By Sean Horgan
---- — The only contested ward councilor races on the Nov. 5 ballot are in Wards 2 and 5, and the Times debates Wednesday night featuring the four candidates for those two seats gave an insight into some of the diverse issues facing Gloucester as the municipal elections approach.
In the debate for the Ward 5 seat being vacated by Greg Verga’s at-large run, first-time challengers Scott Chernov and William Fonvielle discussed how best to return downtown Magnolia to its former splendor, as well as how to ease the transition of the students at the West Parish Elementary School when construction on the proposed new $36 million West Parish School begins.
Both Chernov and Fonvielle agreed that one high priority is renovating and re-staffing the Magnolia Fire Station before the city’s new collective bargaining contract with firefighters takes effect in July.
“I’ll try my best to get it done earlier,” Chernov said. “Even if I have to sit outside the building while it gets finished.”
Neither really had an answer for easing the transition of West Parish students during construction of a new school.
They offered differing solutions for revitalizing the Magnolia business district. Fonvielle advanced the idea of recruiting more high-tech business in the vein of the newly opened Innovation House, which he described as an incubating firm for new high-tech businesses.
“We need a long-range plan,” Fonvielle said.
Chernov supported the idea of more public-private partnerships to revitalize the Magnolia downtown. He also said the city should re-emphasize eco-tourism to take advantage of the natural open spaces throughout Ward 5.
Fonvielle countered, saying “eco-tourism” was a stretch for the downtown area.
The debate between the candidates for the Ward 2 seat had a more adversarial tone in a rematch between incumbent Melissa Cox and her challenger, former Ward 2 councilor Ann Frontiero Mulcahey.
The two first vied to represent the downtown ward in 2011, when their roles were reversed: Mulcahey was the incumbent and Cox the challenger. In a campaign that featured charges of campaign-sign vandalism, Cox won easily, 557-287.
On Tuesday night, they seemed to clash almost immediately.
In her opening statement, Mulcahey recounted how she twice said no when Cox, now privy to the strains and hurly-burly of council politics, twice approached her and jokingly asked if she wanted her council seat back.
“Now I’m saying Councilor Cox, I want my ward back,” Mulcahey said with a glance at Cox.
Later, Cox seemed to strike a nerve when she said that a city councilor has “to answer calls to get experience” in constituent services — a pointed reference to an incident when Mulcahey was councilor and Cox said she called her with a concern without ever receiving a reply.
“I answered every call I got,” Mulcahey shot back.
The two also differed on whether the city should seek to remove the municipally-owned I-4, C2 property from the city’s Designated Port Area.
Mulcahey supported removal.
“I did not want to see a $1.5 million parking lot,” she said.
Cox said she was against removing the parcel from the DPA, saying that would be premature before the city received the results of the current DPA boundary review being conducted by the city and the state Coastal Zone Management, as well as the city’s developing harbor plan.
The final question asked the two candidates what particular quality separated them from their opponent.
“I’m not a newcomer,” Mulcahey said in apparent reference to Cox moving here about a decade ago. “I’ve lived in this city all my life.”
Cox answered with another reference to her accessibility to constituents.
“I’m very accessible to everybody,” she said.
Sean Horgan may be contacted at 978-283-7000 x3464, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT