Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Return of the Mayor

Predictably, Mayor Dan Mylott returned some fire at the City Council during his weekly press conference. At the root of Mylott's message: Why such a big deal over $7,200 for seniors?

The council put the breaks on the small, reimburseable, payment for a MART dispatcher, saying it wasn't touching of the $300,000 (or so) stocked away until it finds out from Mylott about union contract settlements. Mylott hasn't coughed up any details as of yet, and thinks the council is being unfair.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” Mylott said, according to the Telegram. “This is a program that helps the elderly. It’s not costing anybody any money and it’s something that is needed. If they have other issues they want to bring to me, my door is always open to them.”

The council, however, is once again holding the financial line, even taking a smaller issue hostage to gain traction on a larger one.

"The mayor doesn't seem to understand that though the $7,200 may be a small amount of money, we has a council have determined we won't spend any money until we get fair answers to our questions," Councilor Stephan Hay told the Sentinel. The mayor has either been unable or unwilling to provide these details."

So, what is it? Is Mylott's door "always open to them," or has been "unable or unwilling" to communicate with the council? It appears the council's new tough philosophy has taken Mylott a bit by surprise, and he's trying to figure out his next moves. The council, however, is staying a step ahead (really, would a $7,200 reimbursed MART payment ever be an issue otherwise?).

The situation is most certainly interesting from the point of politics and the balance of power in the city. However, the casualties (direct and indirect) may pile up fast if the two sides don't figure out their new relationship. The council's new-found fiscal friskiness is a plus for the city, but the council and mayor need to figure out how to play nice together if the city is going to move forward.


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Council Strikes Back

The relationship between the City Council and Mayor Dan Mylott smacked into another bump last night, when the council shut the door on future budget movement until Mylott explains how he is going to pay $500,000 in expected union contract raises.

(We continue to have horrible link issues. If you want to read the Telegram story, go to

The council's decision was based on a Mylott request for $7,200 for the Council on Aging from the general fund. But councilors don't want to give up any money until they know what's up with contracts. The feeling is the contracts are done, and raises are intact, and it's going to effect the city's finances.

Suddenly, the City Council has become a ferocious fiscal watchdog, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. The city's money situation has stunk on ice for some time, and for at least the last two years the council has shied away from making the city's finances a contact sport. Councilors have publically all but admitted in hindsight they wished they yelled louder and longer in the past.

It appears over the last few weeks that the council considers this a lesson learned, and is fighting what it thinks is the good fight from here on out. It might create some gridlock and slowdowns, but the city is better off for it.

There is also, most certainly, some politics at play. It's obvious at this point that there's blood in the water around Mylott, and mayoral wannabes are sniffing around, poking at the edges, trying to figure out just how vulnerable Mylott is.

And, let's not forget, the council probably doesn't feel too charitable to the mayor these days. Don't forget last spring's budget battles, where both sides said some pretty nasty things, Mylott especially. You'd have to think the council hasn't forgotten, and probably doesn't feel like it owes Mylott too many favors.

It all adds up to what should be a pretty interesting year, if Mylott runs again (no reason to think right now he won't, but who knows). The council seems like it won't back down, and Mylott has shown his reaction when pushed is usually fairly aggressive. The games start now.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

New Pilot for Academy Middle School?

The state Board of Education agreed to today to let Fitchburg Public Schools consider making Academy Middle School a pilot school. It's not really a mark of distinction.

The school is one of four that have underperformed to the point the state has been consider taking them over. The pilot program would allow the teachers and administrators to work together on bringing the school back, without the usual red tape that comes along with unions and changing hours, schedules and other parts of the school.

The School Department has a month to decide what it wants to do. The options seem to be keep on going and hope things get better, keep going and things don't get better and the state takes the school over, or try the pilot program.

Fundamentally, we like the idea of a group of teachers and administrators working together to get a school on track (although we don't like the lottery element and fiscal impacts of charter schools, which operate similarly). Clearly, something needs to be done with the Academy school to improve it, and quickly. The department and the School Committee need to take a long look at this -- intensely look at this for the full month review period -- and decide if this is a good opportunity.


Monday, November 27, 2006

Six for School Committee

The School Committee and City Council will get together tomorrow night to pick a new School Committee member for James O'Donnell's seat. There are six candidates, and it appears to be a pretty good crop (We're having links issues this afternoon, so if you want to read a story about it, check out both the Sentinel and the Telegram. Links to the papers are on the right).

Of the bunch, for the sake of consistency, we would likely back Yvette Cooks, who ran for School Committee in 2005 and was the next-highest vote-getter (yes, the only other vote-getter on the ballot).

Simply, we feel the best way to fill these positions whenever possible is to take the person who finished first among the also-rans. We particularly feel that way about the upcoming opening on the City Council when Steve DiNatale steps down to become state rep.

The council in particular can send a message on how it views the DiNatale opening by picking Cooks. Considering the quality of some of the candidates, Cooks might not be the most obvious choice. However, she wants the job enough to have run for it last go-around and has at least some voter aproval behind her.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Two Cars Equals 11 Votes

The City Council last night unanimously approved $395,000 in budget cuts last night, after Mayor Dan Mylott found funding for two new police cruisers. The $50,000 will come from a reduced lease for the McKay School through Fitchburg State College.

Not surprisingly, the cruisers were enough were to get the council to approve the cuts. The cuts were necessarily, but councilors last week threw back Mylott's first recommendation. It was pretty clear, especially with Joel Kaddy, that inserting a cruiser or two would get the deal done.

Now, the question becomes, how does the council and the mayor move forward on budgetary matters? Mylott claimed last week he was mystified as to what the council wanted, but somehow managed to figure it out by last night. How much of a say will the council have in future budgetary matters, like the '08 budget? With the council's constant braying for fiscal conservatism and not using free cash to balance the budget be heard? Or will it be ignored once again? It might be the major political battleground of next year.

