Nice Place to Visit, But…


Photo courtesy of Document Photo/Morin

Well, my first week or so back in the city was an event filled one – not the least of which was the close race between Sefatia Romeo-Theken and Paul McGeary, as they vied to prevail as the two final mayoral candidates in November.

On September, 29, the voters went to the polls and decided it would, indeed, be a Romeo-Theken/McGeary mayoral contest on the first Tuesday in November.

The city and its people are fortunate in that both candidates have a lot of experience, and they both have demonstrated a deep commitment to, and love for this wonderful but rapidly changing city by the sea.

They may differ on some of  the details on how to best help the city and its people navigate the changes that are coming, but nobody, whether you support Romeo-Theken or McGeary, should doubt the commitment both these capable candidates have to the city and its future.

That said, having just returned from working the summer tourist season in Provincetown, something that would not have been economically feasible had it not been that I rented at a reasonable rate from an old friend; I worry that, as the fishing industry continues to be regulated to near extinction, there are too many people in Gloucester who believe that waterfront related tourism in the form of high end marinas,  ever more chic restaurants and bars, and luxurious accommodations of one form or another, will somehow offset the loss of the relatively good paying jobs the fishing industry and related businesses so long generated here in Fish City.

If the economic focus in relation to how best to use the waterfront in the wake of fishing’s decline is too heavily dependent on that high end tourism, Gloucester is setting the stage for another economic crisis a few years down the road from now. That crisis will revolve around the harsh reality that the people employed in those almost strictly seasonal, tourism and service industries will not be able to afford to live here any longer.


gifts- ernie morin, jeff weaver

Ernest Morin photo of Jeff Weaver mural at Harbor Loop, courtesy Document Photo/Morin

That is because as the waterfront is gentrified, the term is a bit of a cliché but I use it for lack of a better one, one can be sure the gentrification will spread out from the waterfront and up into what are still working class neighborhoods like “Portagee Hill”, the area in and around Middle Street, and all around and above Washington Street heading out toward Grant Circle.

As the gentrification spreads, already rising rents in the city will spike still higher.  It is all but guaranteed, yet the wages most of the jobs in tourism, even high end tourism, pay will not be enough to compensate for the ever increasing costs of housing .

Now, I know Provincetown and Gloucester are very different communities. But they share numerous demographic traits that, when looked at holistically and historically, make it clear that Gloucester can learn some lessons from Provincetown and, hopefully, not make the same mistakes Provincetown did as high end tourism replaced the once vibrant fishing economy there. As the fishing industry declined in Provincetown, old local Portuguese fishing families sold their multifamily  homes and moved away. Investors from Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco bought up those homes and transformed those once reasonably priced apartments into luxurious condominiums that are rented out by the week for two, three, even four thousand dollars during the high tourist season, only to be left vacant through the winter months – despite the fact Provincetown is experiencing a genuine housing crisis.

So acute is the housing shortage in Provincetown, people my age who have lived and worked there for years in the arts, in galleries, shops, and restaurants are leaving in droves. Even those who were fortunate enough to have bought something before prices went into the stratosphere about fifteen years ago are leaving. Why? Because their property taxes and assorted other fees have been raised to levels they can no longer afford.

The housing crisis is so severe that, increasingly, the employees in the shops, restaurants and galleries are Jamaican or Eastern European migrant workers who live four and five people to a room in bunk house style conditions for which each person pays two hundred dollars a week for the bunk – and little else.

Now, some will say such a development could never happen here in Gloucester, I beg to differ. In fact, a year ago this past summer I overheard two members of the management team at the establishment I worked at for two seasons talking about the need for the owners to start thinking about building dormitory style housing on the property because they understood that, as the economy of Gloucester changes and the city gentrifies, it is going to become ever harder for workers in the tourism and service industries to find housing here.

Gloucester, as Newburyport did twenty five years ago, is at great risk, especially in the wake of fishing’s decline, of becoming little more than a chic, coastal, bedroom community of Boston where most residents work off island for good wages; of seeing multi-family homes bought up and converted into high end condominiums, perhaps even to be rented out only in  the peak summer months at exorbitant rates as has happened in Provincetown, while the jobs created on island in the tourism and service sector industries  don’t pay enough to allow a single person, let alone someone trying to raise a family, to live here anymore.

People who don’t think that could really happen are kidding themselves.

That is why, as this municipal election cycle plays out, it is important for voters to find out where all the candidates stand on these all- important issues pertaining to the city, its people, and the future that awaits both.

Because the future is coming to the city, the only question to be answered is “What kind of future will it be?”

