Audio From Today’s Press Conference
Throughout my first months as mayor, a major priority of my administration has been the redevelopment and revitalization of Holyoke’s downtown. One issue in this effort has galvanized public attention and stirred emotions like no other: the redevelopment of Lyman Terrace. Most everyone concedes that the current state of the Lyman Terrace buildings is unacceptable; its structural flaws and health risks are many and varied. Given the common ground and goals we share, the debate over how we improve these conditions has become polarized beyond what it should be.
In a previous letter, I articulated my vision for a diverse, densely populated, vibrant, and prosperous downtown, with quality housing for all who seek it. Such are the principles that guide my decision-making. I understand that those principles could have been made clearer from the outset, and for that, I take full responsibility. I would like to take this opportunity to change that, and to update Holyokers on the steps my administration is taking to move forward.
It is important to note that the Holyoke Housing Authority (HHA) owns the property at Lyman Terrace; the City of Holyoke does not. And several months ago, in an effort to expedite the improvements to Lyman Terrace, the HHA informed me that they would be seeking improvement proposals from private developers. Furthermore, they informed me that they were seeking permission from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to demolish all or part of the housing complex were such a need to arise. As part of an administrative process that would enable the HHA to access federal funds for demolition, I signed their request for an environmental assessment.
Per the request of the HHA, I have since evaluated the proposals for the property’s improvement by a few developers. As yet, I have not been satisfied by those received. The ones I have reviewed would reduce the population of the neighborhood, take significant time to even begin the improvements, and have been generally misaligned with my guiding principles for the downtown. Upon further exploration, I also became dissatisfied with the HHA’s tenant relocation plan; Lyman’s tenants need to have better protections at the local level if we wish to keep as many residents as possible in Holyoke.
The shortcomings of this process have awoken genuine concern, fear, and resentment among many in the community. Considering the longstanding neglect of Lyman Terrace at the local level, such reactions are perfectly understandable. Furthermore, equating urban renewal with urban removal has been a widely practiced strategy across our country; and, as such, skepticism of our own project is warranted. We are now tasked with avoiding these only too common pitfalls, and how we do so collectively will say a great deal about who we are as a community.
As mayor, my responsibility is first and foremost to the people of Holyoke – and I cannot allow this process to be executed carelessly. I am thus announcing the following steps to realign the renovation of Lyman Terrace with the principles I have outlined above.
As of today, I have asked the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to suspend the HHA’s request for a demolition review. I cannot in good conscience support any demolition of Lyman Terrace – total or partial – until our citizens have ample opportunity to have their voices heard regarding the community needs there. I will not seek approval for any action until a comprehensive plan, crafted with community input, is in place. This policy will affect lives in tangible ways, and people should have every right to reclaim the stake they have in our city’s future.
I have reached out to housing experts outside of the city for their support in assisting the HHA. As a result, I can proudly announce a partnership between the Massachusetts Development Finance Agency, the Massachusetts Housing Partnership, and the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development. To the HHA’s credit, they have demonstrated good faith in following my lead moving forward; they have agreed to work closely with these organizations. Through rigorous community involvement – especially of Lyman Terrace’s residents – these organizations will assist our city and the HHA to develop a comprehensive plan for the area bordered by the first level canal, Lyman Street, Dwight Street, and High Street.
And finally, I am calling on the HHA to be more responsive to the immediate needs of Lyman Terrace’s tenants. Planning for Lyman’s future does not mean ignoring its present, and there is no reason that the basic upkeep of the property should be neglected.
It is important that we get this right. And in order to so, we must take advantage of these new partners and the resources they will provide. Coming up with a plan for this part of Center City will be a community effort. We will use our new resources to guarantee our citizens a seat at the planning table – by holding public hearings, providing interpreters, and whatever else is necessary to ensure their voices are heard.
I do not know what a renovated Lyman Terrace will look like when this process is completed; that will depend greatly on the input of residents, businesses, and property owners. What I do know is that the plan must be consistent with a long-term vision for our downtown as a diverse, densely populated, vibrant, and prosperous place. The rehabilitated complex should properly connect to its surrounding amenities. Furthermore, it should include key components that the current property lacks: more green spaces, sufficient parking, and a community center.
The revitalization of our downtown depends on the energy of the people who live there and love our city, not merely the buildings that line the streets. Holyoke was built to accommodate 60,000 people. Growing our population must entail keeping people in Holyoke, not forcing them out. It is true that some tenant relocation is inevitable as we improve Lyman Terrace; but in the event of such relocation, the HHA needs to have a plan that gives as many residents as possible the option to relocate in our city. And when the improvements are completed, those residents that wish to return to the redeveloped Lyman Terrace should have priority placement to do so. These folks are the ones who have worked for years to maintain and beautify their homes, and they deserve a fair chance to reclaim the improved neighborhood.