If you want a little more, here's the Telegram story. It doesn't mention the unanimous vote, we had to call the City Clerk's office this morning to find out. If you need even more, here's the Sentinel story, which once again faced deadline issues.


Monday, November 20, 2006

Olver: Not So Fast

For 12 years, the message for the state congressional delegation -- all 10 House members Democrats -- was "Just wait. Someday we're going to be back in the majority, and when we are, think of all the power and leverage and leadership we'll have."

Well, here we are (well, not yet, but in a few months), and already U.S. Rep. John Olver -- whose district includes fair Fitchburg -- is saying everyone needs to hold on.

Olver will be chairman of the transportation committee come January, and hold the pursestrings on untold billions of road and highway money. Hey, maybe that Fitchburg Connector plan should be dusted off. Maybe that Route 2 exit floated last month should get put on the front burner.

Um, no. Olver's message is the country's in debt, we're running an expensive war, and there's hundreds, if not thousands, of requests for federal funding. So, remember that 12-year message of "just hang on, our time will come"? Well, it might not be the party time it was trumped up to be.


The Chief Headache

Police Chief Edward Cronin must have had a bonus-sized headache yesterday, based on stories regarding the so-not-a-secret fourth captain idea, and the old sex-offender residency issue.

Cronin gets raked over the coals by the police union for floating the idea of a fourth captain. Everyone considers cops on the streets to the be issue Number 1 in the department, with new cars probably Number 2, considering the screaming and yelling for cars in the budget. For a city that can barely afford to keep the lights on, looking for another high-level manager job at this point seems not just unlikely, but really kind of fiscally and politically tone deaf. Cronin says he was just floating a trial balloon, but he should probably tuck that balloon back into the barn for now.

Then there's Cronin's continued complaints about the new sex-offender residency requirement. Simply, if a Level 2 or 3 sex offender moves into the city, he or she can't live near a school, park or day care. It doesn't include offenders currently living in Fitchburg.

On it's face, this seems like such a simple law: Sex offenders can live near where kids hang out. Is that so bad? No. But that simple logic leads to Cronin's complaints that it is politically incorrect to speak out against the law. Well, yes, it is. At its most basic level, this law is good and makes sense. What, exactly, is the problem?

More troublesome is Cronin's carping that his department can't keep tabs on all the offenders and that some offenders will not register and instead just not register when moving into the city.

They are, actually, legitimate concerns. The department can do only so much to make sure offenders who move into Fitchburg are registered. But isn't there ways to do random computer-based checks? Is there an updated RMV database if an offender changes their address on their license. Doesn't Dean Tran's landlord regulations create a database of renter's names? Couldn't that be cross-checked. There is a lot of information available electronically. There must be some way someone can periodically (every month or two?) check for names. Maybe the new captain could do it. Snarkiness aside, the non-registering is an issue worth considering. But instead of complaining about it, Cronin needs to come up with the best solution he can to the issue.

Cronin's main problem on this issue is that it isn't his job to consider constitutionality (where is that lawsuit from the ACLU, by the way? It's been a couple of months already. You'd think they'd be a bit more proactive this was a slam-dunk) or to publicly consider the political process. It's his job to do what he can within reason to support the regulation. And it wouldn't hurt if he was a bit more upbeat and team-playerish about the whole thing. No reason to be Nate Negative all the time. It's going to be OK.

Certainly, Cronin is feeling the heat right now. One councilor (Ted DeSalvatore) called for the guy's head earlier this year. Hit the comments section from the post under this one, and you see another (Dean Tran) won't be offering Cronin the first slice of turkey on Thursday. Cronin also went after the mayor last week. Politically, he's bleeding from a number of wounds right now, and he's fighting battles on multiple fronts that he doesn't appear to be winning.

Here's what we want from the Police Department: Safe streets and the feeling that when we turn the lights off at night we're going to wake up and find the TV and TiVo where we left it. We want the police chief to provide the leadership to make that happen. No department in the city can operate right now the way it wants to. Cronin needs to prove to be a strong manager by making the best of the situation, get out of the papers, and find solutions rather than point out problems.


Friday, November 17, 2006

DOR: Naughty, Naughty

While Fitchburg scrambles to make up for a bad free cash prediction, Leominster is trying to come up with ways to spend all its free cash.

A Telegram story highlights the contrast between the cities today, but it's the information from the state Department of Revenue (which certifies free cash, tax rates and all that good stuff) that is most illuminating (and either funny or depressing, depending on your mood today).

It pretty much speaks for itself, so here it is:

“Free cash is essentially made up of revenues that came in above estimated
revenues and lower than forecast expenditures,” said Department of Revenue
spokesperson Lydia Hill. “Free cash is the result of forecasting tax revenues
responsibly and controlling spending.”

Ms. Hill said the state also recommends cities and towns use free cash for
one-time appropriations, such as capital improvements.

“We always tell communities never to rely on free cash — ever,” she said.


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Thank God We're a Two Newspaper Town*

(*-with apologies to Boston Magazine and Media Nation)

"Mayor: City may miss tax deadline because of council" -- Sentinel & Enterprise
"Mayor taking heat over city’s budget dilemma" -- Telegram & Gazette

The power struggle over the city's budget, perhaps its overall future, continues to rage as Mayor Dan Mylott and the City Council point fingers at each other for the delay in setting the city's tax rate.

In case you missed the last few episodes: Mylott filed a last-minute cut of $396,000 to the city budget. The City Council didn't approve the cuts. That means there's a chance the city's tax rate doesn't get set by Dec. 31. Which means tax bills don't go out on time. Which means the city's revenue stream stagnates. Which is bad. The council says Mylott is cutting from the wrong spots. Mylott says the council doesn't have an alternative for him.

