Thursday, August 31, 2006

The City Council

Let's go back to the budget cycle. Remember this:

"(Mayor Dan Mylott is) holding everyone hostage, but we are not willing to back down to threats this year," Councilor Jody Joseph said about the budget.

"I thought we made a mistake, and last year we should have sent it back," Councilor Stephan Hay said.

“The councilors that’ve been here for a while are as frustrated as they’ve ever been,” Councilor Thomas Donnelly said.

So, what happened? They backed down, they made the same mistake as last year, and they may or not still be frustrated.

The city announced this week free cash is short of expectations, and cuts are possible. While many knives have been sharpened for Mylott (see yesterday's post and comments), I still can't get over the City Council.

The council all but declared it was going to give the mayor's budget the big workover. The one budget power the council has is to cut budget items. It can look at the revenue projections and make cuts to fit priorities and the numbers.

Yes, state aid was bigger than last year and the city is cash-strapped. At this point, when basic services are flimsy, why save money? But the council was lured/forced/brainwashed into painting too thin a line between OK and out of balance.

The unanswered question: What changed the council's mind? Peace and goodwill? Some facet of the budget that they thought everything would be OK? Heated rhetoric gave way to slim cuts and the current situation.

So, now what? In the end, the amount of money we're talking here (less than $300,000) is small potatoes. The city should encourage department heads to keep a tight leash on spending and hope savings are realized between now and the end of the calendar year, which would be a good time to reassess the situation and then move forward. Chances are the money will be found to fill in the gap.

Beyond that, the City Council needs to figure out what its role is in the budget process, and how to best handle the budget next year. It could be interesting, if Mylott is running again and councilors are running against him. But this spring looked interesting, too, until the council backed off. The council needs to decide how tough it can and wants to be, and it has to commit to sticking by its guns. It rolled over in the spring, and the city lost.

Every so often, we stumble on an issue that put in the "don't forget this come campaign season" category. The $100,000 reduction in school spending by the city (that was eventually remedied) is one of those areas that we particularly remember for the mayor. This tough-then-soft budget stance will be remembered next year for the council.


Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Here We Go Again

Budget cuts may be on the horizon, as the city announced yesterday that free cash was overestimated, and won't be able to fill its part of the revenue stream.

In short, the city predicted it would be able to fund about $600,000 of the budget with free cash, but now estimates it has only about $380,000 in free cash available. Hence, the possibility of cuts.

Mayor Dan Mylott says he was "surprised" by the lower figure, but the story doesn't say how the free cash figure was misfigured (by over one-third). While it's not the best municipal policy to fund the budget with free cash (especially when the margin is so small), it's not unheard of and isn't horrifically irresponsible.

Certainly, Mylott has to take responsibility for a lot of this, but today we're a little more interested in the City Council's role in all this.

You can dig through the archives to get all the details on the budget process, but let's summarize this way: The council hated Mylott's budget, and threatened to throw it back at him to do over. Heated rhetoric ensued. The council didn't throw the budget back, but sort of settled things with Mylott and approved the budget in the end.

You could say the council blinked and didn't push as hard as it should have (we came closest to this sentiment here). At the time, we kind of wondered why the council raged so hard and ended up doing so little (easiest answer, they were running out of time). Some members were saying the same thing yesterday.

"Perhaps we should've been stronger in our convictions, and demanded that things be done properly. Maybe we gave up too early," Norman Boisvert said in the Sentinel.

City Councilor at-large Thomas Conry told the paper, "I feel we, both the council and the taxpayers, have been duped."

We put a lot of last year's budget problems on Mylott, but he gets company this time. Politically, the budget process was shaping as a war between Mylott and the council, and in the end the council decided it didn't have the stomach for an all-out throwdown. In doing so, it stepped away from some of its policy goals. Now the budget has a hole in it.

And if you think that analysis is too harsh, go back and re-read Boisvert's and Conry's comments. Boisvert all but admits the council backed down. If the council had really hammered away at the budget, how could it have been "duped," as Conry says.

Not good times. Bad times. Amazingly, two months into the budget, here we go again.


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Polticial Arena

So, the city and Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey checked out the Wallace Civic Center yesterday, with everyone hoping it becomes a key facet of the city, with concerts, trade shows and jammed ice-time schedules well into the future.