I know our city is up to this task. We understand the stakes. Indeed, our resolution of this issue will say a great deal about who we are as a community. Working together, we can ensure not only an improved downtown, but also a more just and decent community for us all to share, and to which we all may contribute.
Holyoke, MA, 01-August-2012: Attorney Peter Vickery on behalf of a group of Lyman Terrace residents filed a lawsuit today at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination against the City of Holyoke and the Holyoke Housing Authority which manages the 167 unit public housing project where the tenants reside, located in Ward 1 Holyoke near High, Lyman and Front Streets. The expectation is that the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination will file an injunction in Superior Court to stop the planned demolition of Lyman Terrace. A total of five legal claims are presented in the complaint: Violations of the Federal Fair Housing Act 42 USC § 3604; Federal Environmental Protection Regulation 40 CFR Part 7, Subpart B; Article 1 of The Massachusetts Constitution; and Massachusetts General Law 151B § 4 & 121B § 32.
Introduction to the Complaint is as follows: The City of Holyoke and its Housing Authority have decided to seek permission to demolish Lyman Terrace, a public housing project in the downtown area. Because most of the Lyman Terrace residents are Hispanic, the destruction of their homes – and the residents’ relocation away from Holyoke – would have a disparate impact on a protected class and would, therefore, constitute unlawful discrimination. Complainants are asking the Commonwealth to seek and injunction from the Superior Court to stop the demolition.
Attorney Vickery comments: ”We are asking for an injunction to stop the demolition of Lyman Terrace. This is a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood that the commonwealth considers an environmental Justice Community, meaning that government has to meaningfully involve the community in land-use decisions to ensure equality and equity. Our legal basis is the anti-discrimination law, which prohibits land-use decisions that have a disparate impact on certain protected classes. We are saying that demolishing Lyman Terrace would be unlawful because it would have a disparate impact on Hispanic people. We are absolutely not accusing the mayor or anyone in city government of racism or bigotry.”
For more information please contact:
Full text of the complaint:
For more info about Lyman Terrace see HERE.
Link to the Lyman Terrace Facebook page see HERE.
On May 2, the Holyoke Historical Commission voted unanimously to impose demolition delay for 123 Newton Street. The property is privately owned but abandoned, and the City planned to use HUD CDBG monies to tear it down. This was not an emergency demolition for public safety but a routine demolition application which therefore rightly came before the HHC for review. In the discussion leading up to their vote, Commissioners said they were glad they had a new tool to recommend for preservation efforts – quicker acquisition and auction of abandoned properties by the City.
On May 16, the City Solicitor issued a legal opinion on Holyoke’s demolition delay ordinance, an opinion which contradicts both the text of the ordinance itself (and even explicitly acknowledges that it does so!) and twelve years of precedents. It claims that because the HHC had known of the possibility of demolition longer than six months ago, it could no longer impose a delay, even though the very trigger for a delay – notice of a demolition application provided via the Building Department – hadn’t come before the HHC until just before their May meeting. This new interpretation totally subverts the purpose and power of a delay ordinance and sets a terrible precedent for other historic buildings in the city. Guess which other properties have been mentioned to the HHC as possible candidates for demolition longer than six months ago, but for which the HHC hasn’t yet seen a demo application? That would include Mater Dolorosa’s steeple, Lyman Terrace in its entirety, 399 Appleton (a brick Victorian which the YMCA hopes to raze to make a parking lot), and others. If the HHC tries to impose a delay on any of those properties now or at any time in the future, their owners now have new grounds (grounds which didn’t exist at all before) to sue the city to lift the delay or to recover any losses experienced because of a delay. Any owner of a Holyoke property greater than fifty years old would be smart to send the HHC a letter indicating the mere possibility of a partial or full demolition some day; as long as any work would commence at least six months from the date of the letter, the HHC would be powerless to do anything about it. In the City Council’s lengthy questioning which led to the solicitor’s confirmation, I don’t remember anyone asking about basic reading comprehension or understanding the significance of precedent, but unfortunately those councilors who expressed reservations about confirming an attorney who believed and behaved as though she didn’t have to play by the rules and could put loyalty above doing the right thing (hiring a friend for a city job without ever posting the position) are now vindicated: apparently the attitude and behavior weren’t a one-off after all. Elizabeth Rodriguez-Ross, shame on you.
