Sunday, January 10, 2016

Toward a Vision for the City's Future

 

With Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken, Inauguration Day, January 1, 2016, City Hall


            The American Heritage Dictionary defines inauguration as “to induct into office by a formal ceremony” or “to cause to begin, to dedicate, to consecrate.”  Our Gloucester High School Latin teachers, Josephine P. Ray and Vincent Elmer, would have taken pains to point out the Latin root “augurare,” “to presage, to foretell, to look ahead.”  This gave us the Italian “augurio,” “to wish, to be of good omen, to give one’s best wishes,” as in auguri.   So, in effect, we are here today not only to celebrate the induction of Sefatia Romeo Theken into her first full term as mayor of Gloucester, we are also gathered to look ahead, to consecrate ourselves and the city we love to a future of good omen, to wish our new mayor and her administration, our new city council and school committee—the community itself— tanti auguri for the New Year ahead and for our hoped for future.

            Before I speak of that bright future we richly deserve, I’d like to look back for a moment, to pay tribute to those who have made it possible, particularly our parents and grandparents; and for Sefatia, her mother and father, Rosalia and Enzo Giambanco.  Enzo Giambanco, was president of the Board of Directors at Action, Inc., Gloucester’s antipoverty agency, when I first went to work there in 1972.  I found in Enzo not only a mentor but a person of deep compassion for the low-income families we were serving, including out-of-work fishermen, children who needed a pre-school education their parents could not afford, people who did not have health insurance, and elders who were torn between paying rent and utility bills and eating.  As an immigrant he understood what it felt like to be on the outside, whether you spoke a different language or your customs differed from those of the community.   Along with Executive Director Bill Rochford, Enzo helped to steer the agency through some of its most challenging times, while never abandoning those who depended on our services, whether it was help with fuel bills, home care, or after-school care for the children of working mothers.

I will never forget the time when, after the construction of the O’Maley middle school, the city was deciding what to do with the suddenly empty Central Grammar School with its beautiful WPA murals, where many of our parents had gone to high school and my generation had spent our 7th and 8th grade years.   Action proposed a reuse of the stately building for apartments for the elderly; but there were questions about the need for such housing and the ability of an agency like Action, which had never done bricks and mortar, to undertake such a project.  A public hearing was to be held at City Hall to determine which direction the city would move, and it was necessary to show support for the agency’s plan to create quality housing for our senior citizens.   Enzo told Bill not to worry.  And that night he arrived with 500 elders and their families, filling city hall auditorium and convincing the council of public support for the project.   The present Central Grammar Apartments not only met a crucial need in the city, it became a pioneer project in the regional movement to adapt former schools into much needed housing.

            Sefatia learned these innovative and caring ways from the cradle.  She has spent her entire life helping the people of Gloucester as one of the city’s hardest working councilors and as a health care advocate and human services liaison at Addison Gilbert Hospital.  During her tenure as interim mayor, Sefatia again demonstrated her skills at reaching out to citizens across the entire social and economic spectrum of the city, listening compassionately to their concerns, hearing the ideas they shared, and making decisions in a thoughtful and intelligent manner, while relating to all of us in an open, caring and humane way.  When you are hugged by Sefatia you know she means it.

            Sefatia has roots that run deeply into the community and its history.  She’s gone to school and raised a family here.  She can walk down the street and recognize everyone she meets.   She can tell you who lived on which street, who worked where, and what happened to them if they got laid off.  This kind of knowledge that comes from growing up in one place and feeling it in your blood is indispensable when it comes to understanding the needs of neighborhoods and their residents, no matter which part of the city they are located in.  A public official who is not deeply in touch with the culture of the community he or she hopes to serve is already at a disadvantage.

