Saturday, January 29, 2011

Gateway Schools

There is probably no place where a quality school system is needed than in our "gateway cities". These cities were once booming manufacturing hubs that provided gainful employment for those with limited educational attainment. These opportunities were a major drawing card for immigrants who were looking for a chance at achieving the American dream. But now, those jobs are gone and gateway cities are struggling to successfully reinvent themselves.

Obviously education is important and for lots of different reasons. Parents obviously want a quality school system to ensure their children have the type of education that will give them the tools to be successful in life. Communities want a quality educational system because it ensures an educated workforce. It's also a quality that companies look for when they consider whether or not to build or locate in a specific community.

A poll conducted by MassINC Polling Group shows that 83% of voters in gateway cities give their public schools a passing grade of C or better. This despite other indicators, such MCAS scores that show gateway schools are underperforming in several key areas.

Here in Fall River we've been talking about giving our kids a "world class education" for a long time. How close are our schools to hitting that mark?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

City Should Be Able to Recoup TIF Losses

Councilor Ray Mitchell has filed a resolution that would ask the state legislative delegation to consider a change in guidelines so cities and towns would have a means of recouping money from companies that do not fulfill the terms of their TIF agreements.

It’s funny a few weeks before Christmas I expressed the same basic thought to a friend. There should be some sort of safety clause that allows cities and towns to collect whatever money was “saved” from companies that fail to live up to their end of the deal. Honestly I don’t even think it’s the first time I’ve had that thought. And really, I bet most of you have thought the same thing too.

You know why? Because it makes sense! When a community like Fall River enters into a TIF agreement it’s basically giving up future gains in taxes in order to spur development and future benefit. I don’t think a city or town enters into a 5 year TIF agreement to secure 5 years worth of employment for its residents. I think the idea is if the city forgoes collecting taxes over a certain time period with the idea that is will enjoy the benefits of that development long after that time period has elapsed.

Lefty’s View: It seems obvious that if a business fails to meet its end of the bargain it should payback the benefit it received from entering into the TIF agreement. The really amazing thing about what Councilor Mitchell is suggesting is that it’s not something that is already in place.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"Shock and Awe"

Will Flanagan is not the first politician whose basic campaign strategy was to outspend the competition. Hell, he's certainly not the first Fall River mayor to employ the strategy. Bob Correia raised more than his competition in 2007 when he won election. In 2009 he still raised more than anyone else, but decided to conserve most of it for the general election that he failed to make. (Oops!)

Flanagan's ambitious goal of raising $200,000 is minor league popcorn compared to the lofty totals Ed Lambert was able to spend during his reelection bids in 2003 and 2005.

Will may be the first politician, at least locally, to arrogantly state that his fundraising plan was to shock and awe his opponents. Will says he's not trying to buy an election but honestly isn't that what it amounts to?

This isn't a criticism of Mayor Flanagan but over politics in general the rampant spending that goes into getting someone elected gives a huge advantage to those who have the ability to raise big sums of money. Some would argue that people are free to donate to whichever candidate they chose and it's a sign of "what the voter's want". The problem is I don't buy it. How much can you afford to donate to a political campaign? It seems to me people who can afford to donate large sums of money are basically buying elections and the best candidates usually end up staying unelected. When that happens I'm usually shocked that anyone would support the idiot who gets elected and awed that they would donate to his campaign.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Who Could Be Mayor?

I was recently asked:

"I would like to see an analysis from A View from Battleship Cove, of the current state delegation or School Committee or City Council or even wild card non-politicians that might enter the race who would actually stand a chance at beating Flanagan?"

Well as of today, right now, the simple short answer would be no one. I think Will is very vulnerable but I don't know if I see any candidates who successfully exploit that and beat him. But let's take a look at some "potential" candidates and ponder their chances.

On the School Committee...

The only member of the school committee that I think is even remotely possible is Mark Costa. Although my proofreader points out the chairman has a pretty good shot. Back to Mark.. I think Mark has all those qualities that make for a good candidate. He's likable, communicates well, shows passion, seems sincere. At one time the Herald News speculated he could be a candidate for Mayor in 2007, despite only having served one term on the school committee! I think that would have been overly ambitious. Now I think Mark faces the opposite problem, if he's looking to jump to higher office he hasn't been ambitious enough, at least not to make a run for Mayor. He was elected to the school committee in 2005 and he's never shown any interest in making a run for council despite having good opportunities in 2007 and 2009.

Lefty's View: I think Mark is better off, at least for the time being, sticking to the school committee.

Amongst the City Council....

On the City Council there are four names I've heard bandied about: Brad Kilby, Eric Poulin, Ray Mitchell, and Linda Pereira.

Honestly, I would rule Linda right out. She didn't do well in her run against Sullivan. I'm pretty sure she finished in the bottom half of the pack in the last council race. I'm not sure she has enough of a base to even make a run for Mayor credible.

Lefty's View: Reelection to the council is almost certain.

Ray Mitchell is enjoying a rather nice comeback. He was the top voter getter in the last council race, he's the newly elected Council Vice-President. Is a run for Mayor in the cards? I think Mitchell is very content with serving on the Council and I think Mitchell wants to be involved.

Lefty's View: Why risk a strong chance at re-election to the City Council with a long shot at the 6th floor?

Of course, there are a lot of people who would like to see Eric Poulin take another stab at the Mayor's office. Heck I may even be one of them, but right now is not the time. Eric is probably the most interesting election to our City Council. When he ran in 2009, he did so with very little political capital, just really the name recognition he built in his race in 2007. Eric ran few ads, few commercials, and used no signs or bumper stickers. Eric was elected not because he had the support of the powers-that-be but because he ran a real grassroots campaign.