Armed with this ridiculous opinion — which was obtained at Mayor Morse’s request and presumably his direction — the mayor ordered demolition of the building without delay, and so it began. In taking his oath of office, Morse swore to uphold the ordinances of the City of Holyoke; in this case, he has not done so. On that inauguration day and since, the mayor has called for unity, but he should be reminded that it is not sycophants, friends or allies who keep a politician honest. It would have been better to have asked for integrity over unity. If demolishing that building were truly so important to him, the mayor could have attended (or sent a representative to attend) the HHC’s meeting to make the argument for demolition over preservation in a public meeting in accordance with Open Meeting law. (For the record, no one outside the HHC showed up to support or oppose demolition or delay for the two properties addressed May 2.) I understand the mayor is young and inexperienced, and there’s a learning curve to be expected, but it’s certainly feeling like it isn’t too soon for this Morse voter to hope he’s a one-off. Alex Morse, shame on you.
On June 28, the City Council Ordinance Committee took up a proposal from Councilor and Committee Chair Rebecca Lisi to update the demolition delay ordinance “to bring it in line with current city practices.” How about instead insisting the City’s practices get and stay in line with its ordinances?! There is room to improve the ordinance, but before getting to that, allow a moment’s digression to explain why the Committee took up the matter between 10 and 11 pm, by which time all councilors not on the Committee, all media representatives, and almost all members of the public had left.
Mayor Morse had called an emergency meeting of the full City Council during the previously scheduled time for the Ordinance Committee meeting in order to secure funding for the new arts position. I think the arts position is a good idea, and it’s exceedingly rare that I agree with Linda Vacon about anything (we’re about as far apart on the political spectrum as we can get and still both be Americans who value democracy), but she is sometimes the only voice of common sense in the room, and that night offered one of those moments: “Mr. Mayor, this is not an emergency.”
Back to the issue of demolition delay….the Ordinance Committee used the opportunity of ordinance review to assign blame in all the wrong places and to fail to ask for accountability where it was due. Councilor Vega demanded in a most hostile tone to know why the HHC had voted for a delay on 123 Newton Street’s demolition when other historically valuable properties had previously been allowed to progress to demolition without delay. If he’s arguing that the building had no value warranting preservation, he could have attended the HHC’s May meeting to argue that case. And if his intent wasn’t to blame the HHC for doing their job correctly (as they did with 123 Newton Street) but instead to ask why they hadn’t been more aggressive in the past, he’s had two and a half years on Council to address that issue. But he might remember that the City’s streamlined acquisition and auction process is only newly available as an alternative to demolition. So instead of directing hostility towards the party that is in compliance, why not demand to know why the interpretation of the ordinance has been changed and why city planners aren’t helping the HHC explore preservation alternatives? Of course, asking those questions would require confronting the mayor, who recently endorsed Vega’s campaign for state representative. So I guess that’s never going to happen. Shame on you, Aaron Vega.
Continuing the theme of misdirected blame, Councilor Alexander faulted the HHC for not working on a preservation plan sooner. But the language of the ordinance is very clear: the preservation planning period begins with the imposition of a demolition delay, which can only be triggered after receipt of notice from the Building Commissioner that a demolition permit has been applied for. Rather than blaming the HHC for complying with the ordinance, blame the ordinance’s authors (ahem…that would be the City Council), and blame city planners for working always and only towards demolition plans (where the HHC could only be stepping in as a hostile party under the terms of the ordinance) but never towards preservation plans (where the HHC’s input could have been sought sooner in the process). In regards to 399 Appleton, Alexander charged the HHC with an obligation to assist the YMCA with finding alternative solutions for its parking needs. Nonsense! Besides being an entirely specious issue (there’s always plenty of on-street parking available nearby), finding solutions to businesses’ parking needs is the task of the planning department, with its multiple, full-time, paid professionals and interns, not the part-time volunteers of the HHC. Again, addressing the issues correctly would require confronting paid, full-time professionals and everybody’s BFF’s: the YMCA management, the new head of Planning, and the mayor. But apparently it’s easier just to beat up on volunteers and ask them to work both harder and outside their purview. Shame on you, Gordon Alexander.
I will give credit, however, to Alexander for two things: first, for describing the City Solicitor’s legal opinion on the demolition delay ordinance as “not worth the paper it’s printed on,” and second, for defending the timeline for imposing a delay (when demolition is sought is exactly when a delay would be needed!) even while suggesting the preservation planning process should begin sooner. The ordinance should be improved with mechanisms for an earlier preservation planning period and clearer timelines for steps. Also, the language for exemption for properties identified by a now-defunct committee should simply be eliminated — already, emergency demolitions for public safety are exempt, and that is the only exemption truly needed. Council should use this review as an opportunity to strengthen the ordinance and the autonomy of the HHC, not to water it down to make destroying the city’s architectural heritage and built capital easier for Holyoke’s paid officials.