Michael Cook


mike_cookMike Cook  is a long time liberal and gay rights activist who saw the uniqueness of Gloucester from the first moment he drove over the bridge during his move from Cambridge to Cape Ann in 1991 to run NUVA’s AIDS education and services programs.

The Value of Affordable Housing

hopper house andersom

Anderson House, 1923 Edward Hopper

What is the value to a community of affordable housing?

 Gloucester citizens are discussing the issue now, in light of a new proposal for rental housing on Main Street. The third of three public meetings on the proposal will be held Thursday, August 27 at the Sawyer Free Library at 6 pm.

(Read the page one story in the August 1, 2015 Gloucester Daily Times here.)

Enduring Gloucester columnist Mike Cook weighs in:

Future ads for Gloucester real estate?

“For Sale; two luxury condominiums in historic Fort Square. Located in a fully restored landmark home, these two units boast all the charm and luxury of 21st century living in an authentic, early 20th century, Fort Square residence. Each unit has two bedrooms, and two baths. The living rooms in each unit have panoramic views of not just Gloucester Harbor but the entire  coastline of the North Shore south to Boston. The large eat in kitchens have all stainless steel appliances, granite counter tops, and teak, that’s right, teak cabinetry to enhance the sensation of living so close to the sea. If you can’t prepare gourmet meals on your own teak sail boat, you can pretend you are at sea while preparing sumptuous meals for friends and family in a neighborhood being increasingly referred to as ‘Louisburg Square by the Sea’. Don’t miss out on this ground floor opportunity to own a home in what promises to be one of Gloucester’s most prestigious and sought after ‘new’ neighborhoods. Asking price for the first floor unit is $675,000, for the second floor unit with views that, truly, defy description, the asking price is just $740,000.”
“Investors Take Note; This vintage, late 19th century, three family home in the up and coming “Portagee Hill’ neighborhood of historic Gloucester is an opportunity not to be missed. Located on Friend Street, the second and third floor units have sweeping views of Gloucester Harbor, the new 360 slip marina, and the world famous artist colony Rocky Neck in the distance. Each unit features two bedrooms, one and a half baths, hardwood floors, and mahogany wood work that harkens back to an earlier, more genteel era. In need of a little TLC, this gem offers buyers numerous options and opportunities. Living in one unit and letting the other two pay your mortgage is one such option. Another, given the property’s proximity to Gloucester’s increasingly upscale  downtown, bustling waterfront restaurant and entertainment district, and the exclusive Beauport Hotel is to rent each unit weekly during the summer months. One owner  of another three family home in the neighborhood that has been completely restored is renting two of the three units in that home for $1500 a week in the peak summer months of July and August.”

Please call realtor Michael Cook for an opportunity to view these two distinctive properties, but don’t procrastinate. Gloucester is finally poised to become as desirable and exclusive a seaside community to live in as Newburyport, Portsmouth, Provincetown, and Nantucket have long been. These two properties, along with several other of my listings, offer people with vision the chance to seize a moment that, at least in real estate terms, comes along just once in a lifetime


Okay, all of the above is a tongue in cheek work of fiction and figment of my imagination but I share it because, with the once- bustling fishing industry likely changed forever, the pressure from real estate and tourism industry interests to gentrify Gloucester in an effort to replace the jobs and economic base lost to the decline of  fishing with high end, upscale tourism is only going to increase.

Now, Gloucester is a geographically and architecturally blessed city, so some gentrification is unavoidable, even desirable. Likewise,  Gloucester’s many  natural resources, from its  beaches and still deep woods, to its quarries and scenic inlets, lend themselves, rightfully so, to  the tourism industry being an important element of the city’s economic foundation.

Done responsibly and reasonably, along with  genuine efforts to maintain the true “working waterfront” tradition for which Gloucester is so famous, by encouraging marine research and environmental projects and firms to come to Gloucester, the city may still have an opportunity to succeed in embracing both change and its history in ways communities like Provincetown, Portsmouth, Nantucket, and Newburyport have not.

In the interest of space, I am going to simply focus on Provincetown – a community that may, on the surface, seem very different from Gloucester but, when looked at more closely, one discovers an amazing number of similarities.

First, both communities are blessed with an almost unrivaled degree of physical and natural beauty.

Gloucester’s sandy beaches and rocky shorelines, and Provincetown’s vast expanses of sand dunes and miles long beaches make both locales, in my opinion, two of the most beautiful places on the planet. The light on Cape Ann and here at “Land’s End”, for example, is like no other place on earth. It’s little wonder artists of the caliber of Edward Hopper so loved both places.

Second, both communities share a heritage of hardworking fishing families, many of Portuguese descent, who carved out lives and livings in two geographic locations many less hardy folk found too hostile to call home.

