What I’m Looking for in Gloucester’s Next Mayor
by Peter Anastas
” First, I want a mayor who understands that communities exist primarily for those who live in them, not for transient visitors, or developers who wish to exploit their resources: a mayor who believes that Gloucester and its future belong to those of us who live and work here. “
Gloucester is a multi-million dollar public corporation and should be managed as such. For that reason, I would prefer a return to the city manager-council form of government. Having a city manager would also depoliticize the role of mayor and eliminate the necessity of hiring an additional administrator, thus saving taxpayers a second layer of salary and benefits.
Since there doesn’t seem to be a current initiative toward changing our form of municipal administration, and such a process, if initiated, would take several years, beginning with the formation of a charter commission, rewriting the city’s charter and holding special elections, we will clearly be facing a regular municipal election next November. In fact, we already have candidates who are actively running for mayor and city council.
What, then, will I be looking for in Gloucester’s next mayor?
First, I want a mayor who understands that communities exist primarily for those who live in them, not for transient visitors or developers, who wish to exploit their resources: a mayor who believes that Gloucester and its future belong to those of us who live and work here. To put it bluntly, I want a mayor who will refuse to sell our city out from under us to the highest bidder. In order to achieve this goal, a mayor should not be influenced by or beholden to special interests but to the citizens themselves.
Gloucester is a community full of imaginative and creative people in all walks of life; people, for example, who have conceived and built businesses that manufacture locally-based products, like the organic fertilizer Neptune’s Harvest, which carry the city’s name and reputation abroad while creating good jobs with benefits for local workers. An ideal mayor would grasp the value of these indigenous enterprises and work to encourage the development of more of them, rather than seeking to attract out-of-town businesses or entrepreneurs, who have no connection to or understanding of the community. The mayor I’m looking for would equally support and advocate for the entire city’s locally owned and operated businesses.
Gloucester has one of the highest populations of visual artists. Inspired by the city’s natural beauty and legendary light, they have created works of art to enhance the lives of those of us who live here as well as art-lovers everywhere.
Our local writers have been a major asset to the community, sharing their knowledge and talent, while bringing honor to the city.
One can say the same for our musicians and all who participate in what is now considered “the creative economy.”
This is equally so for those institutions like the Cape Ann Museum, the Gloucester Lyceum and Sawyer Free Library, the Sargent House Museum, Maritime Gloucester, the Rocky Neck Cultural Center and the North Shore Arts Association—all local, all celebrating local history, local art and local culture.
It should be a major responsibility of our next mayor to recognize and support our creative community and these essential institutions, not as window dressing or tourist attractions, but as valuable components of the city’s living, breathing, cultural, educational and aesthetic fabric, without which the whole life of the community could not exist.
In addition, I want a mayor who will fight to keep Gloucester’s civic center the heart of the community’s governance and municipal life, retaining City Hall as our centrally located administrative facility and preferred public meeting place for all city bodies. To lose this vital center of the community, or to convert City Hall to non-civic uses, would run counter to the vision of those who created Gloucester and made the city what it is today.
What I am looking for is a mayor who understands that the preservation and enhancement of what we already enjoy here, in terms of our indigenous life and rare natural beauty—what, in effect helps to attract visitors—is more valuable to our culture and economy than cheapening ourselves to attract ephemeral tourism.
We don’t need a Harbor Walk in Gloucester with kiosks that impart trivialized versions of maritime history. Instead, we need to maintain our working harbor that for centuries has given jobs to residents and brought visitors to experience the real thing and artists to depict it.
With respect to tourism, too many previous city officials have chased the chimera of the “visitor-based economy,” leaving us with a hotel we agreed we needed but not where we wanted it; eviscerating, in the process, an iconic neighborhood and leaving fault lines in the community that could take years to heal. Tourism has always been a part of the city’s economy, but it should not dominate our future or be allowed to diminish the quality of our daily lives, as it has in so many communities that have ended up as “tourist traps” rather than authentic places to live and work.
Considering the damage left in the wake of the Beauport Hotel controversy, I want a mayor who does not seek to impose his or her will upon the community, but rather one who respects the will of the people, instead of attempting to manufacture consensus or claim it exists when it does not. A mayor for all the people will not dismiss a neighborhood’s fight to preserve its own culture as NIMBY, nor consider citizens who exercise their right to speak in opposition to projects they feel are inappropriate as “obstructionists.” Rather, this mayor would listen to their objections and engage them in the kind of productive dialogue that is the cornerstone of our Democracy.
I want a mayor whose first initiative will be to bring the entire community together in a planning process that will help to create a new Master Plan for the city’s orderly growth and development, a plan that will address the crucial questions of where we wish to go as a city and how we intend to get there—a plan that will protect our neighborhoods and historic properties—our “sacred places”—and that will designate where it will be appropriate to locate new developments and where such projects will not be allowed. At the very core of such a plan should be a vision of Gloucester’s future that incorporates the very best of our past.
Finally, I seek a mayor who will advocate for “Gloucester for Gloucester people,” 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. I want a mayor who will wake up each morning, as so many of us still do, taking delight in how wondrously green our trees are after such a harsh winter, how extraordinarily beautiful our harbor continues to be, how important our fishermen are to us, even as they struggle to keep their industry and our maritime culture alive, how incredible our people are in all they represent and do, and how blessed we are to live in one of the most estimable places in the world. For without this connection to place—what Charles Olson called “the geography of our being”—there is no point in wanting to be mayor or carrying out the work necessary to sustain a vital community.
Peter Anastas, editorial director of Enduring Gloucester, is a Gloucester native and writer. His most recent book, A Walker in the City: Elegy for Gloucester, is a selection from columns that were published in the Gloucester Daily Times.