Earlier in the evening, the Committee took up the structure and by-laws of the HHC and its relationship to Wistariahurst Museum. Alicia Zoeller (of the Office of Community Development) made a worthy suggestion for getting the HHC professional assistance for their work. Unfortunately, no councilors and no one else present had the integrity or temerity to mention the elephant in the room, to ask the question whose answer is critical for determining any changes to the HHC structure and for assuring future compliance with the letter and spirit of a demolition delay ordinance and historical preservation efforts: can seven part-time volunteers, who all serve at the appointment of a mayor, be an effective check against the power of that mayor and the mayor’s administration? Particularly when the culture of government in this city has been and remains strongly tilted towards demolition and against preservation?
I’ve used up my four “shames” (though I’m sure it would be easy enough to find four more), but there’s also still the matter of a councilor (I believe it was either Vega or Alexander, but I honestly don’t remember which) grilling the HHC about structural integrity, a concern that is entirely the responsibility of the full-time, paid, professional Building Commissioner, who can seek an assessment from the City Engineer (also a full-time paid professional), and not the responsibility whatsoever of the volunteers who comprise the HHC, whose duties are solely related to historic assessment and preservation planning. Was it simply too uncomfortable to direct that question to the BC (who was sitting silently in the same room before the Committee), given that the BC is husband to the Committee’s Chair and an appointee of the current mayor? Just so I’m clear, I believe the BC did his job correctly — he provided notice of the demolition application to the HHC and did not order an emergency demolition for a structure where it wasn’t warranted — but if councilors believe otherwise or have questions about those decisions, they should be asking them of the BC, not the HHC.
Mayor Morse has been very effective at developing a cult of personality, and that can have some benefits (it’s yielded Holyoke some positive media attention, for example), but it also carries significant risks. If knee-jerk opposition (opposition without considering the merits of an issue) is wrong, and I believe it is, knee-jerk support is at least as wrong and probably more dangerous. Unfortunately, the councilors elected in the interests of progress and change continue to demonstrate they value political loyalty and unity over accountability, patronage and Leichtigkeit-des-Cocktails-trinken-zusammen over the checks and balances essential to democracy. They and Rodriguez-Ross wreck their own reputations by behaving indefensibly as they try to provide cover to the mayor for this mess. In place of another shame, I’ll say a pox on all your houses – may a wrecking ball soon visit, may you receive a certificate to relocate out of Holyoke, and may your wealthier new neighbors exert a positive moral influence on you (as if!), a moral influence that’s obviously sorely needed (unfortunately, too true).
Meet the New Holyoke, same as the Old Holyoke. And in some cases, worse.
7:00pm until 8:30pm
Media Education Foundation Frances
Crowe Community Room,
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In response to Mayor Morse’s statement on Lyman Terrace, I’d like to address a few false ideas and assumptions on his part, present a better vision, and suggest some ideas towards developing a better plan to realize that vision. One characterization Morse gets right is that the issues are complex. Unfortunately, his analyses and proposed solutions do not reflect that complexity. I can’t hope to cover it all here, but I’ll try to avoid replicating the problem of glossing over important considerations, and therefore my response will not be brief. To avoid cluttering the home page, I’m putting my response to the mayor in as a first comment to this entry.
Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. — Milton Friedman (Nobel Laureate Economist and minion of Satan)
In her 2007 book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism Naomi Klein coined the term “disaster capitalism” – a concept that had existed for quite some time yet to be named. The idea being that a population can be unwittingly subdued via trauma – real or perceived – and as a result enslaved, robbed or otherwise manipulated to the profit of some external entity that is the architect of said doctrine. We’ve seen it in Southeast Asia when residents of a fishing village are relocated by the government after a tsunami and upon returning to homes that their families had lived for generations instead find a Western-owned resort hotel, their land appropriated and new “opportunities” working in laundry rooms servicing the new tourist trade. Also in 1970′s Chile where our CIA financed a police state which finally bent the will of the people to accept our brand of corporate capitalism (Obama is now doing similar in Honduras under auspices of the War on Drugs). Or in New Orleans post-Katrina when what was once public housing – undamaged by the storm – privatized and sold to the highest bidder. We can also see it in our Global-Imperial Neoliberal campaigns of “liberation” where we prop up and finance despotic regimes like the Taliban or Saddam for a couple decades then wage war on the people in order to give hand outs to the military industrial and then the contractors to rebuild what we destroyed – highest bidder in these cases are decided by campaign contributions to whichever party is in power at that time . It is mostly effective… and quite pervasive in the Post-9-11 world. The “War on Terror” being the trump suit on a myriad of distasteful policies that have robbed us of civil rights.
We are here to help you.