In the case of Provincetown, thanks in large part to those hard working fishing families and the town’s character and charm, “Land’s End”, through the years,  attracted and supported a wide array of people – artists, writers, craftsmen, small business owners, the people who mixed the drinks, served the food, and manned the shops and galleries, gay, and straight. Many settled in to living year round by the edge of the sea. They were able to do so, when all is said and done, because of the underlying  financial and communal stability the fishing industry provided.

But over the last twenty years, as the fishing industry has faced one challenge after another, things began to change – and change dramatically.

Many of those old Portuguese fishing families have left. Captains sold their boats and their homes and moved “off Cape”. People those family fishing enterprises,  and the other businesses related to them, employed who stayed at “Land’s End” found temporary haven in the tourism industry.

But as more and more multi-family homes in town were sold and their once affordable, year round apartments converted into high end, seasonal, condominium, rental properties, the working people who remained have found it harder and harder to find anything that remotely resembles permanent, reasonably priced housing.

As a result, many of those long time year round residents and workers have left. Many did so with heavy hearts and great sadness, but the need for stable housing overrode their love of this once- special place.

The decline of the fishing industry fueled the growth of the tourism industry here as its replacement, but the tourism industry has not produced the kinds of jobs that pay workers enough to live in a community that has become little more than  a New England version of Fire Island in New York.

Today in Provincetown, many of those American employees in the shops, galleries, restaurants, and guest houses have been replaced with Jamaican workers and  eastern European college students who often pay as much as $200 a week, not for a room but for a bunk in a room they share with three other people.

Just a couple of weeks ago, a tragedy was narrowly averted in one of those workers’ boarding houses by the quick actions of the rescue squad when the furnace in this particular flop house malfunctioned, filling the house with noxious smoke. Four young Bulgarian co-eds living in a room on the third floor were so frightened that they could only be coaxed from their room by a fireman who risked his own life to lead the young women to safety.

I work with a young Russian student who told me he and five of his Russian friends pay $175 a week each to sleep on  air mattresses in the basement of a house owned by a member of Provincetown’s police department. They share one bathroom and have no kitchen privileges.

A few months ago, Provincetown hired a new town manager, only to have that individual resign shortly after being hired. Why? He could find no place to call home. His salary was not enough to be able to buy a home here, and the lack of year round rental units due to the ability of owners to get $2000 a week for a four hundred square foot condo in the months of July, August, and September, left him no choice but to conclude Provincetown was not a place he could afford to call home.

Now, I am not suggesting that what has happened to Provincetown will be Gloucester’s fate, but if people don’t pay close attention to the changes coming to Gloucester in the wake of the fishing industry’s decline, there is a very real danger that something not unlike what happened here in Provincetown could unfold in Fishtown. I say that because there are more than a few who believe tourism will replace the fishing industry as the economic mainstay of the city, and the fact that living in seaside communities has become, for lack of a better word, a real status symbol in early 21st century New England.

As if to offer a bit of foreshadowing as to what Gloucester’s future might look like, last year I overheard the executive chef and general manager of the restaurant I worked at in Gloucester for two seasons discussing the staffing problems they will likely face in the near future as the cost of housing on the island goes ever higher. One possible solution they were contemplating was to encourage the owners of the property the restaurant is located on to convert at least one of the unused buildings on the property into seasonal employee dormitory housing.

What has happened to the once- vibrant community of Provincetown is truly tragic.  I offer this essay to friends in Gloucester in the hope it will motivate them to do all all they can to prevent what has happened here to happen to Gloucester.

The clock is ticking and once the changes come, they will be all but impossible to undo.

Sadly, the fictional real estate listings above are not likely to be fictional for very much longer. The process of converting Fort Square into “Louisburg Square by the Sea”, and “Portagee” Hill into “Beacon Hill by the Bay”, is probably further along than many people realize.




Mike Cook  is a long time liberal and gay rights activist who saw the uniqueness of Gloucester from the first moment he drove over the bridge during his move from Cambridge to Cape Ann in 1991 to run NUVA’s AIDS education and services programs.


Classism in the Gay Community


Office in a Small City, 1953 Edward Hopper (1882–1967)

Recently I wrote an essay for Enduring Gloucester in which I expressed concerns about what I see as the creeping classism within my own community. (See essay here.) 

I actually described  in that essay a conversation I had about it with John Barnes, my late roommate, who died twenty three years ago this month after a courageous battle against AIDS.

John left Gloucester as a young gay man because, coming from his socioeconomic background, being gay was neither easy nor accepted in Fishtown – despite there being a sizable but largely clandestine gay community.

