By Jane Fosberry Enos / firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted Oct. 22, 2015 at 4:19 PM
While Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken focused on her themes of listening and working together, Paul McGeary ended Tuesday morning’s mayoral debate by focusing on one word: trust.
“Some people like me, some people detest me. They will tell you to a person that I will keep my word,” McGeary said. “I have a record of being trusted and trustworthy.”
He prefaced that statement by saying, “I’m a person who talks quietly behind the scenes. I’m not jumping up and down making faces,” adding that his business experience and track record would also be a benefit as mayor of Gloucester.
Romeo Theken had just wrapped up her closing statement. “Give me a chance to show what our system can do together,” Romeo Theken said to those gathered at the Elks hall to hear the candidates answer questions from the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce. “People that would never have worked together are now working together. I love what’s happened to Gloucester,” she said. “I want to continue to bring Gloucester forward together.”
The trust issue stemmed from Romeo Theken’s decision last January to take on the position of mayor, telling fellow city councilors, including McGeary, that she would not run for mayor. This summer, she decided to enter the mayor’s race, saying her supporters were urging her to run, and she hadn’t realized how much good she could do for the city from the mayor’s seat. City Councilor Greg Verga had also been running for mayor, but was eliminated in the preliminary election in September. (He is now running a write-in campaign for an at-large City Council seat.)
“I want to continue to bring Gloucester forward together,” Romeo Theken said in her opening remarks. “The U.S. fisherman is not going to be able to feed the world anymore,” she said, noting that local fishermen have come forward to deal with the problem. “For the first time in 20 years we became a team,” she said, noting that she had formed a committee in January to advocate for the fishing industry.
As for grants, “I love one-time money. Give it to me!” she said, noting that the city has received $1.7 million in small to medium grants plus an additional $1.8 million for over $4 million.
The debate was a lively one, with the candidates occasionally coming up with the same answer.
The candidates did not differ on their responses on what to do with the I4C2 property on Rogers Street: both said nothing should happen until it is clear what direction waterfront organizations and businesses are heading in.
When asked about the city-owned vacant Fuller School, McGeary said, “I am in a rush on Fuller School. I want to get it back on the tax rolls.” Romeo Theken said the Fuller issue is about jobs. The land could possibly be veterans housing. She also believes the new businesses coming to town will need places for workers to stay, so a transient hotel is also a possibility.
The candidates were asked what steps they plan to take once the new West Parish School opens, and other elementary schools lack the facilities the new school will offer.
“We’re working on it right now,” Romeo Theken said, noting that that funding is limited. “We’re not going to leave no child left behind,” she said. She wants to offer arts and theater programs to the elementary students, and praised the community groups that have been offering children’s programs in the arts. “We’re not going to build a school next year,” she said.
McGeary said he expects the new school to cause some envy in the community. “We do need to deal with it,” he said. He suggested setting up a 20-25 year building program to maintain and rebuild schools as needed. He suggested one plan to deal with large items like rebuilding schools, and a smaller capital improvement budget for smaller items like fire trucks, so the larger and smaller projects won’t constantly be competing for the same funding. He reiterated his plan to use a zero-sum budget to rebuild the city’s budgeting process, and the fact that he has served on the City Council’s Budgeting and Finance committee.
“This mayor already does it,” Romeo Theken said in her rebuttal. She said she has served on the City Council’s Ordinance and Administration committee “because I love the law.” As mayor, she said she has instituted a rule that all city spending over $1,000 must go through her office.
McGeary brought up the issue of $192,000 in Medicare reimbursements the city has not paid to its retirees this year. “It’s a cut that didn’t have to be made,” he said, adding that it is in the contract the city agreed to, and it must be paid.
Romeo Theken said the $192,000 was a mistake by a past administration. She said she had not renegotiated the contract, but had gotten better deals on dental insurance for the retirees. The city is now waiting for a federal reimbursement to come in.
The election will be held Nov. 3, with McGeary and Romeo Theken on the ballot for mayor. Long-time candidate Dan Ruberti, who got 44 votes in the preliminary election, is running a write-in campaign for mayor. “The citizens of Gloucester could not have a more capable leader for these troubled times than myself,” he told the Beacon this week.
The city will also be electing City Councilors and School Committee members, and vote on the non-binding referendum on whether to continue fluoridating the city’s water supply.
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