Of course, Mylott knew since August cuts were likely. He waited until the last minute to present his cuts. We can only assume it was partly a move to set a deadline and the council to pass his cuts without a choice. They called his bluff.

Mylott, in his public comments, says he just doesn't know what to do next, but will think of something between now and Tuesday's council meeting. Councilors continue to whale away at Mylott, and Mylott continues to wonder who these pesky elected officials are making his life miserable.

Mylott says he doesn't know what the council wants, but the answer is pretty obvious. He needs six votes. He currently has five. Councilor Joel Kaddy said he'd approve the cuts if a couple of new cop cars were included. Estimated cost of two cars is $50,000. So Mylott throws the two cars in, shaves $50,000 off a $94.6 million budget, and he gets Kaddy's vote for six and a done deal. It doesn't seem like a mystery, except where the $50,000 comes from.

The mystery now is, how riled up is this council? Is it going to hold Mylott's feet to the fire for the next year? There are certainly policy and political reasons to do so. But this is for sure: If this is a harbinger of the Mylott-council relationship for the next year, Mylott is going to be in for a difficult road.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Because It's Never Too Early

We finally updated the poll section over the right, and we're looking waaaaaay head. If the election were held right now, who would you vote for mayor?



Deadline Reporting


That's a good way to start with the Sentinel story on last night's City Council subcommittee meeting. They couldn't get in the council shooting down the budget cuts, because it hadn't started at deadline.

The headline read, "Committee OKs $396K budget cut." As we all know by now (thanks, Telegram), the council overruled the committee and voted down the cuts later in the evening.

We don't know the Sentinel's deadlines, but clearly they're way too early. And how about a web update?


The Stand

The City Council last night rejected Mayor Dan Mylott's proposed budget cuts. In the short term, it sets the city into a bit of a tizzy with the tax rate needing to be set, but the long-term benefits might outweigh some short-term confusion and urgency.

We're a little surprised the council slapped down Mylott's request, but we're very, very pleased to see the council take a stand.

Government works best when the branches work as checks and balances with each other. Over the last few years, Mylott's been able to keep the balance of fiscal power in his favor, as the council has done some yelling and finger-pointing, but hasn't really taken strong action to regain some of that power.

That changed last night.

Mylott has always been able to use time as a tool. In this year's budget process, for example, the council had just enough time to consider sending the budget back, but not enough time to really restart the process. This time, they seemingly had just enough time to approve these cuts, set the tax rate, and complain about it.

Instead, the council took the bold step no one was quite sure they had in them. They called the time's-running-out bluff, and made their stand.

The mayor is accountable to the entire city, but that accountability is most held by the City Council. Last night, notice was sent that the council is ready to take that very seriously.


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Does Tonight Mean Anything?

The City Council holds a special meeting tonight (after a meeting of its Finance Subcommittee) for some budget talk. It could be a turning point in how the city handles its affairs, or it could be an opportunity that passes and business as usual reigns.

The meeting is to discuss about $400,000 in cuts to the city's budget. Considering that's less than 1 percent of the city's budget, on its face this all doesn't mean much. But the politics of the night, and the relationship between the council and Mayor Dan Mylott, gets an airing tonight.

To recap: Over the last two years, there has been a growing unrest about the city's budget. The council wasn't happy with Mylott's budget in 2005, and couldn't quite work up the nerve to throw it back at him this year. In the last week, one of Mylott's chief department heads, Police Chief Edward Cronin, said he wasn't going to make requested cuts to his budget.

So tonight, you'd think, might be a time to bring it all onto the table. It might be a time for the council to wrest some of the budget control back from Mylott. It might be a time to add some accountability to the Mayor's Office on budget issues. It might be a chance for the city to reshape its financial workings and try to start digging out of the mess that has been created by costs outgrowing revenue increases. Might, might, might.

The council has aired its unrest, but up to now has been unwilling or unable to take the ultimate leap to making Mylott fully accountable. Councilors will claim their hands are tied by the budget process, which only allows them to cut, not add, to Mylott's recommendations. We'd like to have seen what would have happened last spring, if they had dismissed Mylott's budget and told him to redo it. Wouldn't Mylott have had to figure out how to create a compromise budget the council liked? Wouldn't that have included shuffling money around in some areas to increase some line items?

Yes, the council is limited in its budgetary powers, but up to now it has not been willing to fully flex its might. Could tonight turn that around? Tonight goes beyond this one issue. It goes to the heart of how the city handles and budgets its money, and it goes to the point of just how far the council is willing to go to get Mylott to listen to it.

At some point between now and next November, the gloves will come off between the council and Mylott. A councilor (or two, or three or more) is going to run for mayor. Or a serious candidate with support from councilors will get some help from councilors taking swipes at Mylott. It might be hand-to-hand combat tonight, but the battle lines might start being drawn.

Or, none of the above will happen. Instead of using tonight as a chance to make some long-term changes, the council might deal with the issue at hand, give Mylott a mild scolding (or less) and move on.


Monday, November 13, 2006

Cops and Money

Check out this very, very, very interesting piece in the Saturday Telegram on Police Chief Edward Cronin's refusal to cut $350,000 out of his budget. It leads to a number of questions about relationships, Cronin's loyalties, and the state of the city.

First, the background: Mayor Dan Mylott wants Cronin to cut the $350K to partly fill in the city's $400,000 budget deficit and partly to help pay for a new 2.5 percent increase in pay for police officers. Cronin is taking a particularly tough stand, saying to the Telegram, "I was never consulted. It’s very disturbing. I will not cut anything out of my budget."