He, by his own admission, led a pretty wild life as a young gay man blessed with a striking resemblance  to Patrick Swayze. He returned to Gloucester for the last years of his life, however, as a brave adult man determined to educate young people from hardscrabble, often abusive backgrounds like his, about the dangers AIDS posed to them if they let the harder side of life determine their most intimate personal decisions.

In the conversation I wrote about, John shared with me his belief that if he had not had AIDS and had he not been a client of a local AIDS services organization (ASO) that was supported by some of Cape Ann’s wealthiest gay men, he would never have been invited to any parties at the home of two very wealthy Annisquam men for purely social reasons – but because he had AIDS and was a client of the local ASO, his attendance at a fundraiser those two men hosted back in 1992 was both financially and politically important.

I initially questioned John’s assertion but, in the nearly quarter century since Johnny’s death, I have, sadly, had to conclude he was on to something and that he was, in  many ways, a man ahead of his time in terms of understanding where the gay community was headed.

Six years after Johnny’s death, my own concerns about the creeping classism within the gay community had reached such a level that I addressed them in a speech I gave at Joe Tecci’s restaurant in the North End, when I accepted the Jeffery Barmeyer Memorial Award for AIDS Activism from the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus.

Overall, my comments were not well received, but a few people did come up to me after the speech to thank me for raising an uncomfortable issue and to say they shared my concerns.

Shortly after the awards dinner at Joe Tecci’s, I received death threats at my house in Lanesville that were deemed so credible,  both then Police Chief Jim Marr and the executive director at HES advised me to go visit family in NH for a few days until the clouds had passed and the threat fully assessed. It was then realized I had reached a point where I was questioning what the fights against AIDS and for “gay” civil rights were really all about and, quite frankly, the answers coming to me were the primary motivators in my “chucking it all”, as the saying goes, and heading to points south where I worked really hard to shed the largely political label of “gay man” and make some peace with the fact that what I really am is a homosexual.

That sojourn resulted in me meeting and falling in love with a Costa Rican man who, along with his extended family, forever changed the way in which I view myself as a homosexual,  the so called “gay rights” movement, especially in the United States, and the role money, often big money, plays as a guarantor of social and political acceptance in America.

In many ways, nothing exemplifies the reality of just what a role money plays in attaining a modicum of social, legal, and political acceptance  more than the push for “marriage equality” that was largely driven by affluent, well connected, overwhelmingly white, gay and lesbian professionals and political insiders hailing from the Big Apple, Washington, and Los Angeles.

Now, lest anyone misunderstands the purpose of this essay, I think it is great the Supreme Court has ruled that those gay couples who wish to marry have a constitutionally guaranteed right to do so in all fifty states.

But I also worry this kind of upscale, bourgeois bohemian mainstreaming of the so called “gay community” will result in homosexual Americans losing sight of the fact that our long struggle was, from its outset,  one that aligned us with the “others” of society – the poor, the sick, the disenfranchised, and the disliked.

There is a strange irony, for example, in hearing so many gay Americans hail their “equality” in the wake of the Supreme Court decision, when so many other “inequality indicators” in America, like the assault on voting rights, the lack of equal pay for women doing the same work as men, efforts to deny women the ability to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed right to reproductive choice,  increasing housing and school segregation, police violence against minorities, and long stagnant wages and the rapidly- disappearing notion of some security in retirement, are all  ascendant.

Perhaps the greatest irony of all, at least for homosexual Americans, is that the legalization of gay marriage is much less a guarantor of the rights of the vast majority of American homosexuals than the passage of  federal laws that would, finally, end discrimination across the country in relation to issues like housing and employment.

Sadly, gay couples may now be able to marry in all fifty states, but there remain far too many states where they can be fired from their jobs, lose custody of their children, and be denied housing simply because they are homosexual – their being married means diddly.

In addition, many of the well- to -do gays who so pushed the marriage agenda, I have seen this first- hand here in Provincetown at social gatherings, are loathe to talk about harsh realities like the fact new HIV infections among young gay men, especially young gay men of color, are rising at an alarming rate.

At one such gathering, I pointed out that gay rights activists in New York State had raised millions on behalf of the “marriage equality” cause in the years leading up to 2011, when same sex marriage became legal in the Empire State, but had been all but silent in response to a state budget that slashed millions for programs serving homeless youth – despite the fact demographic data revealed  significant numbers of homeless youth are gay or transgendered kids who have been rejected by their families.

Needless to say, my comments went over like the proverbial lead balloon.

Perhaps nothing exemplifies the troubling classism within the gay community more than the visit of Hillary Clinton to Provincetown on July 2.

