By Marjorie Nesin
---- — A third mayoral candidate has been nudged into the race for Gloucester’s highest administrative position, but he expands the field by no choice of his own, he said Thursday.
Joe Palmisano said that, in fact, he cannot even pose for a campaign photo or buy one of the maroon T-shirts bearing his name with an encouragement for others to write him in on the Nov. 5 ballot.
“I can have nothing to do with it,” Palmisano said Thursday, citing an ethics conflict from his federal government job at the Department of Agriculture.
When a group of residents, many from the Fort neighborhood in which he grew up, approached Palmisano asking him to run a write-in campaign, Palmisano explained that his current job prohibits him from campaigning, but the proposition “humbled” him, and he would not stop them.
“If people are going to vote me in, so be it, and I will be more than happy to roll up my sleeves and get to work and take care of my city,” Palmisano said.
Nathaniel Mulcahy, one of the people who began the write-in campaign favoring Palmisano, said he believes Palmisano appeals to a larger group of people than does incumbent Carolyn Kirk or her challenger Mac Bell, who pulled election papers and collected the 350 signatures within 24 hours of the due date.
“Gloucester’s a great city, but it’s a city that’s often divided and the divisiveness of the local politicians I see as detrimental to the community,” Mulcahy said. “Joe not only appeals to a much broader range but makes the reach out to the broader range. He makes the effort to bring the community together.”
Mulcahy said Palmisano’s distaste for a hotel in the Fort area has nothing to do with Mulcahy’s support, though he agrees personally. Rather, he stressed Palmisano’s community involvement and volunteer work in projects like the Gloucester Prevention Network, a coalition started to help troubled kids. Palmisano has also volunteered with the Open Door and participates as a Magnolia Lion.
“Talk to anybody about any community activities in the past 30 years and, somehow or other, the name that comes up as a person who’s always there is always Joe,” Mulcahy said.
Supporters have sold more than a dozen of the T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase “Take back OUR city,” along with Palmisano’s name and an encouragement to vote for him by writing in his name on the ballot.
Clarifying that he was speaking as a resident, not a candidate, Palmisano said he wants to see Gloucester’s tax money stay within the city and see the city grow to fit residents’ needs, rather than the needs of outside businesses.
“We’re going in the wrong direction right now,” Palmisano said. “We’ve got big corporations and outside people coming in, and before you know it, we won’t be able to live here anymore because the tax base will be too high.”
Palmisano’s grandfather immigrated to Gloucester from Sicily and worked the port as a fisherman years ago. Palmisano, who grew up in the Fort area, fished also before moving into agricultural work. Now he lives in Magnolia, where he’s raised his two children, a 13-year-old and an 18-year-old.
The reluctant write-in expressed concerns about issues that hit close to home — literally and figuratively — discussing the regularly closed Magnolia Fire Station and his hopes for the city’s public school system.
“I want to see the best of these kids in the city of Gloucester. I want to be No. 1 in schools,” he said. “I’m sick of Manchester being No. 1; why can’t we be No. 1?,” Palmisano said.
Part of “straightening the city out,”according to Palmisano, would be better funding of the Fire Department to prevent the dilapidation, then closure, of outlying stations from happening again. The best way to do that, he says, is to spend tax dollars within the city rather than using any city dollars to pull companies into Gloucester.
“I’m homegrown,” Palmisano said. “If push comes to shove, and I have to leave my job for a desk on Dale Avenue, I would do that in a second for my city.”
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.