A good time was had by all, it appears, but we have some political observations that stem from the event. Here goes:

Sen. Bob Antonioni and Rep. Jennifer Flanagan missed the event, citing schedule conflicts. We wonder if the fact this thing was just short of a Healey campaign stop had anything to do with it.

Rep. Emile Goguen said he wasn't invited. Mayor Dan Mylott said invites were sent out last Wednesday. Who to believe? And couldn't Goguen had attended without an invite. Just, you know, as civic duty.

Mylott called Healey a "true friend and advocate for the city of Fitchburg." This from the guy who has spent the last year screaming the state doesn't provide enough money for the city. And remember, one of the first things the Romney-Healey administration did was cut local aid. Sigh.

A small group of Healey supporters were holding campaign signs during the event, including Republican state rep candidate Edward Niemczura. Who "shouted" (according to the Sentinel), "Go Kerry." And, "Welcome to Fitchburg." If this guy should be taken seriously, shouldn't he be above holding signs at an event like this? Shouldn't Healey, as a good party player, invite this guy into the event somehow, or acknowledge him somehow. Reducing him to a sign-holding supporter doesn't really bolster his status, does it?


Monday, August 28, 2006

A Missed Connection

In the aftermath of the Warped Tour last month, we spent some time talking about a connector to downtown from Route 2. The Sentinel joins the conversation yesterday, with a story full of local and statewide officials saying they like the idea.

I like the idea of everyone in Fitchburg receiving $1 million. I'm not sure which idea would get more "support" from officials.

The point is, it's easy to say you support something, it's another thing to pony up some political capital and energy to make it happen. From the story, it doesn't seem like anyone is really that gung-ho, despite their support.

It is, no matter how you look at it, a massive political undertaking. Figure out how to wind a highway from Route 2 to downtown, handle all the landtakings, and oh yeah, find someone to pay for it. It is a monumental task.

This would possibly happen in two ways: Someone with a lot of political power makes this their top priority, and works on it day and night, swapping favors and influence and slowing making it happen. Or, a slew of officials at every level makes it their top priority, sending the message to Boston and D.C. that this is all the city cares about.

The first option isn't really likely, because the city is a little light on political bigwigs on the state level. The second probably shouldn't happen, because the city has a lot of other priorities that need tending to and can't be left sitting on the side of the road for a connector.

An interesting part of the story is the Romney administration's belief that the Route 12 expansion will cure all the ills. Will it? We won't know until 2008, but if they're right, the connector discussion become even more insignificant. Perhaps even more interesting is the comments from Rappaport Institute jefe (and good guy) David Luberoff, who basically says downtown needs to offer something at the end of the road, or why take the road?

Simply, there are a lot of challenges facing a Route 2 connector, and none of them get toppled until someone, or a group of someones, takes on the challenge with unflagging energy and determination. Based on the lukewarm support that seems to follow this idea around, it's pretty safe to assume this thing isn't happening.


CALENDAR ALERT: Yeah, yeah, despite the rain, it's still summer. You want to hit the lake, plan the big Labor Day BBQ and all that. But holy cow, the big Save Fitchburg/"Politically Speaking"/FATV/WEIM state rep debate is just 10 days away. Where does the time go? More importantly, the window is closing on your opportunity to send in a question to ask the candidates. They may all knock on your door in the next three weeks, but they won't be talking to you all at once, so this is your chance. Send your question here and we'll consider asking it.


Friday, August 25, 2006

More on Guy Glodis

This stuff should have been included in yesterday's deal, but for some reason we didn't think of it until today.

A brief search of key words (particularly the abbreviation "WCSO" for Worcester County Sheriff's Office) found 83 donations worth $17,620 by employees of the Worcester County Sheriff's Office. Eighty of those donations, $17,475 worth, were donated to Sheriff Guy Glodis.

According to Office of Campaign and Political Finance records, Glodis has $165,138 in the bank.

The other three donations? Two gifts worth a total of $45 to lieutenant governor candidate Tim Murray, and $100 to register of deeds candidate Kathleen Daignault.