Mrs. Clinton came to town in pursuit of gay dollars and, man, was she well rewarded.

Two fundraisers, one a $1,000 a head event, the other a $2700 a head soiree, were said to be going to bring in more than a million dollars for a candidate who just last year said the issue of marriage equality was one best left to the individual states to decide. Go figure.

When I learned of Hillary’s impending visit, I wrote a letter to the local paper to ask if, after the elegant soirees, Hillary might want to spend some time walking around town to chat with many of the working class, liberal Democrats, gay and straight, who labor in Provincetown’s tourism and service industries and, thanks to the out of control gentrification I worry looms on Gloucester’s horizon, live in constant fear of losing their apartments, if they are lucky enough to have an apartment as opposed to just a room somewhere, to high end condo conversion, and scrape by in the winter on their summer savings, unemployment, and visiting the town’s soup kitchen for lunch on a regular basis to stretch their budgets.

Needless to say, like my question about events in New York in 2011 at the social gathering earlier this summer, and my comments at Joe Tecci’s eighteen years ago, my letter to the editor was, well, let’s just say, I am not likely to be invited to any dinner parties in certain circles anymore.

But that’s OK.

For me, it is just one more reason why I feel increasingly comfortable whenever I am asked if I am gay saying, “No, I am a recovering gay who remains proudly homosexual.”

-Mike Cook

Mike Cook

Mike Cook  is a long time liberal and gay rights activist who saw the uniqueness of Gloucester from the first moment he drove over the bridge during his move from Cambridge to Cape Ann in 1991 to run NUVA’s AIDS education and services programs.

The Fort Community

by Mike Cook

As July, 3 approaches, I can’t help but hearken back to 1992 when I was living at 51 Fort Square, where I had the honor of being a friend to and, on occasion, taking care of, John Barnes, as he waged his heroic fight against AIDS and then serenely accepted his time had come as he lay comfortably in his bed overlooking Gloucester Harbor and Ten Pound Island.

On July, 3, 1992, it was clear to me and Tanny Martin, our upstairs neighbor and “sister” in the fight against HIV/AIDS, who just happened to be the nurse who coordinated the Visiting Nurses Association of the North Shore’s AIDS home care program, that John was getting ready to leave us.

The previous few days had seen John lapsing more frequently in and out of consciousness. His breathing was becoming more labored, and he would speak openly of how tired he was and how ready he was to move on.

But that said, he never lost his wicked sense of humor. A few nights before his passing, his sister, who was full of anticipatory grief and anxiety, insisted on opening the strong box Johnny kept his personal papers in and had asked be opened only after his death.

John had been sleeping for hours, but almost as soon as his sister opened the box, he opened his eyes and with an impish grin on his face said, “Jesus, Cheryl, you couldn’t even wait til I’m dead!?”

An uncomfortable silence fell briefly over the room, only to be broken by John’s laughter as he told his sister how much he loved her – in spite of her disobedience and nosiness.

By late afternoon on July 3, Tanny encouraged me to take a break, catch some rays on Pavilion Beach, and hang out with coworkers from NUVA at the Horribles Parade.

About mid way through the parade, this intense feeling came over me and I knew I had to get home to 51 -fast. I set out at a full run, trying to make my way through the crowd on the Boulevard – which was no easy task. I was as focused on getting home as I have ever been on anything in my life.

I raced into the Fort and up the hill to 51. As my feet hit the first step, Tanny opened the door and simply said, “He’s gone”.

I went into  his room and sat on the edge of his bed. I remember  whispering, “You still look like Patrick Swayze, even dead you stud muffin you!”

Tanny was in the kitchen on the phone with Dr. Doug Fiero. As an RN, she was able, with Doug collaborating, to declare John dead.

She then called John’s mom who asked if Tanny would call Greeley’s. John’s mom just could not bring herself to do it.

When Tanny hung up the phone with Greeley’s, she came into the room and said, “They can’t get here for a couple of hours because of the traffic from the parade.”

I looked at Tanny and said, “Now what do we do?”

We got to talking about what John would want to wear at his wake – a ritual he wanted no part of but agreed to because he believed it would help his family, especially his mom,  accept the finality of his passing.

So, we went into John’s closet  and perused his wardrobe. We both agreed his black leather jeans, a faded denim shirt, a silver and turquoise bolo tie and a leather vest would be the clothes John would want to spend eternity in, perhaps with the multi-colored boa that was in the closet as an accent piece. But we also knew his mother would be mortified at just the thought of her “Glosta” boy being laid out in such an outfit. So we picked out something more “Glosta” for our friend to wear at, what he often called, his “going away party”.