Well, today I witnessed it firsthand right here in Holyoke. Here’s how it works: Some years ago the Holyoke Housing Authority decides that an entire neighborhood of public housing is a “problem”. As a result of that decision the plan is to demolish the existing project of 167 occupied units to build new ones – convincing the tenants that they have funds to do this and that while the reconstruction happens tenants will be relocated temporarily. Time goes by… Since the plan is to demolish the buildings there is no reason for upkeep. Neglect becomes routine and situations worsen – the DPW is even avoiding trash pickup. Housing Authority people come by and take some ugly pictures of what they created to send to HUD with no real structural evaluation, analysis or comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of renovation/rehabilitation in comparission to demolition. On top of that they claim that there is “No Significant Impact on the Human Environment”. The solution – raze all existing structures, sell the acreage to the highest bidder and give the tenants Section 8 vouchers with “you are free to go now, good luck and goodbye”. Is it possible to add that many people to the rental market all at once? Is there not human impact to destroying a neighborhood? What about elderly and disabled that have established routines downtown with where they shop, visit their doctor and public transportation at Veteran’s park? What if these elderly and disabled people are forced into isolated areas? In the end it all reeks of racism, gentrification and another example of privatization that which was public. They are poor and dark skinned – there is no significant human impact if you don’t treat the people like humans to begin with.
I was there today collecting signatures for a petition. I talked to near one hundred people. There was a handful of folks that claimed that they did not care, that they thought that the place should be demolished… but overwhelmingly the opinion was that they liked living there and had community with others in this neighborhood. Many stated that they wanted to stay even though things were not kept up – taking it upon themselves to renovate spaces. I entered a number of units and saw homes with families… well cared for and functioning households that were maintained by the tenants. Regardless of the opinion on the Housing Authority decision, the overwhelming feeling from these people was that they were being left out of the process. As far as the claim that these spaces were “obsolete as to their physical condition”, this is a complete smoke and mirrors. Go and see for yourself and talk to some of the tenants.
A number of tenants said that they were coming to the city council chambers tomorrow night, 7pm. Be there.
Self portrait with decay.
Links to the HHA Letter of Intent:
Ward 1 City Councilor: Gladys Lebron-Martinez, 224 Elm St. 413-535-8507
City of Holyoke Office for Community Development, City Hall Annex Room 400, Holyoke, MA 01040 by first class mail, by fax to 413-322-5611 or email to email@example.com
Mayor Alex Morse: firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-322-5510
Please also submit a copy of your comments to the Holyoke Historic Commission and to HUD:
Some history of this practice in Holyoke:
Draft City Council Resolution:
Holyoke City Council
February 21, 2012 Meeting
“Supporting Responsible Downtown Economic and Community Development at Lyman Terrace”
WHEREAS, The Holyoke Housing Authority seeks demolition and disposition of Lyman Terrace, one of the earliest public housing projects in the country; and
WHEREAS, Lyman Terrace, built in 1938-1939, comprises 167 units in eighteen buildings with exteriors of brick and copper on tree-lined streets in the heart of downtown. It also features a community center, a community garden, and a Boys and Girls Club; and
WHEREAS, Holyoke’s overall population remained stable over the last decade, Ward 1 (where Lyman Terrace is located) has continued to experience significant losses; the city should now be working towards population retention and growth, not further loss; and
WHEREAS, the demolition of Lyman Terrace would be a destruction of downtown Holyoke’s architectural heritage, visual sense of place, working class history and affordable housing at a time when Holyoke’s revitalization depends on preserving, rehabilitating, and capitalizing on our historic architecture and infrastructure; and
WHEREAS, the demolition of any city buildings should be premised on a structural evaluation, review and forensic analysis for commercial, industrial and residential structures as well as a full and comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of renovation/rehabilitation in comparission to demolition; and
WHEREAS, the City Council has not seen or been made aware of any such analyses for the Lyman Terrace project; and
WHEREAS, the reported presence of social problems such as crime, drugs, violence, or prostitution in the area of Lyman Terrace are artifacts of concentrated poverty that is completely independent of the buildings’ architectural design and condition and do not merit reasons for demolition; and
WHEREAS, if improving the living conditions of the current residents of Lyman Terrace is the purpose for requesting Urban Renewal funds from the United States Office for Housing and Urban Development (HUD), then a comprehensive relocation plan that is based on a thorough understanding of the current residents’ needs and demands should be included in the funding request; and
WHEREAS, such a relocation plan is blatantly absent from the current environmental review (study) that purports to have looked at the project’s “effects on people and community and determined that the project will have no significant impact.”