So, what the heck does all this mean?

First, it's an interesting break between Mylott and Cronin, who up to this point seemed buddy-buddy on most issues.

Second, it was generally assumed the union raises were baked into the budget. Did the union get more than anticipated? If so, why did the city go beyond what it had budgeted? If it wasn't baked into the budget, why wasn't it? Everyone knew that contract was due.

Third, there are times in this story where Cronin seems to be defending the department and officers above everything else. That's all well and good, but remember, he works for us. And he is paid and his department is funded by us. He says he wants the public to have a say, but he should be careful what he wishes for.

So, let's go back to these three points in reverse order, just to confuse you:

Cronin and his point of view: For better or worse, Cronin needs to put the overall city health first. We're still skeptical that cop cars wear out after two or three years. Can someone with some knowledge explain this (remember, a big cut out of this is the $175G for new cars). Cronin knows his budget better than anyone else. He didn't know the union contract would break the bank?

Mylott and the budget: This is another example of someone being furious with the mayor's budget. So now the schools, cops and City Council all have immense dislike for Mylott's budget. The cops not only want raises, they want cars and new guns. In the meantime, Mylott tried to short the city school expenditure $100,000 in his original budget. A week of posts could ramble through the problems with city funding right now, but the short version is that the wolves are at the door, and they're all hungry. Does Mylott have the capacity to pull Fitchburg out of this fiscal nosedive?

The Cronin-Mylott break: This is, if nothing else, a slap at Mylott. This is his biggest department head going off the reservation, with some force. He can't be happy about this. What does this mean for the relationship between to two? Is it damaged? Just bumped? Beyond repair? Mylott needs to start putting together an '08 budget sooner rather than later. Do he and Cronin go at it again?

Fundamentally, this is about the city and its financial situation. It's about an entity that doesn't have enough money to do what it needs to do, forget about what it wants. The city is strapped, plain and simple, and it's clear where help can come from. The question is, Is the current leadership the group to fix this problem?


Friday, November 10, 2006

The Battle for the At-Large Seat

As the City Council gets ready to fill Steve DiNatale's seat in January after he trades in City Hall for the State House, there appears to be the seeds of some internal unrest on the Council.

According to city law, the Council gets to select who fills DiNatale's seat for the remainder of his term. There are no guidelines as to how the Council selects someone. Jay Cruz finished just out of the money in the 2005 election, and is a potential choice. There is some talk the Council will want someone who promises not to run for the seat in 2007.

A Sentinel story today (we haven't seen it, but we've heard about it. For some reason, it's not on the website) says the Council will seek "applications" for the post. This morning, a city councilor sent an e-mail to colleagues, asking if the council had agreed on a process for filling the seat. The e-mail includes a call for some more communication among the members.

Another councilor responded to the original e-mail by writing, "Applications? Preposterous!" The rest of the e-mail backs Cruz as the top losing vote-getter.

Before (if) the leaks dry up, we'll say this for now: It doesn't appear the council has figured out how it's going to fill this seat. It also doesn't appear as if the application plan was univerally hailed. It does appear as if this issue might cause some internal strife on the council.

As we said before, we think Cruz is the choice. We're not big fans of the current city rules that gives the council free reign to pick whoever it wants for the seat. We're far more comfortable with the idea of sending the top vote-getter (Cruz) to the seat. We don't like the thought of a fill-in who promises not to run in the next election. It doesn't give us the feeling that person really has their heart in it.

The open process also creates a possible king-maker situation. If an applicant were to be promoted and eventually delivered by a current councilor, doesn't that applicant become a follower of that councilor? How far does that loyalty extend? To every issue?

Cruz comes with the backing of the people (sort of), and has apparently expressed interest. Why wouldn't he? Many communities have rules in place that the next best vote-getter is the replacement. We'd like to see that become rule in Fitchburg. In the meantime, we hope the council listens to the voters, picks Cruz, and makes the choice without too much turmoil.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Back on the Cutting Board

Mayor Dan Mylott yesterday rolled out his plan to cut $400,000 out of the city budget to make up for an overestimation in free cash in this year's budget.

This wasn't a secret, Mylott said in August cuts were likely. What was a secret was from where the cuts were coming. As we find out, it's the PD cruisers, some upkeep and open positions, and a little bit here and there.

The issue for city councilors, however, is they need to approve the cuts pretty quickly in order to the city's tax rate approved by DOR in time for December tax bills. Because we really don't wait for those, right?

Councilors have a point. Mylott doesn't give them much time. But this seems pretty common sense, particularly the cruisers which a lot of people (yup, me included) didn't particular embrace back in the spring.

However, the council needs to take some blame on the delay as well. Where was the constant, "Mr. Mayor, we need those cuts, now." Considering the hub-bub over the budget last spring, you'd think the council would be jumping down Mylott's throat on everything budget related.

Instead, Mylott continues to get a pretty free ride from the council. We suspect, at some point in the next three or four months, that's going to change. A councilor, maybe more if everyone's feeling bold, is going to run against Mylott. That will turn council meetings into a Mylott bitch session that the council just can't seem to get its dander up for at this point.

That leads me to this: I've been slowly picking through old stories of Mylott's past campaigns. Just doing some background research. When he first ran for mayor against incumbent Mary Whitney in 2001, he ripped her religiously through the council. We dug up this May 16, 2001 story this afternoon. The highlights are included for your viewing pleasure:

"In his latest salvo against Mayor Mary H. Whitney, whose job he covets,
City Councilor Dan H. Mylott criticized her yesterday for not giving the council
ample time to review a fiscal 2002 budget that could near $90 million...

"(I)t was Mr. Mylott who was most critical of the mayor last night. Mr.
Mylott, who is giving up his at-large council seat to run for mayor this fall,
voiced his frustration at the end of the council meeting.