We then settled into a comfortable silence, sitting on different sides of the bed thinking about how much John had done to educate people, especially young people, about the dangers HIV/AIDS could pose to them if they did not educate themselves and make responsible decisions regarding their behavior.

As the sun set, the hearse came around that 90 degree corner in the Fort just beyond the playground and the reality of what had transpired finally settled in on me.

The staff from Greeley’s came in and were a bit taken aback when Tanny and I not only stayed in the room as they placed John in a body bag, but actually assisted them in doing so.

As all this was going on, two other dear friends and neighbors came racing into the house after they had seen the hearse coming into the Fort. One was actually John’s cousin, and the other a neighbor in the Fort who, along with her two little children, had become part of what was and is a kind of extended family.

Her son, in fact, just weeks before John’s death, had walked with me in the AIDS Walk for John – well, he walked three quarters of the way until, as many eight year olds are wont to do, he began to whine about how tired he was – which resulted in me carrying him on my shoulders for what seemed like an endless trek along the banks of the Charles River. When I see that young man today, all six foot three and a rock solid 240 pounds of him, I can’t help but smile warmly at the image of him wearing a tee shirt he designed for the walk that declared John Barnes was his very best friend and would be “..until the end of time..”.

We all stood by the hearse as the men from Greeley’s put John inside, closed the doors, and started the engine.

As the hearse took John away from 51 for the last time, a loud boom shattered the silence and this enormous burst of purple fireworks seemed to light up the entire Fort. Ever one for both dramatic entrances and exits, to this day I think Johnny timed everything to his liking. Purple, after all, was his favorite color.

In the weeks and months after John’s death, several other leaders in the local fight against AIDS, including Sam Berman, who’d served as the director of what was then called the North Shore AIDS Health Project, passed away or saw their health begin to decline dramatically.

On the one hand, those were pretty somber days for people affected by AIDS in Gloucester, not unlike what is happening today for those people and their families who are bearing the brunt of the heroin/prescription opioid epidemic today. But they were also kind of heady days because they were days that saw people come together in the face of a seemingly insurmountable challenge in ways that made Gloucester stand out as a community – not just within Massachusetts, but across the nation.

The level of cooperation and collaboration that emerged in Gloucester, not just between agencies but between various citizen’s groups and volunteer organizations in response to AIDS, actually became models that the MA Department of Public Health held up for other communities to emulate as they struggled with both the epidemic and the turf issues that often arise, especially among service providers, when significant funding becomes available, and the competition for that funding often causes people to take their eyes off the really important stuff. For the most part, that never happened in Gloucester.

I see something like that happening again today in Gloucester in the face of the heroin/prescription opioid epidemic currently roiling the city. The overall positive response to Chief Campanello’s innovative and courageous shift in police policy regarding drug addiction and the people devastated by it, and the kinds of collaborative efforts between professional service providers, people in recovery, and ordinary Gloucester folk who’ve recognized the old approaches to the drug and addiction issue have failed, are strikingly similar to the kinds of collaboration and cooperation of two decades ago.

As a result Gloucester is, once again, being viewed by other communities, especially here on Cape Cod where the heroin/prescription opioid epidemic is as severe as it is in Gloucester, as a community to emulate in terms of how to address the drug/addiction issue. Chief Campanello’s actions and the response of the wider community have been the topics of both individual conversations and news stories here – most all of them positive.

Gloucester is, once again, showing itself to be a leader in the face of a controversial issue that many people either do not understand or would rather not talk about because they mistakenly view the issue solely through the lens of morality or criminality as opposed to the public health issue it really is.

But beyond Gloucester’s responses to health crises like AIDS and addiction, the kind of community spirit and activism that fueled those responses needs to be tapped into again in the face of the huge socioeconomic and demographic changes bearing down on Gloucester as the decline of the fishing industry leaves Gloucester vulnerable to the kinds of gentrification, real estate speculation, and false belief that a “visitor based” tourism economy is the key to a sustainable future for all the city’s residents.

Nothing, absolutely nothing could be further from the truth.

Anyone who doubts that assertion should just look, as I have said before, at what has happened to once socioeconomically diverse coastal communities like Provincetown, Nantucket, and Newburyport.


But what motivated me to write this was a desire, even from a distance, to remind people of what I told John 24 years ago when we lived together at 51. It was then I told him that, if people didn’t keep their guard up, someone with very deep pockets was going to descend on Gloucester and  transform a vibrant, ethnic working class, waterfront neighborhood like Fort Square into little more then an upscale, exclusive harbor front version of Louisburg Square by the Sea,

That someone has arrived and the process is well underway. The only question now is, “How far will people  let that process go and will it be allowed to remake Gloucester into little more than a clone of Newburyport, Provincetown, and Nantucket – where the economies are largely based, to paraphrase Peter Anastas, on the “chimera” of tourism, but the workers in that industry can no longer afford to live in the community where they work?”