NOW, BE IT RESOLVED, that the City Council formally go on record in opposition to the demolition of Lyman Terrace; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the City Council submit a written letter to the Office for Community Development in opposition to the claim that the project will have “no significant impact on the human environment;” and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that in an effort to increase transparency,the City Council invite the Mayor, Holyoke Housing Authority, Office of Community Development, Holyoke Historic Commission, and Holyoke Redevelopment Authority to discuss the matter further with the council.
My fellow citizens of Holyoke:
I stand before you today grateful for the trust you have placed in me and humbled by the scale of the task before us. I’d like to express my undying gratitude, also, to my family and friends who have encouraged me every step of this journey.
Today marks a turning of the page on the old ways of doing politics in this city. It has been many years since Holyoke has stood at the threshold of such transformation; and I, as your mayor, am honored to help shape Holyoke’s future with you. The time for petty obstructions to progress is over. The time for waiting is past; the time for renewing our highest ideals and for remembering our better history is now. When I look at Holyoke today, I see what our Holyoke forebears saw when they created the Paper City of the World: a city of limitless possibility.
We have all heard those who say that Holyoke’s best days are long past. We have heard that Holyoke’s best bet is for us to just settle, and to resign ourselves to a future that is beneath our highest aspirations. For far too long, this narrative has pervaded this city and the morale of its people; too many have internalized these notions as true, as somehow inescapable realities of the Holyoke experience. As a result, many of Holyoke’s citizens have been disheartened and discouraged; too many have been overwhelmed by the frustration of seeing their best efforts and hopes for Holyoke fail to result in real, substantive progress.
Now, I understand the magnitude of the many challenges before us, and I am mindful of my own limitations to remedy them. But I also understand that the days of resignation are over. In November’s election, the citizens of Holyoke made their voices heard; and what those voices joined together to proclaim was that this election was – emphatically – about the future of the city of Holyoke. The voters rejected the gridlock and stagnation of the past. Today, we rededicate ourselves to the betterment of this community. We will not achieve every goal we desire in just one election or even one mayoral term. But I have no doubt that we will meet these challenges – boldly, fearlessly, and with the proud, fighting spirit that defines our people.
Throughout my time in this city, I have seen this spirit made manifest in the lives of ordinary citizens every day – people who often go unnoticed, but who contribute to our community in countless ways. And over the past year, as a candidate, seeing this spirit has never ceased to move me.
I saw it in the countless folks who stopped by headquarters, offering their help in myriad, small ways – people with their own busy lives who nonetheless sought to give support in whatever ways they could.
I saw it in the elderly man I met in the Flats – a man who could not speak a word of English, but who registered to vote for the first time in his life.
I saw it in the young kids – kids too young to even vote – who were enthused and impassioned about the capacity of our political process.
I saw it in a conversation I had with a woman in Elmwood Towers, in which she reminisced fondly about her days growing up in Holyoke, and who felt hopeful about the city’s future.
And I saw it in a young couple I met while door-knocking – a couple that had just moved in and that, despite the prevailing stigmas about their new hometown, were overwhelmed by the sense of community and belonging they had already begun to feel.
My experience on the campaign reaffirmed my deeply held belief that Holyoke’s greatest asset is, and has always been its people. And that Holyoke’s citizens reflect both diversity and a shared destiny, an overarching sense of common purpose. As I stand before you today, I do not shrink from the tasks before us because I know these folks and each and every one of you will be with me every step of the way.
Let us guarantee for our children the right to a sound education, one that will prepare them to compete in a 21st century economy and to contribute meaningfully to our society. I stand before you today because of the education I received in the Holyoke public schools. I am a product of Holyoke schools from pre-school through my graduation at Holyoke High. My experience taught me that it truly takes a village to raise a child. And that, had it not been for the people who took responsibility for my education, I would not be here today. It is time to restore that sense of responsibility. It is time for us to remember the common stake we have in one another, and that we must be responsible for all of Holyoke’s children, regardless of what they look like or what neighborhood they’re from. I know this is possible because I’ve lived it. And when I look at my parents here today, I know that they never would have imagined that their child would one day be their city’s mayor.
Next, let us lay the foundation for economic growth that can be sustained over the long-term and that gives our youth good reason to stay and work in Holyoke. Because, let’s be honest: what use will a good education be if our kids then find nowhere to work and contribute? Just as our predecessors saw in Holyoke everything they needed for the creation of the Paper City, I now see everything we need to become the Digital City, and for an economy based on art, innovation, and technology. The high tech computing center will be completed this year. And already, businesses are showing an interest in relocating to our community. For art and innovation, we need look no further than the talented folks already in this city, who need only be supported. Our people need a more conducive environment to create and imagine new ideas. It is time to eradicate the myth that people don’t want to work, and instead, give them good reason to work, by providing sound opportunities for the future.
