsider, whether you realize that or not is irrelevant. We know many people read this site (while still remaining anonymous and do not comment), so this is a perfect opportunity for you to get your message out for free!

      • I do not have any criticism for you Duncan, but I respect the invitation. I just feel my answers were not status quo, but exactly the opposite. I would invite you check out my webpage http://www.katforcouncil.com and watch some of the videos from other interviews and when this one comes out maybe re listen. As far as my being an outsider, yes I do realize that by means of not being a life long council member. However, I was born and raised in Haverhill, like most of the candidates. I run a nonprofit and work on the ground level and as a renter I’ve lived in different sections of Haverhill. I do feel like I am well informed about many issues, and strengths of our city, although I do have much to learn about others aspects.

    • I have a direct question for you Katrina.

      Do you have any plan, or intention, to stop the out of control taxes, fees and fines that are being levied upon Haverhill citizens by a self proclaimed proud tax and spend liberal mayor?

      • Thank you for your question Jack. This is an area that I have some research yet to do. My background is not politics, its Human Services and social services. I am against the parking tax increase and I do feel many of our systems need increased accountability. I know there is a balance that is needed, however I can’t say I have all the answers here, but I am quick to learn.

  1. Not sure which was worse: The fact that voters were visibly absent, or that outside the high school kids there for a class assignment nearly no one under 40 was in attendance, or, that nearly all of the candidates championed that being a life-long politician should be considered a good thing. /facepalm

    “combating a heroin epidemic” – Is one percent of the population considered an “epidemic”? While this reaches beyond The City Council, it was sadly amusing to hear old cronies name dropping their pals in politics and continuing with the failed war on drugs by throwing addicts in jail. At least a couple candidates mentioned Gloucester where The Chief there has stated they cannot “arrest their way out” of this issue. Which of course is true, but some of those candidates are so old and out of touch, really just holding on to the days of the past. Personally, I think they should legalize ALL drugs and regulate it like alcohol, at least users would know what they are ingesting and it would collapse the illegal and violent drug trade, however it would hit jobs & GDP, so more failure it is as the flow of drugs continues UNABATED into this country due to Americans insatiable appetite for drugs (including alcohol).

    “attracting new economic development” – The most often word I heard was: “Tax cuts”. Brilliant. Some were even floating the idea of bringing back manufacturing, which if any cared to come back to reality, short of government subsidization, manufacturing is dead in this country (thank ed Markey & friends for voting for NAFTA). I don’t recall who they were, but a couple were pointing to Southwicks as a success story. Really? They threatened The Mayor if they didn’t get their economic heroin (tax cuts) they would leave! Then someone actually stated they had a hard time filling “skilled” jobs. Really? Maybe someone should check to see what the pay and benefits are of this vaunted company, I’d speculate they are not very good for the person at the sewing machine. Recall that Massachusetts is expensive to live in and we are number one in the country in income disparity, so more tax credits with cheap labor it is!

    “Challenger Andy Vargas” – I was truly hoping someone of his age would be a lightning rod for his generation, maybe use his youth to motivate his demographic to realize what Boomers and my generation has done to his. This was for naught. All I heard was a Democrat political partisan platform, which would do nothing to mobilize his generation. Brian Dempsey tutored you well.

    “We need to have new jobs” – I would imagine every municipality wants new jobs, however the reality is jobs are being destroyed in this country. The 25-54 demographic is on a structural decline, which are usually peoples most productive. Wages continue their trend downward and simply not keeping pace with cost of living. Using The BLS, Federal Reserve, and U.S. Census data, for an overwhelming majority of the population, and I’d argue especially a poor city like Haverhill, there has been zero recovery. I can see why most of the candidates would never see this, as most appear to be retired living on pensions, or already have established lifelong businesses. Why would they? It’s a simple disconnect that plagues politicians in general at all levels. Simply put, for upper percentile earners, things have never been better, or at least not losing ground. For everyone else? Economic destruction. I don’t recall who it was, but one candidate actually runs a temp agency which are traditionally contract workers with little or no benefits and crummy pay! The “new normal” as it were.

    “homeless people wandering the street” – Lots of blame to go around here, once again, outside of The Councils hands. We had a period of absolute lawlessness on both sides of the table. The winners? TBTF banks, paying pennies on the dollar due to weak State Attorney Generals. While Haverhills “Zombie Foreclosures” are down, there’s still a couple hundred (via RealtyTrac). We’re also face with nearing all time lows in home ownership in general as people’s incomes simply do not match home prices were we to use sound mathematics. Renters are screwed because the market knows that “qualified” home buyers are in steep decline (REIT’s anyone?). So as the “real” economy plummets, especially in poor cities like Haverhill, expect the homeless population to grow.

    “Everybody in Haverhill and in this country deserves a place to sleep at night,” Sullivan said.” – That day has passed, we could have had provided everyone with “three hots and a cot”, but that’s inhumane, so politicians continue to try to legislate math. That didn’t, nor will it ever work well.

    My personal highlights for those still reading this wall of text?

    First, School Committee candidate Conti. Why? Because she actually answered a question honestly by stating she “didn’t know” something (in regard to SPED). That takes courage, which of course is sadly lacking in all things politics. It was a pleasant surprise.

    Second, Michitson was the only candidate for City Council that even mentioned anything in regard to fiscal health and forward thinking in regard to the budget. I know time was limited, but this is a big one. This is a city already in the midst of deficit financing, which should never have been allowed in the first place. It is the pulling of demand & production forward and it will haunt residents who choose to stay here for decades. Bond issuance (which is a constant now) is the only play, as tax revenues alone will simply never overcome the debts incurred. It’s up to Dempsey to steal whatever he can from Bacon Hill to keep the good times going. While interest rates are certainly enticing to borrow more or roll over debt, that too has a mathematical endgame, exacerbated if interest rates rise (I’m in the camp they won’t). Of course most of these people allowing this indebtedness will be worm food long before it crushes whoever is left. I say whoever is left because the Census shows people are fleeing Massachusetts at a 20K per year clip. This of course leads to less people working, less people paying taxes, and of course burdening further our social safety nets.

    Overall, a snooze-fest, made worse that no one showed up outside some friends and family. The voters truly do get the government they deserve.

  2. Sounds like yet another fluff session of liberals promising government solve everyone’s problems.

    Did even one candidate talk about the city being broke and only staying out of state receivership because of Brian Dempsey being the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee?

    Did even one candidate talk about property taxes being up over 25% in the last eight years or all the new taxes, fees and fines that have been imposed to pay for mayor Failurentini’s corruption and incompetence?

    Bill Macek: Are you serious? Attract new business to downtown? What business owner would move there knowing they are a target of a tyrannical mayor hellbent to taxing and fining every last penny he can get out of them? What business would move to Haverhill in general knowing that it is guaranteed their taxes are going up 2.5% EVERY year? Have you been keeping track of he empty storefronts downtown or the businesses leaving the city like NE Die Cutting Corporation did recently by moving to Methuen? Bill, be honest with taxpayers because most of them aren’t paying attention or even know what the relevance is of the policies mayor Taxman and the city council impose. The only way The City of Haverhill attracts business is by giving tax breaks to corporations, which means homeowners are stuck picking up the tab for that missing tax revenue. On the very day a group of downtown business owners goes public seeking support from the general public to help fight the intrusive parking taxes which are driving their customers away and putting their very existence at stake you promote attracting more companies into that business environment? C’mon Bill…..