People need to be thinking long and hard about that question because the clock is ticking as to whether or not keeping a semblance of the “enduring Gloucester” we love so much is even a possibility.

Still, I am betting Gloucester, given her big heart and even bigger soul, will yet find a way to navigate the social and economic changes bearing down upon her so that she remains a coastal city where all are welcome and able to live and raise their families – not just a select, well heeled few.





Mike Cook



Mike Cook  is a long time liberal and gay rights activist who saw the uniqueness of Gloucester from the first moment he drove over the bridge during his move from Cambridge to Cape Ann in 1991 to run NUVA’s AIDS education and services programs.


Tourism Can Not Make For an Economic Plan


by Mike Cook


If I were not working this summer in Provincetown, I, after reading Peter Anastas’s most recent contribution to “Enduring Gloucester”, (read it here,)  would be at the forefront of a draft “Peter for Mayor” movement.

Now, that news might not thrill or excite Peter. But the issues he spelled out in his recent essay, and the way in which he proposed they be addressed, was in, many ways, a manifesto of what is needed, not just for Gloucester but for many other seaport and fishing communities around the country who are seeing their economies devastated by burdensome federal regulations, and the very things that made them such authentic and unique places threatened as some in positions of power chase what Peter called the “chimera” of tourism and the illusion of a sustainable “visitor based” economy.

The morning Peter’s essay was posted, I received a news story in my inbox about a survey conducted by the National Low Income Housing Coalition documenting the hourly wage needed to rent a two bedroom apartment in the various fifty states.

In Massachusetts, in order to be able to just afford a two bedroom apartment, a person needs to be earning just under $25 an hour. That is more than three times both the federal and state minimum wage.

As Gloucester’s fishing industry, and other industries associated with it decline, there are a lot of eggs being put into the tourism and hospitality baskets  and the belief that high end, boutique hotels, marinas filled with luxury yachts, and a harbor rung by chic, over priced restaurants,  coupled with once working class neighborhoods like Fort Square and “Portagee” Hill being transformed into “Louisburg Square by the Sea” and “Beacon Hill by the Bay” respectively, lie at the heart of Gloucester’s salvation and renaissance.

Well, folks, let me tell you. It ain’t so.

I, by choice, have chosen to work in the hospitality/tourism industry these last seventeen summers because doing so earned me enough money to save several thousand dollars each summer so that I could spend the winters exploring Costa Rica and its Central American neighbors. I worked in coastal towns from Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod to Camden on the Penobscot Bay in Maine.

To be sure, in July and August, I often made much more than twenty five dollars an hour but such earnings were, truly, limited between, in Gloucester, Fiesta at the end of June and Labor Day. In the weeks and months before and after that time span, there were days when going home with tips that did not even meet the state’s minimum wage for the hours you worked were not uncommon.

In short, tourism in coastal New England is very much a seasonal industry and in no way provides an individual, never mind a family, the $25 an hour
wage  year round that individual or family needs just to rent a two bedroom apartment – never mind cover life’s  other expenses like transportation, food, and health care.

In addition, the industry is notorious for not only low wages but also minimal to no benefits, long hours, and very little concern for the well being of its employees.

In the off season, many industry workers, from Provincetown to the Penobscot, either migrate somewhere to follow yet another tourist season in another milieu, or they hunker down to a long winter struggling to pay their bills while living off their summer savings and a meager unemployment.

It is, except perhaps in July and August, as we say in the gay community, “not pretty”.

All this is not say tourism and hospitality and some gentrification  do not have key roles to play in a community like Gloucester’s economy. They do. But neither can they be the  mainstays of such a community’s economic base. Anyone who thinks they can is either living in a fool’s paradise, or one of the lucky few who stand to make a killing in a trend that from Provincetown to the Penobscot has greatly enriched a select few at the expense of the hard working many.

So, Peter thank your lucky stars I am marooned at Land’s End this summer, otherwise – well, Mayor Anastas, I think it has a nice ring to it.





Mike Cook

Mike Cook  is a long time liberal and gay rights activist who saw the uniqueness of Gloucester from the first moment he drove over the bridge during his move from Cambridge to Cape Ann in 1991 to run NUVA’s AIDS education and services programs.