More on Guy Glodis

This stuff should have been included in yesterday's deal, but for some reason we didn't think of it until today.

A brief search of key words (particularly the abbreviation "WCSO" for Worcester County Sheriff's Office) found 83 donations worth $17,620 by employees of the Worcester County Sheriff's Office. Eighty of those donations, $17,475 worth, were donated to Sheriff Guy Glodis.

According to Office of Campaign and Political Finance records, Glodis has $165,138 in the bank.

The other three donations? Two gifts worth a total of $45 to lieutenant governor candidate Tim Murray, and $100 to register of deeds candidate Kathleen Daignault.


Thursday, August 24, 2006

Fitchburg Gives $21,000 in Campaign Cash in 2006; Glodis Gets Over $1,500 from Employees

Candidates for Massachusetts political offices have received over $21,000 from Fitchburg addresses this year, including over $6,000 for Worcester Sheriff Guy Glodis – who received over $1,500 from employees in his own department with Fitchburg addresses – according to a review of campaign finance reports.

The entire list of all 150-plus donations, detailing $21,559 in contributions, can be found by exploring the Office of Campaign and Political Finance website. Glodis, the first-term sheriff, outpaces the rest of field in Fitchburg, followed by district attorney candidate Joseph Early. Third is Republican gubernatorial candidate Kerry Healey, with $3,215. The reports cover the entire year through Aug. 15.

State representative candidates do not need to file their first reports until next month, and it’s likely at least City Councilor Stephen DiNatale will zoom to the top of the list when those reports are filed. State rep candidates must file eight days before the primary election, eight days before the general election, and at the end of the year. Candidates for county and statewide offices must file every month.

The reports find minimal donation activity by the state rep candidates, which would pop up in monthly filers’ accounts (but not other state reps, like say, House Speaker Sal DiMasi). DiNatale has donated $275 (including $100 to both Glodis and Early) and former Mayor Mary Whitney has donated $75 to the Democratic State Committee. Former City Councilor David LeBlanc has made no contributions, according to the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

The largest single employer for contributors is the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office, including a civil process server for the county. The Sheriff’s Office runs the process service in the county. Eight donations totally $1,730 were made by office employees. All of it went to Glodis, except for a $100 donation to register of deeds candidate Kathleen Daignault.

Included in the total is a $500 from former Gardner Rep. Brian Knuttila, who uses a Fitchburg law firm address in his listed donations. Knuttila left his seat earlier this year to become general counsel for the Sheriff’s Office.

While it is not illegal for candidates to receive contributions from employees, many politicians don’t allow their employees to donate to their campaigns, feeling it gives the impression they are putting pressure – intentional or otherwise – on employees to donate to the campaign.

For the most part, Fitchburg has sat on the sidelines in the governor’s race. Democrats have raised only $685, and almost all of that ($625) has gone to Attorney General Tom Reilly. Chris Gabrieli has raised no money from Fitchburg. Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Tim Murray, the Worcester mayor, has received $775 from Fitchburg.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

More New "Affordable" Housing

We're starting to lose track of all the new housing project being proposed for the city, and that's a pretty good thing. The latest is a 22-unit, single-family-only venture out near the Lunenburg line.

It's part of a trend to create homes for first-time homebuyers and middle-class buyers who can't afford a $500,000 home. It's encouraging that this development keeps happening in Fitchburg. As Dean Tran noted months ago, the city's rebound will be strongly influenced by residential growth. Projects like this, $250,000-$350,000 homes, fit the bill perfectly.

The story notes that some folks are starting to Gardiner for better, cheaper housing. It's a sign that the home-cost wave has fully smacked Fitchburg. But the city is still much cheaper than anything from 495 in, and the city should try to maintain that status. With the shorter ride to Boston and Worcester and the train access to Boston, Fitchburg needs to a strongly viable destination for commuters to consider buying a home in.

Best of all, the folks moving into the proposed development won't have to wear bulletproof vests while weed whacking.


Signs and Patrick

The 30-day warning on the state rep primary sounded over the weekend, and immediately lawn signs popped up all over the place. From what we've seen, City Councilor Steve DiNatale seems to have the biggest presence, with former City Councilor Dave LeBlanc behind him and just a smattering of former Mayor Mary Whitney signs around. What does it mean? Who knows, but DiNatale continues to flex his muscle at every turn.