"'I think coming into tonight's meeting is too late, but coming in after
tonight's meeting is inexcusable,' Mr. Mylott said of the budget. 'I think it's
too bad that the needs of the council are ignored in this case, because the
council has a lot of work to do...'

"Mr. Mylott has made it clear that his campaign against Mrs. Whitney will
be packed with attacks on her record. When declaring his candidacy in March, Mr.
Mylott blasted the mayor for what he said was her need to 'micromanage' economic
development efforts, and he criticized her cutting the six police

Six years later, Mylott could be in a much different role as the budget process rolls along next year.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

What We Learned Yesterday

There were few surprises both here and nationally last night. Steve DiNatale and Deval Patrick ran away with their races, and polling was so good leading up to the gubernatorial election that Patrick finished almost right on the number of many late polls. The U.S. House went blue, the Senate even this morning is still up in the air. Going into the election, most thought the House was going Dem, the Senate would be very, very close.

In terms of big-picture results, we learned very little yesterday. But we did learn a lot about the mood of the country and the state.

What we learned in Massachusetts is that people were ready to be loved. They wanted to feel like they had a connection to their candidate and their government, and they didn't want it through big media and traditional big campaign strategy. Three examples:

Locally, DiNatale. He cruised to victory, whomping Republican Ed Niemczura by a 3-to-1 margin. Niemczura was a political neophyte and ran like it, but DiNatale's victory is nothing short of crushing.

DiNatale didn't do it by running on his record as a School Committee member and city councilor. He did it by professing his love for the city and knocking on doors. DiNatale's accomplishments in elected office are short. He has been a passive city councilor this year especially as Dean Tran and Ted DeSalvatore have played starring roles. But DiNatale wasn't running as an accomplished public official. He was running on his tenacious, almost maniacal, will to knock on every door, shake every hand, meet every voter. You certainly can't argue with the results.

Similarly, Deval Patrick had zero record to run on. He had never run for office before. But Patrick created the greatest grassroots organization this state has ever seen. His campaign was fueled by a uniquely energized base that was shameless in its work pestering friends, neighbors and strangers to vote for their guy. In the primary, Patrick asked his volunteers to reach out to 100 people each to get to the polls. There's no doubt they took that request seriously.

Patrick was able to tap into the mood of the electorate. They didn't want to hear Kerry Healey's darkness. They wanted Patrick's hope and deliverance, and they wanted to hear it not just from the candidate, but from their neighbor. Someone they knew. Patrick didn't win the race because of the issues or a great ad campaign. He won because of his grassroots organization.

Finally, there are a bunch of reasons why Question 1 was left in ruin, but here's one that's a little different: This race was won through local -- often weekly -- newspapers.

The proponents of Q1 dominated large media. Except for one or two holdouts (like the Patriot Ledger), every large and mid-sized newspaper in the state -- including major powerbrokers like the Globe, Herald, Telegram and Gazette and the Springfield Republican -- endorsed the ballot question. Large media coverage was generally favorable.

But on the local level, the opponents dominated. Every time a police chief or board of selectmen was opposed to the measure, there was a local story on it. They ran full-page ads in many small weekly newspapers.

As the media landscape changes, the smaller guys are gaining. As the Globe and Herald figure out how to slow the loss of revenue and figure out how to maximize revenue through websites, people are still devouring their local hometown weeklies, and those papers are in much better financial positions. The opposition was able to corral the total strength of those weeklies and turn it into a force. It was another example of people looking narrowly at their government, and not being led by big media and traditional conventional wisdom.

So, Patrick is governor, and he'll have to prove to have as much ability to lead as he has ability to inspire. DiNatale will have to prove that his electoral determination can be transformed into legislative success. Democrats need to prove that the distaste in George Bush and 12 years of Republican ownership of Capitol Hill can be a postive change in Washington. Voters approved of the candidates who they thought made them feel best as they entered the voting booth. Now those candidates need to prove they are best to lead the state and the nation forward.


One a side note to last night, one of the somewhat underreported stories last night is Nancy Pelosi's likely ascention to Speaker of the House as the Democrats take over Congress. Yes, her speakership was noted throughout the night, but she is the first woman Speaker ever, and is now just behind Dick Cheney in the line of presidential succession. It's reasonable to argue that Nancy Pelosi is the most powerful woman, ever, in the United States. On those terms, it's a historic and awesome turn of events (awesome in this case as causing awe, not awesome in an "awesome, dude" kind of way) that should be noted.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

What's Going on out There?

We voted at about 9:30 this morning at the Memorial Middle School, and it was very, very busy at what is usually an unbusy time. There was the usual small collection of sign holders, heavy on the local candidates.

If you get a chance, let us know what's going on at your polling place after you vote. Busy? Lots of signs and sign holders? Any buzz on how people are voting? Whatever details you can gleam from your trip to the polls, pass them along as we try to get a sense of what's happening today.

If everything holds according to polls, it should be an early night locally, with Patrick and DiNatale way up. The story of the later evening will be the national race. You'd have to think right now the Dems have a steep uphill climb in the Senate, and the House is going to be close. Considering West Coast polls don't close until 11 p.m., the situation in D.C. might make late-night viewing worth it.


Monday, November 06, 2006

Three for Tomorrow

By the way, in case you haven't heard, there's an election tomorrow. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. If you don't know where you have to go to vote, click here.

In case you're wondering (and I'm sure you are) here are three endorsements for tomorrow.

It appears, 18 months after he started running, Democrat Deval Patrick is on the precipice of becoming governor. He would be the first black governor in Massachusetts, and just the second in the country. These are things truly worth mentioning.

