It is easy to forget how far Gloucester has come in the six years since Carolyn Kirk was elected mayor.
The city is no longer locked into bad union contracts like the former firefighters’ deal with staffing mandates that forced the closure of three fire stations and ran up overtime. A wind power project at Blackburn Industrial Park has significantly cut city power costs; the private-public partnership has served as a model for other communities.
Are there problems? Of course. There are significant questions over the future of the former Fuller School and the city-owned I-4, C-2 site as well as short-and long-term challenges for the city’s school system.
Businessman and developer Mac Bell, who jumped into the race at the 11th hour, has drawn attention to those and other issues through his campaign and a lively series of debates. He also has plenty of ideas about economic development, and the discussion has been good for the city.
But choosing a mayor is about more than ideas. It is also about action. The city needs a mayor who will make tough, often unpopular decisions while still being able to work effectively with others.
Kirk doesn’t merely talk about those issues in what-ifs and platitudes. She has made the hard choices to get the city’s economic house in order. For example, she has pushed the city to address its massive infrastructure needs with an ongoing $40 million-plus water improvement project.
She knows the realities of dealing with the state and federal government on waterfront issues. She has confronted school issues not by merely throwing money at the problems, but by taking precise and sometimes difficult steps — like shifting school grounds maintenance and operation of the Talbot Rink to the Department of Public Works.
While the mayor has drawn intense criticism from Bell and others for a perceived “my way or the highway” attitude, let’s not forget the significant cooperative steps Kirk has taken.
Dick Wilson, the driving force behind the city’s phenomenal Newell Renewal stadium partnership project, has said the effort would not have been possible without Kirk’s backing. She built a private-public partnership that brought the installation of wind turbines in Blackburn Industrial Park — saving on city energy costs and stepping forward as a state-recognized “green community.” She stood up to back Cape Pond Ice in its efforts to pull out of the waterfront’s Designated Port Area, opening the door to fielding such requests on a case-by-case basis.
For all his talk of “collaboration,” Bell has not always shown a strong ability to work with others. He pulled back his own Birdseye redevelopment plan before selling the property when the council rightfully would not grant him approval for a wide variety of uses for the site that drew intense opposition from project neighbors.
Then there’s Bell’s penchant for what some call “Mac being Mac” — his past brushes with police, his putting off payment of $1,000 restitution in a September court case, leading the Gloucester District Court to briefly issue a warrant for his arrest earlier this week. (Bell did pay the $1,000 fine.) That may be “Mac being Mac,” but they are not the actions of someone who now aspires to be our city’s CEO and most visible leader.
Kirk has served as Gloucester’s CEO and leader for six years, and she has done so effectively, moving the city forward while preparing for the future.
In short, she has provided the kind of leadership this city has needed, and still needs. She deserves an emphatic vote for re-election to a fourth term next Tuesday.