This makes for a great opportunity to mention once again that we're sponsoring a debate with the candidates on Sept. 7, along with Ralph Romano and "Politically Speaking" and the fine folks at FATV and WEIM. With live TV and radio coverage, it will be your first chance to see and hear all three at the same time and compare and contrast what they have to say. We're also looking for some reader input on questions to ask, so drop us an e-mail and let us know what you'd like us to ask the candidates.

In other primary election news, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Deval Patrick stops by Fitchburg this Sunday, Aug. 28, at 6:30 p.m. at Fitchburg State College's Patrick Gymnasium. According to the note we received and the Patrick campaign, this is a "community meeting." We're not really sure what that means, but I guess we'll find out on Sunday. Chances are, Coke won't be served at the event.


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Check Your Property Value

An important follow up to today's post:

You can find your property value proposal here. According to our quick math, the Save Fitchburg palace sees an increase in value of just under 6 percent. We think that's about right.

Oh yeah, one more thing: This Friday night's movie in the park is "Say Anything." In our opinion, it's a classic. As is pretty much most of Cameron Crowe's work. Most enjoyable. Lloyd, Lloyd, null and void, dissed in the Malibu...


Property Values Going Up

The Sentinel reports the good news that Fitchburg's property values are going up again this year. That's nice in a couple of different ways. For folks who consider their home something of an investment, it's good to see the investment grow. For the city as a whole, it's a small sign of progress or strength or something comparable.

However we've grown a little, let's say, skeptical of the city's property values. In under three years, the city valuation of the Save Fitchburg palace has increased about 50 percent. A recent assessment didn't match that increase in market rate, which was closer to 28 percent. We'll take 28 percent, but it isn't 50.

Home sales in the neighborhood around the Save Fitchburg palace have been a little scattered lately. Some places have gone for surprisingly high numbers, while others have been a bit low in our opinion. We're not market experts, but it seems like there's some fluctuation in the market.

We figure no matter how hard Dean Tran tries, the city will max out its 2.5 percent increase this year. (We argue that as the city struggles to find money, it should max it out for now, but we know many disagree.) That said, our personal portion of that 2.5 percent is based a lot on the city's valuation of our property (and somewhat by the residential-business split, another lengthy discussion for another day). As we watch prices in our neighborhood hold steady this year, we wonder how much of an increase we'll see in our valuation.

Increasing property values aren't really a bad thing, and on their own don't lead to increased taxes (remember, the city can just adjust the tax rate to meet its target figures). But there's an issue of fairness at play here -- properties that legitimately are increasing in market value should have that reflected, while those that are not increasing rapidly should reflect that also. If condo values are skyrocketing, that should be part of the equation with single-families slow down.

We're just one of thousands of homeowners in Fitchburg, but it's unlikely (and a recent assessment backs this up) that the Save Fitchburg palace is worth 50 percent more now than three years ago. The city needs to make sure it does a fair and accurate job in figuring valuations. Increases are good, but they need to reflective of the true market, or they'll only tick off the masses.


Monday, August 21, 2006

The New Pittsfield?

OK, we're back from vacation, where we skipped everything and anything that had to do with Fitchburg. From a quick look at the comments, looks like Ted DeSalvatore was still in the news. Go figure.

Anyway, we'll come back from break with this story about city officials visiting Pittsfield. Once upon a time -- 10 years ago, really -- Pittsfield was a ghost town. It was probably in worse shape that Fitchburg is currently. However, the city is on something of a revival. Fitchburg officials went to check it out to see what they could transfer to our own fair burg.

From the Sentinel story, it looks like Pittsfield is playing from the condo and artists playbook. It's not unique, but it's been effective there and in other places.

Can Fitchburg become an artists mecca? We're somewhat skeptical. Partly because we don't have an artistic bone in our body and don't quite understand the arts world fully. Partly because if everyone else doing it, isn't there a critical mass of old downtowns going artsy? That said, if it works, do it.

One thing we were glad to see in the story is the downtown coordinator's search for the "one thing" to really give downtown a boost. We've advocated for that "one thing" in the past, and still do. We're not sure what that one thing is, but it's out there to be found.

