Thursday, October 29, 2009

Ward Elections, First Responses...

Ward 6 City Council candidate Keith Wright is the first City Council candidate to respond to WMassP&I's inquiries for a survey.  It is all together possible that Wright responded because he knew he was dealing with a potential constituent (your webmaster is a Ward 6 voter).  WMassP&I hope that that is not the only reason Wright responded to us.  Anyway, here are his responses.  It runs kind of long, as I did edits sparingly.  Feel free to check out the Republican's election wrap-up.

1. Considering the limitations of the City Council’s power, what will you do, if elected for the betterment of the city and/or ward?

The role of the city councilor in our Plan A form of government is an important one. I plan to play a role in providing financial oversight by approving responsible budgets. I will work to pass ordinances on a topics that improve our quality of life and I will help to decide zoning issues. I will sponsor hearings to provide oversight to the executive branch and to bring attention to important issues affecting our city. I will use my position as a bully pulpit to raise awareness and provide leadership about issues important to Springfield. I will be a cheerleader and a marketer and an advocate.

With that said, there are some limitations to the role of the Councilor. The Council cannot spend money and it does not have a budget that would allow it to initiate programs that cost money without the prior support of the mayor. For this reason, I have been careful in my campaign to not promise what I cannot deliver. With the new ward representation, I will be able to provide constituent service—I promise to respond to the calls and concerns of constituents from Ward 6.

2. What do you propose is the most pressing issue facing the city and (if a ward candidate) your particular ward.

I believe that quality of life issues are the types of issues that have most come up in the countless conversations I have had while campaigning in Ward 6. I believe that local ordinances and zoning regulations, together with the State Sanitary Code, are tools to help us address quality of life issues in our neighborhood. Together with a neighborhood based police presence and rigorous law enforcement, the City of Springfield can enhance the quality of life in our neighborhoods.
3. There exists a debate within certain circles that the city is caught between funding (and needing the funds) to perform social services and attracting viable tax-paying businesses that could expand the city’s tax base. Is one or the other a priority for you and if so why? Is there a way to do both?

Our City receives 2/3 of its annual budget from monies not collected from the local tax base. In the 1970’s we raised 2/3 of what we spent locally. Over the long term, we need to improve our local economy and tax base so that we are not at the fiscal mercy of the state. One of the most important responsibilities of a city councilor is to provide fiscal oversight of the City’s finances by voting for or against the budget that the mayor submits. As a City we know all too well the consequences of failed fiscal discipline. After 5 years under the State appointed Finance Control Board, this year Springfield regained its financial independence. Now it is our collective responsibility to maintain the strong financial footing that we have inherited. Just as families do every day, Springfield must live within its means. This will mean honest conversations about what we want and what we can afford. By showing state and federal governments as well as the private sector that The City of Springfield can manage its finances prudently, we will attract development monies that will lead to a more vibrant economy.
4. Crime is a perennial concern in the city. What policies and/or changes can be made on the ground and at the Police Department to address this situation? Can anything be done from the media end to fight against the image problem that confounds the crime problem further?

The City’s financial standing is directly linked to its ability to hire and maintain a larger police force. I would like to be able to vote for a budget that had more money for public safety, which is why I am committed to actions that strengthen the City of Springfield’s financial position. In the short term, as we wait for improvements in our economy, I support the Springfield Police Department’s use of technology to improve their ability to monitor and react to criminal activity. I also applaud their collaboration with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and state agencies in tackling the violence that results from gangs that are engaged in the drug trade. I am not in a position to comment on what can be done on the media end.
5. What are the economic strengths of the city and your ward (if applicable) and how will you see to it that they are channeled into the improvement of the city’s financial, social, and economic conditions? 

Springfield’s downtown has many great things going for it, including an amazing museum system, Symphony Hall, some good restaurants, and beautiful architecture. No city will prosper if its downtown is left to decay. The city has employed an economic development strategy of using public investment to spur further private investment in the South End and on the State Street corridor. My hope is that the city creates a stronger link with the University of Massachusetts’ multi-million dollar research capacity to spur innovation that leads to small and medium-sized business development, and I believe Court Square is a good location for an established UMASS presence. Clearly, the city needs to continue to address issues of crime in the downtown, and one way to do that is to increase its economic vitality by ensuring a strong downtown workforce. Having tenants in the old Federal Building is a step in the right direction.
On a ward level, the one thing that attracted my wife and me to our neighborhood is Forest Park, both the neighborhood and the actual park itself. Forest Park and East Forest Park are desirable neighborhoods in which to live, with good restaurants, a gem of a park, historic architecture, affordable homes, and people who take pride in our city. I believe we need to publicly celebrate these attributes.
6. What kind of community outreach is lacking in the city and your ward and how has it affected Springfield’s progress? How will you improve that situation?