In the last seven weeks, when engaged directly by Republican Kerry Healey, we have learned more about Patrick than in the 16 months before that. But we haven't learned the details of what he will do in office. For the Patrick faithful who yell, "read the website, it's loaded with policy papers," we still have questions after reading. He preaches reducing property taxes, but we're still not sure we would qualify, and we're still waiting to find out how more local aid will be tied to ensuring lower property taxes. We're not 100 percent convinced he will keep MCAS intact. He hasn't fully outlined his budgeting plans for the many initiatives he favors.

Healey, however, hasn't offered much more detail. We know she wants to lower the income tax, but hasn't explained how to handle the $700 million loss in state revenue. We know she is vehemently anti-illegal immigrant, but beyond her opposition to in-state tuition for these illegals, she has offered no solutions to the larger problem (which is really a federal issue). She talks about improving public safety, but has not offered one distinct plan to do it.

With these lack of details hanging in the air, we are forced to take the big-picture measure of these candidates. Patrick's message of hope and "Together we can" is far more appealing than Healey's message of what she's against, instead of what she is for. So, here's an endorsement of Deval Patrick for governor.

As important as the governor's race is to the future of the state, the race for the Worcester 3rd House seat, which covers all of Fitchburg, is even more important to our city.

The city needs help in a number of areas -- transportation, revitalizing downtown, bringing in business, turning over old, vacant mill buildings, improving schools and public safety -- and with the shackles of Proposition 2 1/2 can't do it all itself. It needs help from the state, and it needs someone in the Legislature to tirelessly press its case.

Republican Ed Niemczura is a political newcomer, and while he has been thoughtful and earnest in his campaign, he has been unable to reach the level of someone who has the political skills to maneuver effectively in an overwhelming minority at the State House.

Democrat Steve DiNatale offers experience as a School Committee member and city councilor, but has few major policy wins. He has proven again that he is a maniacally strong local campaigner. He will have to prove that he can improve upon his performance as a local official and become an effective legislator.

While we have questions about DiNatale's effectiveness as the city's chief advocate at the State House, he is clearly the city's most qualified candidate his fall, and we endorse Steve DiNatale for state representative.

Finally, proponents for and against Question 1, which would create wine-only licenses for supermarkets and grocery stores, have waged the most expensive ballot question campaign in state history.

Approval of Question 1 would offer convenience and likely lower prices for consumers. Thirty-four states currently allow alcohol sales by grocers, and there is no proof in those states of increased sales to minors through supermarkets. While passage would create more competition for liquor stores, those stores would maintain their monopoly on beer and hard liquor sales, eliminating much of the fear that this measure would force hardship on liquor stores.

In the spirit of convenience and a marketplace that will likely lead to lower prices for customers, we endorse Question 1.


Friday, November 03, 2006

About Last Night

The Sentinel called him "fiery." The Telegram noted his tone. We were a bit taken aback. For some reason, Steve DiNatale decided to play the role of the bully last night in his Worcester 3rd House debate with Republican Ed Niemczura.

Simply, last night wasn't about comparing and contrasting the two. It was about taking one last, close look at DiNatale. He's winning on Tuesday. Everyone knows it. And he was better last night that Niemczura, as he should have been. He wasn't debating Niemczura last night, he was going up against our expectations for our next state representatives.

Last night's meeting won't be FedEx'd to the Lincoln-Douglass Discourse Hall of Fame. But three points in particular left us a little uneasy with Rep. (in waiting) DiNatale.

First, on his School Committee accomplishments, he pointed to the opening of the new high school, even as he noted he didn't work on the plans to build. The construction was well underway when he was on the board, and he was on the committee for its opening. Right place, right time, no real responsibility to the effort. Also, Rappa may or may not be Fitchburg focused, but as noted here last night, he has had plenty of material to work with. And the state's increased mandates do need to be funded, but the city's effort in education has been woeful for years. Until its shop is running smoothly, the city needs to drop the finger-pointing. The city carries the majority of the responsibility for its school system's weaknesses. The blame starts at home, and an answer that doesn't include the demands that the city work its hardest to improve its schools and instead points the finger at state officials is a lacking one.

Second, toward the end of the debate, moderator Robert Antonucci asked candidates for one first-term priority. DiNatale talked about public safety. Afterward, Antonucci jokingly said he was taken aback no one mentioned FSC funding. DiNatale's response was so forceful that Antonucci blurted out, "I was only joking." Easy, big guy. Why so much aggression last night? DiNatale was spoiling for a fight last night, and we're not sure why. He could have picked Niemczura apart in a million different ways, but went with the bat-to-the-head method, and he didn't come across very well doing it.

Third, and most strikingly, was DiNatale's arrogant, smarmy questioning of why Niemczura was running for office now. The tone of the question and DiNatale's rebuttal was, "How dare you run? I've been in public office for years." It doesn't matter why Niemczura is running now. Why did DiNatale run the first time he ran? It was the right time for Niemczura. Certainly, DiNatale wanted to highlight his experience, but instead he came across as the typical insider, deriding anyone from the outside who would like to join the kingdom. As DiNatale knows, it takes time, effort, and a set of stones to run for public office. Niemczura, and anyone else who isn't a criminal or Jack E. Robinson, should not be forced to explain why they picked this year to run for office.

Niemczura did in fact get smoked last night, but this was not DiNatale's best performance by far. He clearly did not want to be on stage with Niemczura, and his entire attitude screamed "this guy is beneath me." DiNatale has made a career on constituent service, so we don't think he'll treat the voters the same way.

DiNatale has based his campaign on two things: That "customer service" record and public safety. He has talked about improving downtown, securing more local aid and protecting seniors on the second level. For a former School Committee member, he has woefully undervalued education in this campaign. His ideas have revolved around bringing home the bacon through increased funding for everything, including more cops primarily and some local aid and Chapter 70 money secondarily. His campaign is one of urban mechanic and grinder, not of one delivering hope and a grand vision for the city.