The encouraging thing about the trip to Pittsfield is, if Pittsfield can do, Fitchburg should be able to. Remember, Pittsfield is about an hour or so from Albany, and about the same from Springfield. Fitchburg can shape itself as a commuter community to both Boston and Worcester.

It's a good sign officials are looking at other communities for ideas and inspiration. Hopefully some of that grows roots in Fitchburg in the future.


Thursday, August 10, 2006

Debate News

Save Fitchburg and "Politically Speaking" are happy to announce that WEIM is co-sponsoring the state representative debate on Thursday, Sept. 7. The 90-minute debate will air live on WEIM, starting at 7 p.m., and WEIM voice Greg Vine will be on the panel.

Speaking of the panel, we don't want to ask all the questions. We would like input from our readers, viewers and listeners. The time is now, folks. We need your question submission by Sept. 4. You can send questions via e-mail to Save Fitchburg, FATV, or WEIM. Just make sure we have a first name (and maybe a street or neighborhood) to identify you when we ask your question.

Barring something outrageous, this is the last post until Monday, Aug. 21. We'll be on vacation, and have minimal computer access. We may check in early next week, but make no promises. Submit your questions, play nice with each other, and we'll see you in a few weeks.


Who's Right?

Mayor Dan Mylott and City Council President Jody Joseph denounced Councilor Ted DeSalvatore's tactics yesterday, with DeSalvatore typically fighting back (in the Sentinel, DeSalvatore said he might run for mayor if the community wills it. Whatever that means. We take to mean he's so in).

Obviously, we've been over this situtation a thousand times. But the Telegram story -- intentionally or otherwise -- stakes out the difference in opinion between the mayor and DeSalvatore.

Mylott points to joint efforts to improve the crime situation, and says, "(The Shannon Anti-Gang Grant Initiative) is a positive resource to help fight crime and drugs through training and seminars under the leadership of Chief Cronin. This is not a vigilante group. We are going to work together with a common goal."

DeSalvatore responds thusly: "Neighborhoods that are nasty little havens of obscenities are being tolerated and given permission because officers are told to ignore it."

So, who's right? Mylott or DeSalvatore?


Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Fitchburg (Hearts) Slater, Uncle Joey

Check it out, Fitchburg is becoming a haven for B-list stars of all generations.

Fitchburg State College is filling the void left behind by Joan Jett with a series of, ahem, stars visiting campus this fall. The Sentinel seemed to lock onto the college-cool of MTV reality stars, but we're all a-twitter over A.C. Slater and Uncle Joey.

Slater was the jock on "Saved by the Bell" and was played by Mario Lopez. Beyond that star-making turn, Lopez had a small role on "Simon & Simon" in the 1980s (we loved "Simon & Simon") and since the turn of the century has popped up in things like "Extreme Dodgeball" and "Aloha, Scooby Doo." Wheee.

Uncle Joey was the funny yet insightful live-in relative to the Tanners on "Full House," played by Dave Coulier. He was quick with an impression (usually of Donald Duck, we think) and wore an impressive hockey-style mullet. Most interesting of all, he's been long tabbed as the inspiration for Alanis Morrissette's hate-filled "You Oughta Know," although she has always denied it.

As for for the recent and the young, Veronica Portillo and Landon Lueck, who are vets of MTV reality shows, are also coming around for a visit.

What does this mean for the city? Well, not much really. It doesn't fix the roads, improve the schools, or better access to downtown. But it's a great, quirky wrinkle about the city. If we were the city's publicist, we'd gleefully proclaim the city to be Massachusetts' home of the B-listers. What if next year FSC got Uncle Jesse (John Stamos) and Zach (Mark-Paul Gosselaar, who was on "NYPD Blue")? That would be so cool. Hey, they aren't coming to Leominster, are they.


Tuesday, August 08, 2006

What's With Magnan?

We're just asking, but twice in the last two months School Committee member Patrick Magnan has publicly taken on a City Councilor. Is he setting the stage to run for council next year (yeah, we almost always equate polticial mischief with electoral politics)?

