Island Cowboy John Jerome sang his musician friend Gregory Verga’s all-time favorite song, “Here Comes the Sun,” shortly before Verga was sworn in on New Year’s Day as the city’s 60th mayor in Gloucester’s 399th year.
With cases of COVID-19 surging here and elsewhere, Verga and newly elected officials took part in a social-distanced inaugural, with chairs spread out on the stage and throughout Kyrouz Auditorium in City Hall. There were about 25 immediate family and well-wishers attending, not counting elected officials seated on stage.
George Harrison’s Beatles tune, with its theme of reset after a “long cold lonely winter,” set the tone for Verga, who is a guitar and bass player, and his hope to set a new course for Gloucester.
His nearly 17-minute speech emphasized a long list of things he wanted to get going in the 22 months until the next mayoral election.
What they get done with an “all-hands-on-deck approach” in the next two years, he said, “can be the foundation of how we live for the next 50.”
“I have mentioned a few times during the campaign that I myself am a musician and somewhat predictably I couldn’t resist leaning on a musician to help me frame these remarks,” Verga said.
But Verga, 53, who grew up in the working-class neighborhood of Portuguese Hill, leaned not on the Beatles but on the words of composer Leonard Bernstein, a Massachusetts native: “’To achieve great things, two components are needed. A plan, and not quite enough time.’ More than ever, I know what he is talking about.”
Verga said there is “precious little time” in which he hoped to achieve a reset and effect the changes the city desperately needs. He emphasized his incoming administration does have a plan, which they intend to see through.
“For the next 729 days, I will wake up with just one mandate, to make Gloucester a better place tomorrow than it is today.” It’s a city, he said, that he sees through the eyes of his parents, children and grandchildren, “and we need action now to meet the challenges the next generation will face.”
Verga talked about how his grandfather came to Gloucester from Sicily in 1912 to fish. Much later, as a 1986 graduate of Gloucester High, Verga married his high-school sweetheart, Kellie, and the couple became parents shortly thereafter, he said. They have three grown children, two daughters and a son, and two grandchildren. He previously served on the School Committee and the City Council. The new mayor’s father is former state Rep. Anthony “Tony” Verga.
Verga spoke Saturday about the need to guide the city with “careful stewardship, public engagement, civil discourse and transparency” while establishing a tone of respect, professionalism and civility in City Hall, and throughout city government, which would extend to the community.
He said setting the expectation to maintain this tone is a serious matter.
“We are turning the page, wiping the slate clean and starting fresh,” Verga said. “Collaboration will drive the narrative inside and outside City Hall.”
He said his philosophy of governing comes from an old Sicilian saying that roughly translates to: “We learn by standing on the shoulders of the wise.”
He outlined the challenges ahead: The ongoing pandemic, the need for a fiscal 2023 budget by the end of June, and the need for a blueprint for investment for money flowing from the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the Infrastructure and Jobs Act and any money that might come by way of the Build Back Better Act, or a portion of it, if it passes.
Verga noted that Gov. Charlie Baker had recently signed a bill for the state’s ARPA relief and state tax surplus to distribute $4 billion across the state, which Verga said is “unparalleled — a one-time-only opportunity for the city. We can’t afford to miss the mark.”
Verga also outlined plans to hire a full-time sustainability coordinator to take on issues surrounding the impacts of climate change.
“Meanwhile, the Harbor Plan is ongoing and should be ready by the end of this year,” he said, adding that the future of the harbor is directly tied to that of the downtown.
He’s also aware, he said, that education must remain at the heart of what they do, having spent eight years on the School Committee, on which the mayor is the seventh member.
He also called for a practical approach to housing development, “including stabilizing available rental stock, and delivering creative solutions in the affordable housing sector. We need to look at zoning reforms as well as look beyond them by reaching out to other North Shore communities and state partners to learn about innovative solutions and best practices for creating housing opportunities. We have to accept that we can’t build our way out of the city’s housing crisis.”
Verga pledged to protect the city’s fishermen and lobstermen “because it’s in our blood. It is vital that we pair our hard-earned seafood industry expertise with life sciences, blue sciences and marine genomics.”
In his speech, Verga thanked his supporters and his transition team along with outgoing Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken for graciously helping him facilitate the transition. He became emotional thanking his wife and extended family “for not just putting up with, but putting forth everything it takes to survive and thrive within a campaign for public office.”
Also sworn in on Saturday were School Committee members Melissa Teixeira Prince, Kathleen Clancy, Keith Mineo, Laura Wiessen, Samantha Verga Watson and Bill Melvin. Verga noted in his speech that two of the school board members were absent due to the pandemic — Mineo and Clancy. Clancy was elected chairperson in her absence. Verga Watson was elected as vice chair and Wiessen as secretary.
Also sworn in were members of the City Council for the next two years: Councilors at-large Jeff Worthley, Jason Grow, James O’Hara and Tony Gross, and Ward 1 Councilor Scott Memhard, Ward 2 Councilor Tracy O’Neil, Ward 3 Councilor Frank Margiotta, Ward 4 Councilor Valerie Gilman and Ward 5 Councilor Sean Nolan. Gilman was elected by her colleagues as council president, Nolan to vice president.
Gilman said after the ceremony: “I’m grateful to be given this opportunity to lead our City Council. There continues to be a lot of matters that we have to address and I’m looking forward to working collaboratively with our new mayor, with our council, with the boards and commissions and obviously the citizens of Gloucester to make Gloucester an even better place in the future.”
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-675-2714, or by email at email@example.com.