Necessarily connected to fixing our education system and cultivating economic development is the task of keeping our streets safe. We know that if kids have productive things to do, and meaningful opportunities, we can prevent them from seeking their livelihoods in crime. Looking at community safety requires a holistic approach, and we all know that if we foster a sense of community and reinforce the stake we all have in one another’s lives, our city will be safer. But that requires time and the laying of firm foundations. Right now, we must begin to restore the relationship between our distinguished police officers and our communities. We must bolster neighborhood watch programs, increase bike and foot patrol, and provide common folks with a voice in providing recommendations to the police department. I will work very closely with both the fire department and the police department to make sure we come up with common sense approaches to keeping our people safe. Through these steps, I hope to rebrand Holyoke’s image and to make our city an appealing place for businesses and visitors.
As we do these things – improve education, foster economic development, and ensure public safety – let our guiding light be a love for this city. Let us remember that we all want what’s best for our hometown. And that in no other city in this nation are the people more considerate, generous, and compassionate. We hold values that are not subject to the changing winds of time; they endure and continue to define us. Our resilience. Our pride. Our concern for the plight of others. The belief that when hardship befalls one of us, it affects us all; that your child’s education matters just as much as somebody else’s child’s, or as much as my niece’s and nephew’s; that public safety in our downtown matters as much to residents of Ward Seven as it does to residents of Ward One. As Holyokers, we recognize that we cannot walk alone. I know there are many whose votes I have not yet earned; and that, despite our best efforts, we will not always agree with one another. But I also know that we don’t need to see eye-to-eye to walk hand-in-hand; and that we are never stronger than when we are united.
The work begins today. And we begin our work knowing that we are part of a process that is larger than ourselves, and that will continue long after we’re gone. Before us is the opportunity to shape this city’s future for generations to come. Let us seize this moment. Let this term be remembered as the time Holyoke began to make inroads in its longstanding challenges, and paved the way for a safer, more just, and decent community to unfold – one that is worthy of its proud citizens. Lest we forget, we are Holyoke. As long as we remember that, there is no way we can fail.
Thank you, Holyoke.
So…. it happened. The bar has been officially been raised. I don’t think that elections in this city could ever be the same after this. Yes, we have two years to shake this out and really absorb what has happened… my only hope is that now we can have more folks step forward to rid this stale environment of its collective inertia. I also hope that never again we can rely on names, political favors and yard signs as an indication of the political climate – that we have popular engagement, emotion and true spirit driving the action. I do believe Alex’s credo when he says: “This is not about my campaign, this is about Holyoke.” People need to stand up and make this true and support him in this effort. Yes, he won. Now we have work to do.
Morse won… Devine lost. Lisi held on. Tallman is a winner. That is some serious joy to be shared. Sure, we gained that jackass Bresnahan and still carry a ton of dead weight, but I do hope that we end with a council that will work with our new mayor. At-large did not have that great of a shakeup because there was not the competition, but Morse’s win is a mandate… I hope that these people see his win as affecting their political liability if they are expecting to work against Morse. …and down the road we need to challenge McGee, Vacon and run a larger field of at-large in two years to make this possible. I said that I wished that I could vote in Wards 1, 3 and 7. They went my way except for Ward 3. Purcell’s loss was the biggest disappointment here. Of course, with the at large not being contested there is no way it could have gone my way and seen Vega, Devine, Murphy, Leahy and Bresnahan as losers (in the election, that is… they are still losers)… so I am at least happy to see the exit of Devine. Purcell would have been the sole progressive voice on the committee. Sure, there are some that lean left, but he was my most politically aligned candidate. I do hope he keeps it up and is part of the 2013′s at-large contest to eliminate more of the chaff.
Of course, I do hope that the progress we see is not “growth” and not gentrification but rather efficiency. We are a severely divided city. Downtown is not the desert that many view it as… it is an asset. We do not need “revitalization”. We have a vibrant culture that needs to be engaged, lifted up and made our calling card. It is all about perspective. The Latino community and the burgeoning artist district are our diamonds in the rough. Yeah, with the casino versus data center I will always choose the later, but I would never bet the house on some high tech computing that will possibly have military and surveillance applications. I know that this is a campaign issue, but I would be happy with neither happening. This election was about the people… Holyoke has what it needs to make it happen right now without the “jobs” mantra or this versus that bad idea.
The campaigning for 2013 has already started for many, that is the sad state of affairs in our political environment but we can only hope that the Old Guard has seen the writing on the wall and that this is the beginning of a sea change for this great city.