Our Ward has been home to the past and current Mayor, and many people I have spoken with feel connected to their city government. I supported Ward Representation in part because I believe that over time this system will lead to an increase in civic engagement. My campaign has shown that with some hard work it is possible for someone with the best interests of the City at heart to get his or her name out among the voting population, and to learn about issues that are important to voters. In the past, according to consultants I spoke with when I was considering my own campaign, a candidate had to have very strong name recognition or tens of thousands of dollars to buy that recognition city-wide in order to be viable; this does not build civic engagement. Talking to voters does. Ward representation has increased the importance of citizen’s votes and I believe that this system will make elected officials more responsive to and responsible for their Ward.

With this as background I pledge to maintain open communication with constituents in Ward 6 through my website, phone calls, and attendance at community events. I also look forward to [speaking with] people and organizations. When is the last time you got a call from a City Councilor who was calling just to get your opinion and input?

7. What will you do as a City Councilor to reach out to the diverse cross section of voices and move past the divisiveness to make the best, informed decisions? If a ward candidate, how will you reach across ward boundaries without necessarily stepping on the toes of your colleagues?

Information is the currency of democracy. As a scientist, I value data and I value the process of sifting and winnowing in order to tease the truth out of complex situations. No person or group has a monopoly on the truth, and I plan to reach out to people in my ward and in the city as a whole in order to gain as broad a perspective as possible on issues affecting the city. I would hope that a City Councilor would not feel imposed upon if I spoke with someone in another Ward. My hope is that the relationship skills that benefit me in the rest of my life would also help me to do things with grace and dignity on the Council as well.

8. The Longhill Gardens debacle has showcased some of the above mentioned divisiveness. However, it also points to a problem encountered in cities like Springfield. Projects that offer grants and development are often jumped at because the city has little discretionary income.  In other words to what extent do state and federal policy influence the city’s behavior in such circumstances and would you and how would you fight for changes on Beacon and Capital Hills as well as be sure such policy is thought through properly at City Hall?
The most important issue regarding the development formerly called Longhill Gardens is to ensure that the developer fulfils its commitment to create safe, affordable housing with lower density, more off-street parking, responsible management and better security than what was there before...
With that said, I think that weighing the benefits and costs for any grant or project is appropriate. I believe it is extremely important to communicate my knowledge and experience and the needs of my community to elected officials at the state and federal level, and when grant programs’ costs outweigh the benefits we should not apply for them.
9. Springfield is a city of neighborhoods and although downtown is a priority, what efforts will you support and/or the Council engage in to grow and build the “little downtowns” throughout the city’s neighborhoods? What other efforts can be made to strengthen neighborhoods?

The city should use a carrot and stick approach that targets code enforcement but that also uses Community Development Block Grant and other monies to help land owners to maintain and improve their neighborhoods. Two places in Ward 6 that residents have spoken to me about are The X and Belmont Avenue. People would like to see more opportunities for shopping at The X, and they feel that Belmont Avenue could use a face lift. I am also anxious for The Bing arts center to be fully on line. Ward 6 has historically been the home of a good combination of the arts, restaurants, and shopping, and I believe this combination is going to return and make our quality of life even better.
10. Why should your prospective constituents vote for YOU?

I feel that I can make a difference in our City and can do a good job representing the people living in Ward 6. I feel a personal responsibility to try.

Over the past five years, I have stood on the sidelines as our city finances were taken over by the state. I have watched as our school department lost hundreds of veteran teachers due to the lack of a contract. I have watched as too few gains have been made economically, and I have wondered about the future of our city.

e questions that I will bring to the decision-making process as a City Councilor are: What works? What is good for Springfield? How have other cities done what we are trying to do? I will support best practices—actions by the city government that have a proven track record for achieving the goals they set out to accomplish.

11. Imagine it is two years from now. What kind of threshold of minimum achievement would you set to encourage voters to re-elect you? What kind of bar would you set yourself before feeling worthy of running again at all? Please be as specific as possible.

1. I returned all phone calls from constituents.
2. I approved of budgets that promoted the City’s financial health while supporting appropriate funding for police and fire protection.
3. I set up a special permit database and monitored the conditions for all special permits issued for Ward 6.
4. I developed and strengthened relationships with organizations and residents throughout Ward 6 to maximize the effectiveness of City resources to resolve quality of life issues.
5. I will have guided economic development monies to the ward in a manner that encourages civic engagement and input.

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