Magnan goes after Councilor Dean Tran this week right here on old Save Fitchburg. Scroll down to "The DeSalvatore Manifesto" post, and check out the comments. It's way down at the bottom. Magnan is "Fitchburg01420." None of it is heart-stopping, but Magnan's charge that Tran paid for sign-holders is interesting. (Note, I'm not sure if I care if Tran paid sign-holders. I mean, it's a crappy job.)

Better was Magnan's sparkfest with Councilor Norman Boisvert in June. Magnan publicly roasted Boisvert for not announcing his wife was a School Department employee before voting on the school budget. Refresh your memory here and here.

We're not sure what Magnan's motivation is here, but we'd love to find out. Obviously he reads, so maybe he can hit the comment button and let us know what he's up to.


Unitil Takes Its Beating

About 60 people showed up last night to rail at Unitil for what they think are unfair rates and business practices. The Telegram and Sentinel offer up pretty similar details of the evening.

Unitil claims it's stuck with some bad deals in the past that keep rates up. It doesn't really apologize for quick-to-flip-the-switch-off policies regarding late payments. This was a gang-up on Unitil, a situation where the company's only good answer would have been "we're lowering your rates." It won't, so the meeting just added fuel to the fire.

One issue the Sentinel focused on that is important to note: Unitil bills are forcing some people out of the city or not moving here to begin with. There's enough for the city to battle, high utility bills is just another log on that fire.

Will Unitil change? Probably not. Certainly not unless the state gets involved. In the meantime, you had better keep paying that bill on time, because Unitil does not deal lightly with negligent payers.

One last thing that blew us away: One woman said she has a $780 per month Unitil bill for her single-family home. What the hell is she doing to ring up that kind of charge?


Monday, August 07, 2006

DeSalvatore Says Boot Cronin

Yeah, yeah, this space has become all Ted DeSalvatore all the time, but man, the guy is making news like crazy.

Today's latest: He publicly calls for Police Chief Edward Cronin to be removed. DeSalvatore has been saying a lot of this behind the scenes for the last month or so, but now he's taking it public.

Cronin takes a pass on commenting in the story, but Mayor Dan Mylott backs his guy and says he's staying.

DeSalvatore is upping his scorched-earth theory on this one. He can forget about getting help from the Police Department on anything from now on, and he can probably count on about the same from the Mayor's Office. How do his colleagues on the council feel about this? He may be left to hang out to dry on this one. Councilors and officials haven't been rallying around this guy lately.

It's time to start trying to figure out DeSalvatore's grand plan here. Is he just a maverick councilor doing what he thinks is right by any means necessary? Or is he sharpening up for a mayor's campaign.

If it's the first, we don't mind too much. An 11-member council can be well served by someone with a little manic energy (and let's be honest here, outside of Tran, DeSalvatore has been Publicly Active Councilor Number One this term). He might end up being on his own a lot of the time, but he can certainly survive -- and thrive. If he gets a few colleagues to support his Cronin: Out campaign, all the better.

If it's the latter, though, DeSalvatore really needs to sit down and think about his strategy. In the last few months he's gone from energized to bomb-thrower. To publicly call for the chief's ouster is no small move. Hopefully he understands that. He'll feel repercussions from this both internally (city officials won't be embracing this guy as quickly or as firmly as before), and the public might begin to wonder about this guy.

Here, perhaps, is the most disturbing paragraph from the Sentinel story:

DeSalvatore alleged a panel discussion organized by Cronin for later this month
is intended to distract attention from a neighborhood meeting DeSalvatore is
holding the same night to discuss gangs.

That may, in fact, be true, but should that be a concern (at least publicly) for DeSalvatore? Is he concerned Cronin is going to rain on his parade and steal some of the spotlight and ink? Wouldn't the city better served if DeSalvatore instead embraced Cronin's meeting and said, "It's great the city is working to concentrate on this issue."

Instead, DeSalvatore is calling for Cronin's head on a platter. It's not going to happen, unless the council backs DeSalvatore and makes it an issue. And even then, Mylott can dig in as hard as he wants. Will the council back DeSalvatore? We're betting on "unlikely" right now.

Again, we've spent a lot of time on DeSalvatore in the last few months, but he bears paying attention to. He's given plenty of indication that he might want to be mayor. How he convinces us that he's mayor material is important. And it's safe to say the questions are already starting.