I dedicate this song, to you, Holyoke:
(yes, I want to make love to Holyoke… every one of you)
2011/11/07 in Activism, Alex Morse, Bresnahan, Casino, Council, Development, Economics, Elections, H.U.S.H., Holyoke, Jobs, Law, Lies, Lisi, Mailbag, Mall, Mayor, McGee, Murphy, Patti Devine, Pluta, Politics, Vega
(and why your vote on Tuesday, November 8th matters)
A casino has been proposed for Wyckoff Country Club. Word is that a proposal for a casino in a different Holyoke neighborhood may be forthcoming soon. And outside casino developers are spending significant amounts of money to elect pro-casino candidates to influential positions.
With the Holyoke election just a few days way, you might want to consider how your vote could seriously affect your home, your family and your neighborhood.
Here are some troubling statistics on what casinos bring to their host communities:
within 5 years of the opening of a new casino:
• robberies are up 136%
• auto theft is up 78%
• larceny is up 38%
• aggravated assaults are up 91%
• burglary is up 50%
• rape is up 21%
• Incidents of prostitution, drunk driving and embezzlement also skyrocket
• all this happens despite significantly increased police staffing and increased police budgets http://uss-mass.org/crime.html
Casinos cause nearby property values to plummet by as much as 20%
Casino developers and proponents are touting “potential” property tax reductions, but you might want to do the math first. If your $200,000 home loses just 10% of its value after a casino comes to town – and assuming the City lowered your yearly taxes by $500 (which is way more than projected) – it would take 40 years for you just to break even.
If you own a business – or work for someone who does – you should be concerned:
Casinos siphon money away from locally owned businesses and into the pockets of distant owners. They bleed local businesses dry. Businesses close or move out of town, along with their owners. Neighbors lose their jobs. In Atlantic City, the number of independent restaurants dropped from 48 the year casinos opened to 16 in 1997. Within just four years of the casinos’ arrival, one-third of the city’s retail businesses had closed.
“There has been no economic development spin-off from the casino. Businesses do not come here. Tourists come mainly to gamble. Gamblers have one thing in mind: get to the casino, win or lose their money, get in their cars, and go home.”
– Mayor Wesley Johnson of Ledyard, Conn (home of Foxwoods casino in Connecticut)
Telling Statement from CEO of the American Gaming Association:
“If someone were to come along and tell me that they were going to put a casino in McLean Virginia, where I live, I would probably work very, very hard against it. What’s the old saying . . . ‘not in my backyard’. Now I may be in favor of ‘gaming’, but I just don’t want it in (my) area.” — Frank Fahrenkopf CEO of the American Gaming Association
WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT IF A CASINO COMES TO HOLYOKE:
Report after report shows that casinos negatively affect their host communities. They create traffic gridlock. They increase crime by an alarming percentage. They decrease property values. They siphon money away from local businesses, causing them to close or eliminate jobs. They discourage other businesses from moving into town. They increase the transient population. The middle and upper classes move out. Low-wage casino workers move in, often living in dorm-like arrangements. They ruin neighborhoods and communities and scare potential new residents away.
This effect has been repeated in community after community that has hosted casinos, and it is well documented. You don’t have to go to a fortune teller to know that all these problems are in store for Holyoke if a casino is built here.
Even the CEO of the American Gaming Organization – the very organization charged with promoting casino development – has said he would fight against a casino that wanted to locate in his home town.
While every one of us is for creating jobs, the “jobs, jobs, jobs” argument made by developers and proponents is irrelevant to Holyoke and is deliberately misleading. Virtually every applicant who would be qualified to work in Holyoke will be just as qualified to work in Palmer. So, if it’s not really about jobs, what is it all about? The answer is money – how much and to whom. But no amount of money can make up for the permanent damage casinos cause to their host communities. And every one of those problems happens despite significant amounts of money being paid by casinos to host communities. Money doesn’t prevent the decline!
The City of Holyoke is poised to take its first giant steps forward in decades. With the green, high-tech Computing Center (and all the forward-thinking businesses and residents it is already attracting to Holyoke); with the budding artist community and the rejuvenation they bring to older communities; with the restoration of the Victory Theater; Canal Walk and Heritage State Park. A casino will stop much of that progress dead in its tracks and will only serve to send many of those investors, entrepreneurs and new residents fleeing in another direction.
ANTI-CASINO VOTER’S GUIDE:
On Tuesday, November 8th, casting your vote for the following candidates is the best way to stop a Holyoke casino:
MAYOR: Alex Morse
(Reflects those in contested races who replied indicating opposition. Note: casting less than the 8 allowed votes in the At-Large race improves your candidates’ chances of winning.)
Gordon Alexander (Ward 7)
LEANING OPPOSED (SERIOUS RESERVATIONS OR TALKING SHIT?):