He goes to Beacon Hill in January one of 160 representatives looking for the same thing: More money. Whether it's for cops, teachers, or just some extra spending money for the city. All 160 House members want and need the same thing. Some fiscal feathers in their caps to show off at re-election time. DiNatale will have to work in that atmosphere to make sure the majority agrees with his priorities, something that can be dicey when it comes to funding, especially with state revenues seemingly flat or falling. He'll have to deal with funding formulas and high-priced priorities like health care as he tries to find money for Fitchburg. He has the skills to run a winning campaign in Fitchburg, but does he have the talent to operate on Beacon Hill? We're going to find out soon enough.

DiNatale was certainly the class of this field, but that is faint praise indeed. His performance last night did not inspire confidence in his tenure on Beacon Hill, it only left those questions lingering. Hopefully when he gets there, veteran House members don't dismiss him because this is the first time he ran for representative.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

Live Debate Post

7:24 Boy, am I glad I didn't have to run one of these. What a disaster on all sides right now. Neither guy is answering questions, that annoying beep in the background is making me crazy, and this is just a total waste of time right now.

DiNatale was totally thrown by the SBAB/Academy School question. Worse answer I've seen from that guy.

What's with the rebuttal period being wasted for a dumb question? By the way, the opening statements were waaaaay too long.

Two sub-sub-sub par performances so far. More later if worthy.

7:26: That hum will not go away, and it is really making me nuts.

7:28: Niemczura offers nothing on FSC parking. DiNatale is more long-winded, but is saying the same thing. He just said some colleges limit what years kids can bring cars. It is a commuter school, by the way.

7:29: DiNatale was just asked what he's done in public office. Open the high school (already in construction when he was on the School Committee). For council, putting sex offenders on TV. He harps on public safety, through funding. Niemczura says he'll get state money for the senior center boiler, and will allow state gun licenses to be valid in other states. This is not picking up.

7:31: Ben is 11 months old. Here are his thoughts: k tyhvyvcrtc67tyt6ttfyfg. Might be the best comment of the night so far. We gotta run and do some bedimes. Don't think we'll miss much.

On TiVo: We're behind, and we have to run, so we may or may not post more later, but DiNatale asked Niemczura why he's running for office now. What does it matter. The guy's running, which is more than can be said for just about 99.9 percent of the population. By DiNatale's logic, Deval Patrick can't be governor, and no one should ever run for office the first time. Good for Niemczura for not going absolutute ballistic on a question that was just cheap, unfair, and self-serving. Can you tell we think DiNatale is sucking wind tonight?

From Earlier: DiNatale pointed the finger at the Rappa guy for being so hard on the city's school. Both guys say the MCAS situation isn't that bad. It's not Rappa's fault the city's schools have been poorly managemed by city officials for years. He may have an ax to grind in Fitchburg (debateable point, by the way), but he has plenty of grist.

Back on TiVo: DiNatale tried to make lowering the income tax into a bad stand on Niemczura's part. Niemczura just talked about how $700M can go a long way. DiNatale is playing the scare tactic: Seniors impacted, blah, blah, blah. He pointed out to Niemczura that seniors were in the audience. We know pandering when we see it, DiNatale doesn't have to draw attention to it.

Really, we have to run. Maybe more later, but this mess was a doozy.


About Last Night, And On Tap Tonight

The gubernatorial foursome went at it one last time last night, in a debate that was about as heated as they've been, but probably didn't change very many minds.

Deval Patrick stayed his mostly unruffled self, but was clearly seriously pissed off once or twice with Kerry Healey. Healey needed some kind of huge win last night, but didn't really get it. Grace Ross went from lovable outcast to annoying, and Christy Mihos played his usual court jester role.

These guys have gone at it five times since the primary, and last night proved it's too much. Modern day politics is too reliant on sound bites, staying on message, and on-the-surface ideas. It doesn't allow for five compelling debates, particularly in this race. Did you hear anything last night you haven't heard before? By the way, everyone demands an opponent explain how they're going to pay for stuff, knowing the answer is too complex and long to fully answer in 60 seconds. And 20 seconds for rebuttal? Really, is that even worth it?

If this race was close, last night would have been a crucial hour in the campaign. Instead it was a tired rehash, and didn't help anyone. It only hurt the three chasing Patrick.

In odd contrast, local House candidates Steve DiNatale and Ed Niemczura meet for their first and only time tonight (at least one-on-one). Niemczura needed five debates to improve his profile. He gets one. It's on FATV (Channel 8) tonight at 7.

On "Politically Speaking" a few weeks ago, we talked about Niemczura's rather limp campaign. He should have followed Clair Freda's example in Leominster. She went after incumbent Jen Flanagan early and often, and at least got her race in the news occassionally. Niemczura's most recent press is something he'd rather not discuss tonight.

So, what to expect tonight? Niemczura is facing 3rd and very, very long. He'll have to throw deep and hope for the best. Unfortunately, there's not much he can do to knock DiNatale off his message. This should be a flat one.


Wednesday, November 01, 2006


We can't make it, working in Boston and all, but Fairway Estates breaks ground tomorrow. If you want to check out JCJ Homes' newest project, stop by tomorrow around 11:30. There will be a brief ceremony, some Q&A time, and then they'll light up the grill. If the weather is anything like today, we highly recommend stopping by for some tasty fall grilling.

The entrance to the project, which includes a bunch of homes and eventually a golf course (hence the name) is on Billings Road, just past Arn-How Farm Road. For more details, click here.