We need a mayor who encourages our community to engage in the kind of constructive dialogue that is the cornerstone of our democracy, a mayor who will lead us toward a more vital sense of community in education, civic responsibilities, historical awareness, fiscal prudence, economic and social self-sufficiency, and love of place.  We particularly need a mayor who understands and cares deeply about our fishing industry and the importance of our working waterfront and the innovative Blue Economy.  I believe that Sefatia will be this kind of mayor.   Just as we need to move ahead, we equally need to maintain our roots as a city of families and neighborhoods, where everyone has a place at the table and everyone’s  voice is listened to and respected.  There is a yearning all over America for the sense of place, of shared history, of belonging, that we in Gloucester are fortunate to enjoy in abundance.

            Gloucester has always been a city of ethnic and economic diversity—and this diversity has been one of our greatest strengths.  We live in dangerous times and we need the peace and comfort that a community like ours affords.  It is through community that we learn together and grow together, as we help our children and grandchildren grow and prosper. 

            Concretely we must address the following issues as we look to the city’s future:

            --We need a revised and updated Master Plan so we can best manage growth and know where to build and what to preserve.

            --We must recommit ourselves to our embattled fishing industry and to the working waterfront itself, continuing our long history of adaption to change with the creation of a strong seafood innovation cluster economy and the good local jobs it will create.   We are also a great boating community and while we work to make our waterfront a more welcoming place for recreational boaters, we must not forget the importance of community boating facilities for our own residents.

            --We will need to look newly at tourism and its impact on the city’s life and infrastructure (traffic, the harbor, the beaches, the land), with a special conversation about the role of a smart,  human-scale visitor-based economy, the corner stone of which should be cultural and eco-tourism.

            --We need to continue our conversation around the development of a public arts policy with added discussion on the place of the arts in local life and the visitor-based sector.  Essential to the future of the city as a magnet for the arts is the development of live-work housing for local artists, who constitute a bridge between the life we all enjoy here and what we want to offer to those we welcome into our community.  

            --Essential also is an initiative to involve more citizens in public life, volunteering for boards and commissions.  We must especially nurture a new generation of engaged citizens: our democracy will depend on it.

            --As for schools, plant is important, but what happens in the classroom is paramount.  We must transcend the tyranny of standardized testing, reasserting the primary role of the imagination, critical thinking and creativity in art, music, drama, science and the humanities.

            --We must do everything to keep our city beautiful, not only for those who wish to visit but for those of us who live here year round.  The restoration of Stacy Boulevard, Gloucester’s crown jewel, is long overdue.   Dogtown is our refuge for hiking, cross country skiing, berry picking, and the exploration of nature.  Let us continue to support the work that volunteers are engaged upon in preserving this treasure and keeping Dogtown unspoiled for future generations.

            What we especially need, along with careful planning to account for inevitable change, is a land ethic, a way in which we view the land and its uses beyond mere profit-taking and commercial development.  We must build what we need, but we must do it in a way that does not destroy the unique character of neighborhoods or disrupt human and natural ecologies.

            We must plan regionally as well as locally, always with a sense of preserving the character and integrity of particular communities; for I believe that only those places which are sensitive to their uniqueness will survive.  Without an informed, coherent and humane vision of ourselves in relation to our environment we will not survive as a community, let alone as a planet or a species.

            So as we inaugurate our new mayor and congratulate the city councilors and school committee members we have elected to represent us, let us re-commit ourselves to working together, to building “not only for today alone but for tomorrow as well.” If we expect it of ourselves, those who come after us will thank us for our vision, our imagination, and especially for our commitment.

            Thank you e tanti auguri a` tutti for the New Year and for Gloucester’s future.

            (This speech was delivered at City Hall, on January 1, 2016, at the inauguration of Sefatia Romeo Theken as Mayor of Gloucester)

           

1 comment:

alan said...

as a former North Shore resident (from South Hamilton), and a student of Peg Ferrini's at Hamilton High School who also learned much from early exposure to Vincent's work, I have fond memories of Gloucester. And as a lifelong believer in the centrality of the arts -- all the arts -- to the well being of any municipality, I'm delighted to see your comments, and wish you all well in what promises to be a terrific and visionary administration under Mayor Theken. Auguri indeed!