Patrick Makes Local Connection

In an edit board meeting with the Sentinel last week, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Deval Patrick said he favors a Route 2 connector to Downtown Fitchburg.

Patrick talks about the potential benefits and how it might be the state's best way to help the city. He also threw in a looming caveat:

"It's got to happen. The question that you ought to ask and for which I don't have an answer yet is in what order it happens with our other transportation needs."

Ouch. You can take Patrick's support and comments in a number of ways, but here's our take: "Good idea, but get in line."

There are tons of transportation projects floating around state government, including commuter rail improvements and extentions (almost every line), highway "connectors" (the Berkshires have wanted a highway to Pittsfield from the Pike since forever), and inner-Boston improvements and extentions (including the North and South stations connector, extended Green Line, and "urban ring" subway line). Forget about stuff like the Concord Rotary revamping.

So, where does the Fitchburg connector, which would cost well into the nine figures (do I hear 10?) and directly effect one community of about 40,000 people, rate on that list? Who knows, but you'd have to think it wouldn't be Number 1.

If the state starts dropping major transportation dollars around, it will turn into a frenzy as every corner of the state looks to make its project happen.

Patrick doesn't say where this particular project would fit on his priority list, and that's a key part of all of this. Support is nice, but a project like a Route 2 connector will need not just support, but a fervent, almost fanatical backing to become a reality.

There was a lot of comment talk last week about a Route 2 connector, most of it realistically pessimistic. Patrick's support probably shouldn't change that view too much.


DeSalvatore Charged Up

City Councilor Ted DeSalvatore, along with some local business leaders, are holding a meeting tonight railing against Unitil and power rate increases. That's a flyer being circulated on the right with all the pertinent details.

We saw a similar notice at a restaurant in Lunenburg over the weekend, so this may have some widespread support. We'll probably know better after tonight. It will be interesting to see how DeSalvatore plays this one. Will it be with the same, um, vigor, he's shown with the crime issue?

I'll give the guy this: He's focusing on issues that everyone cares about. The entire city knows the crime situation needs help, and is there a better "cause" than going after the evil utility company that keeps increasing rates? There are still some citywide questions regarding his style, but he's expertly working the issues playbook.

One last thing: I note this stuff because its of interest and importance to the community at large, and DeSalvatore e-mails me this stuff. If other officials e-mailed me items, I'd post them. Just so the conspiracy theorists don't start thinking DeSalvatore and I are best buds. We like each other fine, but there's no other agenda here.


Friday, August 04, 2006

Two Days After

The Sentinel has a good read today on whether or not it was worth hosting the Warped Tour.

Our sense trying to read between the lines is that the general feeling is... probably not.

Traffic seems to be issue Number 1 (and probably 2 and 3). Business complained they couldn't get deliveries. There's talk of moving the event to the weekend. If local officials are sensitive to business complaints, they probably wouldn't want to go near the outcry if residents couldn't get around on a Saturday morning for the weekly Home Depot trip.

If the traffic issue ends up being the reason the concert and similar events don't come to the airport, then it's a big failure for the city and a significant -- perhaps unresolvable -- problem. As commenters noted, it would difficult (read: impossible?) to create a 190 extention to New Hampshire. The expanded Route 12 is nice, but can't handle a Warped Tour-sized crowd, and isn't really a direct way to the airport, anyway.

So, what does the city do? It either finds a creative solution, or gives up. As we said yesterday, a traffic engineer needs to look at this and see if there's an answer. We hate to give up, but that might be the unfortunate result of all this.


Thursday, August 03, 2006

On the Back Streets Tonight

Well, two weeks from tonight.

Councilor Ted DeSalvatore's Back Streets Association is hosting the State Police Gang Unit for a presentation and Q&A on Thursday, Aug. 17, at the Wallace Civic Center.

This DeSalvatore's follow up to not getting the gang unit in last month, when he asked the Mayor's Office and the Police Department to set it up. He said he was going to do it himself, and he has.