Candidate Q&A, Part 3

From Monday to today, we’re featuring House candidates’ thoughts on six questions posed to them. The responses from Democrat Steve DiNatale and Republican Edward Niemczura are presented unedited. Our brief analysis follows their answers. Remember, the election is next Tuesday, Nov. 7.

One of the chief complaints developers and business has about Massachusetts is its painfully slow permitting process. One of the reasons for the success of Devens is the 90-day permitting process there. A new state law would allow communities to streamline its permitting process. Should Fitchburg change its permitting process? Why or why not? Should it cover the entire city, or only certain areas?

The City of Fitchburg should certainly look very closely at this process. The Devens "Unified Permitting Process" is truly ground breaking. They refer to it as the Devens Enterprise Commission and it consists of 12 members made up of citizens of the surrounding communities. That Commission consists of representatives of Zoning, Planning, Conservation Commission, Board of Health and of course the Building Dept. Each stakeholder hears the proposed plan and they are committed to a decision within 75 days. The advantages are many. Often times at the municipal level it is confusing as to who reviews first, does the plan go to Con Com first or planning and then who, what happens if on group has a problem with a particular proposal. The entire process gets bogged down which can become not only time consuming but also costly.
I believe we should first start with certain "Enterprise Zones" in particular areas that the city feels would be appropriate for a particular endeavor. If it proves effective over several years then expand it throughout the city. This is most certainly the way to go in planning a developing our city.

Niemczura: Yes, a 90-day process would give zoning board's time to act on petitions, and assess their impact to the city. This time period also gives residents time out voice their concerns over proposed projects, and raise objections if warranted.

My reform package will reduce regulations and restore property rights. So that your children will be able to buy a home and live in the Commonwealth. Restoring property rights will not damage the environment and will stimulate the economy. The same can be done for all regulations throughout state government.

The 90 plan should be enacted to keep cities from stalling on plans as a means of squashing them. Time is money, and cities should not be allowed to drag out hearing processes ad nauseum for the benefit of real estate attorneys who are paid hourly.
It must be the standard state wide if we want the Commonwealth to grow so that your children will be able to get a job and buy a house and raise a family. There is nothing wrong will those things, and the Democrats have been attacking them all for years.

Our Thoughts: The streamlined permitting process is something the city absolutely should do, and quickly. By being one of the first, Fitchburg creates a competitive advantage over other communities. Admittedly, this is mostly a city issue at this point, but personally I think it’s a very important one. Hopefully the state rep can exert some influence on city officials to make this happen. I also agree with DiNatali’s enterprise zone idea, as long as the zones are created in areas that need help most, and can be transformed quickly.

Two years from now you’re running for re-election. What is the accomplishment from your first term will run on?

DiNatale: Increase in community policing grants, advances toward realizing improved rail service between Fitchburg and Porter Square through a coordinated regional effort by all respective legislators. Actively pursue reinstatement of state funded busing dollars that have been eliminated. Waiver for the City of Fitchburg with regard to the buffer zone within the Rivers Protection Act. Also I hope to continue the ensure adequate funding for Senior Citizens Services. Begin a leading relationship with the economic engine that is Devens. Industrial Growth and with that the resulting ancillary businesses that will result will add to promoting job creation and improved quality of life.

Niemczura: 1) The reform of State government to make Massachusetts more livable, competitive and secure.

2) Bring back the death penalty to Massachusetts. Does anyone besides me remember that case in which the guy from England took his father in- laws handgun and killed his wife, and his infant daughter? If that case doesn't beg the death penalty, then I don’t know what does. Where's the outrage? Only in Massachusetts do criminals have more rights than victims. I don’t want to understand a murderer. I don't care if he had an unhappy childhood. We all have our problems in life, and most of us don't do heinous things. I'm for giving criminals a choice: Firing Squad, electric chair, lethal injection, or hanging. Hanging, in particular, has its roots back to the earliest days in New England, and should be the preferred method of execution by the state.

3) Enact a reciprocity law that allows persons with a license to carry firearms from other states authorization to carry within Massachusetts. This same law would allow for Mass residents to carry in states with which we share reciprocity.

4) Dissolve quasi-public authorities such as the MWRA, MassPort, and the Turnpike Authority. These all need to be under the direct control of persons elect able by, and hence accountable to the voters.

5) Auto Insurance Reform. At present, the No Fault provisions have been gutted by trial lawyers who have wanted to preserve our God given right to sue. Also, our current system requires low risk drivers in the suburbs to pay higher rates so that higher risk drivers in the cities can have insurance that’s more affordable. This bit of social engineering has always stuck in my craw.

6) Cape Wind. In this age when our troops are fighting and dying for oil in the Middle East, can we really ignore a viable energy source in our own back yard? How indecorous that a few snobby millionaires complain that this ruins their view of the seascape! Are their children walking the streets of Baghdad, or Fallujah, or Takrit? Are their children subject to car bombs, and beheadings if captured? Are they tooling around the Sagamore Rotary is a gas powered SUV?

7) Natural gas terminal on outer Brewster Island. We need to make energy more available in the Northeast. Let's not make it less available and hence pricier for its re-sellers and consumers.

8) Tax relief. Roll back the state income to 5%

9) Reduce one party rule on Beacon Hill. Preserve the Roll Call vote. As much as people say they hate the Republican dominated Capitol Hill, has anyone but I noticed we have the same situation at our own Beacon Hill?

10) Everyone under the age of 62 that receives any type of government assistance should be subject to routine drug screening. I don't mind using tax money to help less fortunate Americans, but I don't want that money passing through their hands to a drug dealer.

Our Thoughts: Note the question asked “what accomplishment” not “what accomplishments.” We were looking for the one thing these guys really want to get done in their first term, something to be held accountable on. Instead we get the usual laundry list of answers. Take from it what you will.