Lefty's View: Poulin will need to put a few more council terms behind him before those grassroots become solid enough to support a mayoral bid.

Of course Brad Kilby also ran for Mayor in 2007. I've said this before that Kilby didn't communicate his platform well enough, didn't connect with people well enough in that bid. Now Brad won reelection to the council in 2009 running a very low key campaign. Yet, Brad was one of the top vote getters, which tells me that he has a strong support amongst the voters.

Lefty's View: Brad remains in my mind a strong potential challenger. He does need to work on connecting with people but I see a lot about Kilby's 2007 run and the state of the city today that could be real assets if he decided to become a candidate in 2011.

Our local delegation...

Amongst our local delegation neither Senator Rodrigues or Representative Schmid our eligible to run for Mayor. That leaves Representatives David Sullivan and Kevin Aguiar.

I've been hearing gripes that Kevin Aguiar hasn't been attentive enough to his constituents. Though Aguiar won reelection he did so after winning a fairly close primary contest.

Lefty's View: Kevin served several terms on the School Committee and has a core of support but he he hasn't proven himself yet in Boston and he's always dogged with accusations that would be sure to resurface if he decided to run for Mayor.

My first thoughts on Dave Sullivan were that he is a lot like Eric Poulin. He doesn't seem to be the favorite of the powers-that-be but he's a sincere and hard working politician. He's also a bit like Kilby, in that he needs to work on communication his platform and reaching people more effectively. However I may not be giving enough credit to Representative Sullivan.

Lefty's View: In 2007 Dave made it through through the primaries and raised enough money to be competitive with Bob Correia. No small feat in such a crowded field. I'm thinking Dave could certainly be a strong challenger if he decided to run in 2011, but would he want to risk his seat in Boston?

From the Outside Looking In....

Former City Councilor Cathy Ann Viveiros has been seen as Mayor Flanagan's most likely challenger. Not only is Cathy Ann intelligent and capable, she comes across that way. Cathy Ann can articulate her points and hold her own in a debate. Honestly I thought she out-debated Will in 2009. Cathy-Ann however faces several problems. She is currently not holding any office and that hurts her credibility somewhat. She also has run several times before without winning. That gives her the perception of someone who can't win, and somebody who maybe wants the office a little too much.

Lefty's View: I have no doubts that Cathy-Ann will enter the ring but to win she's going to need to come out hard, run very aggressively, and find a way to build up enough of a campaign war chest.

Stefani Koorey is a local activist and Lizzie Borden aficionado. Stefani is very intelligent and very articulate. She offers the perspective of an outsider, which to me means she sees the potential and isn't caught up in some of the defeatist attitudes we usually see. She also has a passion for Fall River's history. I think the combination gives us someone who sees how the city could move forward but is going to be respectful and protective of its past. However she faces huge challenges in fund-raising, name recognition, and just being considered a serious candidate.

Lefty's View: Honestly in the past I would have ruled her chances as being "zilch". However two years ago I looked at Will Flanagan as someone had never had local political office, had no name recognition, and figured he had no chance. Of course he's now Mayor! I also thought his message was vague and lacked substance. That is not something I would say about Koorey.

In the end, I think a crowded field will certainly hand Flanagan a reelection win. If the field remains small the right challenger could make it a race.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Fate of the Durfee Textile Building

The city is once again trying to sell the Durfee Textile building. What took so long? Mayor Flanagan wasn't even in office yet when he made it clear he was not happy with the Peabody proposal for the property. You would think that as he worked to reverse the deal he would have had the Redevelopment Authority prepare for rebidding the property out.

Amazingly that didn't happen and a year has passed since Will first suggested he'd like to see the property rebid. More amazing is the Redevelopment Authority has admitted that this sat on the back burner while they were embroiled in the whole casino land issue. Really? The RDA couldn't juggle rebidding this out while they worked on the casino deal? It seems this wouldn't have been that big a deal, especially when Ken Fiola admits we're basically using the same RFP as the last time.

Believe me I have nothing but praise for Flanagan's take on the Peabody proposal. The Durfee Textile is a special property that really requires vision and diligence to make sure it gets developed in a way that is going to be truly be beneficial to the city. The Peabody proposal never seemed to be more than a low-income housing project with a token arts element thrown in. The last thing we need there is more low-income housing. Heritage Heights is just west of it and the area is saturated with senior housing.

The Durfee Textile building really has the potential to anchor downtown revitalization. A lot has been made about how it could serve as a bridge to the waterfront but I think it also sits in an area that really has some of the best potential for revitalizing interest in Fall River's downtown.

The problem is I'm losing faith in the Mayor's diligence to see that this gets developed in a way that is consistent with the intentions of the Arts Overlay District. Will has publicly stated that he would like to see commercial development there that has arts and entrainment and food and retail. While the Mayor is still saying he would like to see commercial development there he is now saying:

“Let the private sector determine the proposals. They’ll be reviewed by the Redevelopment Authority and hopefully awarded to the applicant that will then dictate the best use for the property,”

Well what if the "best" proposal is one that includes more low-income housing are we then going to let that "dictate" the use for the property? I know, why would we accept such a proposal when the Mayor has clearly shown that he favors something else? Well, Mayor Flanagan didn't support the the YMCA project because of low-income housing but found a way to reverse himself. The Mayor didn't support a biopark on the 300 acre site because he thought a casino was a better use. He has now reversed that decision. Now in the those two cases I think he was right to reverse himself. I think the YMCA project, while not without concern, has merit and I believe that the biopark is going to make a huge difference for Fall River's future. However when it comes to the Durfee Textile building I hope the Mayor sticks to his initial thoughts on this. The BEST use for that property should complement plans for a revitalized downtown, not work against them.