By James Niedzinski
---- — From the I-4, C-2 lot to Gloucester social services and the effects of the state’s Designated Port Area on city and its residents, Mayor Carolyn Kirk and challenger and local developer Mac Bell clashed Tuesday morning on a wide range of issues in their first debate in what has already become a lively mayoral race.
Hosted by the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce at The Elks at Bass Rocks, the debate opened with a question on what each candidate would do if the city came into $5 million.
Bell said he would first allocate $3.3 million to the Gloucester Education Foundation, saying that his most important “single agenda item” is education.
Kirk said she would allocate $1 million into the city’s “rainy day fund,” while also extending $2 million to the School Committee for one-time investments on items such as student laptops and other technology, and another $2 million toward projects not regularly getting their requested funding, such as Sawyer Free Library.
The two were also asked how they would handle Gloucester’s viability of the DPA and the potential for the Fuller School property.
“The DPA is the law of the land right now. We need to work within those confines,” Kirk said.
She said the challenge is to create jobs and value today while creating opportunities for the future.
“It’s too easy to say, ‘Let’s just remove the DPA,’” she said, later adding that the city is currently carrying out a DPA boundary review.
Bell, however, said he would summarize the Kirk administration’s DPA handling as “good effort, poor execution,” adding that Gloucester was “duped” into accepting the DPA years ago.
He said he would bring Gloucester into the 21st century, and seek to trim the DPA boundaries to running from the Coast Guard to the Jodrey State Fish Pier, though any properties that wish to remain on the DPA could do so.
“The working waterfront is a very real and important aspect of Gloucester’s diversity,” Bell said, adding that the industrial reinvestment is overdue.
As for I-4, C-2, the lot is “an embarrassment of Gloucester’s government process for the last 40 years,” Bell said, criticizing the lack of planning and consulting monies that did not include owning the land.
As to the Fuller School site, Bell said he would approach with a mantra of “jobs, jobs, jobs,” criticizing Kirk’s handling of that property, as well.
“Every Gloucester citizen can take shame in the failure of the last six years and the mishandling of the Fuller School,” Bell said.
To that, Kirk quipped, “Wow, I’m glad my performance review is November 5th.”
Kirk said that the I-4, C-2 lot has become more accessible and cleaner since the city acquired it in 2010, saying that she hopes the site can be developed through a citywide consensus.
“This is a symbolic property; what do we want to see there?” she said. “If it were easy, it would be done by now.”
As to Fuller, she noted, “the city spent a dollar on that school when they bought it, and that’s the only dollar that’s ever been spent on that school.”
Kirk and Bell agreed upon keeping retail businesses out of Fuller School, with Kirk adding that she would like to see a revenue-generating tenant, even if one were the YMCA.
As for tourism, Kirk admitted that the tourism commission has struggled under her administration, in an effort to unify what the future of tourism is for Gloucester. She said she has tried to rewrite the city ordinance that deals with the tourism commission.
“As long as the industry is fractured, my administration has been reluctant to get behind any big spending proposals,” she said.
She cited, however, the installation of the HarborWalk, bicycle lane and water shuttle that attracts residents and tourists alike.
Bell said he believes “leadership” is the key to tourism. He said the arts and culture throughout Cape Ann and the myriad of athletic events that draw people to Gloucester are staples in the city and should be embraced as destination events.
Each candidate also got to ask the other their own question.
Kirk asked Bell what his local, state and federal advocacy positions would be regarding FEMA flood maps, which have been met with some criticism and concern over their impact on homeowners’ and business insurance rates.
Bell said he would work to make sure Gloucester works well with other Cape Ann communities to ensure they collaborate during crisis. He said the ongoing growth of self-consumptive government is an “ugly monster of bureaucratic BS.’”
In turn, he asked Kirk how she would work more collaboratively with others in the future.
“There are times when (the City Council and I) do duke it out,” Kirk admitted. “I get the reputation for ‘my way or the highway,’ but this is where it comes from,” she said.
Kirk said she starts by listening to constituents and staff members and starts to find and build a consensus on a decision that has the best interests of the city at heart.
“That is how we get the changes that we are seeing,” she said.
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.