We've said it before, and we think it bears repeating: Not everyone is in love with DeSalvatore right now. He has that scent of grandstanding to him, and he's new in town. But he's chomped down hard on this issue and doesn't appear to be letting go. Forget the methods, he's working for some results, and that's not a bad thing.


The Day After

We were in Boston working yesterday, so didn't get a first-hand look at the Warped Tour and its impact on the area.

However, we heard a few scattered reports of some pretty serious traffic issues yesterday. We heard Route 2 west was backed up to Shirley and the exit was closed for a little while to manage traffic. A commenter said last night it was brutal getting around.

We're of two minds on this. We think this is the kind of event the city deperately needs. The two photos of the event in the first four pages of today's Boston Herald reinforces our feeling that this kind of event is important for the city and creates good publicity.

However, the day illustrates the infrastructure problems in Fitchburg and city's need (with help from the state and, maybe, the feds) to improve access to and from Route 2. It's also a colossal inconvenience for residents.

That the concert was on a Wednesday and not on a Saturday takes some of the sting out of the traffic situation. Most folks were at work or even on vacation yesterday, not running around the area doing errands. But for people who were around, it was a hassle, no doubt.

The question is, is the day's hassle worth the benefit for the city? I'm leaning toward "yes." People in Foxboro handle far worse 10 times a year. Residents in the Fenway take it on 81 times a year. Down in Mansfield, 495 is a constant mess during concerts at Great Woods.

The best news of the day is outside of the traffic, the event went smoothly. A number of concert-goers needed medical attention, but that was expected. If the city and the region can figure out some way to get a better grip on the traffic (unlikely, we'd think, but we're not traffic engineers. Anyone?), the airport becomes an even more attractive concert venue.

So, anyone around yesterday who can share a story or two about the traffic? And was the inconvenience small enough to want to see more big events at the airport?


Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Who is Billy Szych?

He's running for Congress as an indepedent, taking on incumbent U.S. Rep. John Olver in the 1st District.

We note Szych's campaign only because we saw the red-and-gold lawn signs up this morning near the Twin Cities Mall. Go get 'em, Billy.

We spent a few minutes at Szych's website, and if you want to learn more about him it will tell you a bunch of things. Here's the quick rundown: Lives in Hatfield (where he was the town administrator). UMass grad, Air Force veteran who served from 1975 to 1995. After Sept. 11, he rejoined the Air Force, and did a tour in Iraq. With the Air Force, he worked with command and control features like AWACS.

We were particularly intrigued by his contribution section. It includes the standard independent talk about politics being full of big-money interests and so on and so forth, and seeks individual contributions.

According to the FEC, Szych has raised $14,365 for his campaign as of June 30. Of that, $6,726 has come out of his own pocket. The reports do not include individual donations, so we're not sure who's giving him cash.

Szych notes he needs a lot of money to compete in the campaign. Compared to Republican challenger Steven Adams, Szych is in good shape. Adams had but $793 on June 30. Olver, of course, is comfortable with $372,109 in the bank.


Bring on the Warped Tour

We're back from a nice long weekend away. We haven't gotten a chance to really dig into the DeSalvatore comments from the last few days, but on first glance some interesting stuff. Let's give DeSalvatore this: He's getting people talking. Whether about him or the issues, at least there's some energy involved here. That's not a bad thing.

Also not a bad thing is tomorrow's Warped Tour, which hits the airport tomorrow. You probably shouldn't make plans to be around the area tomorrow with traffic and all (although the 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. hours are good for commuters), but otherwise this is a good thing for the city (with the caveat that we're working under the assumtion the Warped folks are paying for police OT and all that good stuff).

The story linked above is full of councilors and folks talking about the prospect of generating some income for the city and businesses, but a successful event tomorrow does something else. It also adds a piece to the city's PR puzzle. Note the front of today's Globe Living section (we'd link it, but it's pretty graphic-y. Check it out yourself), which focuses on the event and the location. Every mention of the tour and the city is a good one (as long as things go well tomorrow). It might even generate more concert business for the airport.

The Warped Tour gives the city a chance to build an image of a city with activities and events that are worth coming to Fitchburg for. And any time Joan Jett comes to town... hooray (I guess).

If nothing else, it'll be fun to guess how many 15-year-olds pass out in the heat. We'll start the bidding at two dozen.