“While I appreciate Mike Cook’s suggestion about a mayoral candidacy on my part, I’m a writer not a politician.  My job is to raise the issues and hopefully encourage a community-wide discussion about what we are looking for in a new mayor and what the city’s future will be.”

Peter Anastas

Thoughts on National Elections… and Gloucester

“…over the course of the last quarter century, I have seen first hand the strength, commitment, and activism of a whole lot of progressive and liberal Cape Anners and their ability to have a real positive impact on the community’s direction – even when some among the ‘powers that be’ dismissed them as quixotic, resistant to change, or just plain stupid.”
I not only see that strength, commitment, and activism as  being able to temper the impact of gentrification, and the negative socio-economic, cultural, and political changes it have on communities like Gloucester, I see it, if people are willing to organize, as having an impact far beyond Cape Ann as next year’s presidential campaign begins to heat up in earnest in the fall.”  
Mike Cook

Luxury hotel now under construction on Pavilion Beach in the Fort neighborhood of Gloucester

As what is a temporary, summer absence from Gloucester moves forward, I find myself telling friends and customers I wait on here in Provincetown about the uniqueness of “Fish City” and Cape Ann. I find myself extoling the virtues of  their physical beauty and the spirit of genuine community that still exists there and, sadly, has largely disappeared here – as the cost of housing has increasingly made Provincetown and other communities on the Outer Cape places where only the well to do can afford to live with any sense of security and dignity.At a recent dinner party at the home of an elderly lesbian friend on a very fixed income, who has to sell the house she has loved and owned in Provincetown for forty years because of  skyrocketing property values, and the sky rocketing property taxes that come with them, I shared my concerns about the fishing industry being in decline in Gloucester, and the gentrification pressures that have so fundamentally changed Provincetown bearing down on “Fish City”.
The consensus at the table was community activists in Gloucester, be they gay or straight, should look carefully at what has happened to places like Provincetown and Nantucket, I added Newburyport and Portsmouth, NH, to the list, so that the negative aspects of gentrification run amok do not damage and change Gloucester in the ways they have  in the coastal communities named above.That prompted a  spirited discussion about the housing situation here and the fact many tourism industry related businesses can find no summer help because the wages in those businesses do not even come close to covering the cost of housing, especially seasonal housing, here on the Outer Cape.Provincetown long timers like my elderly  friend take a kind of ironic pleasure in seeing the very people who so fundamentally changed the nature of this community over the last twenty years with their gentrification run amok now petulantly whining about the lack of “good help” available to them.But in that ironic pleasure taking lies a deep sadness because they know it means the very things and people that once made this little fishing village at “Land’s End” so special, whether it was the hard scrabble Portuguese and Irish fishermen, the artists and writers, like Edward Hopper and Eugene O’Neill, and the  bohemian gay community, who have all called this place home; or the art galleries, funky shops, and eclectic restaurants that made this town so unique, are rapidly being replaced by a high end retail and real estate market that feels more like some kind of master planned community and open air mall designed to cater primarily to well heeled tourists and the fortunate few who can afford to live here – a kind of “Chestnut Hill Comes to the Cape” phenomenon.People laughed when I quipped,  yet again, “Hey, let’s face it, Provincetown now celebrates ‘tolerance and diversity’ so long as it is rich, gay, and overwhelmingly white”. But it was laughter tinged with both great irony and lament.But back to Gloucester.I don’t think the fate that has befallen the communities named above is inevitable for “Fish Town”.I say that because, over the course of the last quarter century, I have seen first hand the strength, commitment, and activism of a whole lot of progressive and liberal Cape Anners and their ability to have a real positive impact on the community’s direction – even when some among the “powers that be” dismissed them as quixotic, resistant to change, or just plain stupid.

I not only see that strength, commitment, and activism as  being able to temper the impact of gentrification, and the negative socio-economic, cultural, and political changes it have on communities like Gloucester, I see it, if people are willing to organize, as having an impact far beyond Cape Ann as next year’s presidential campaign begins to heat up in earnest in the fall.

With Elizabeth Warren having taken herself out of contention for the Democratic nomination, the party establishment seems more confident than ever that Hillary Clinton’s nomination, dare I say coronation, is all but inevitable.

I, as a liberal Democrat, find the idea of Hillary being “inevitable” disturbing for several reasons.

The first is because the idea of “inevitability”, and the Democratic party’s establishment pushing it as the only option liberal Democrats, or liberals and progressives not formally registered as Democrats, have  is not only arrogant and offensive, it is patently “un-small d democratic”.

I know many liberal and progressive people on Cape Ann, some of them no doubt readers of “Enduring Gloucester”, who share that view.

I would like to share my reasons why I believe liberal and progressive Cape Anners have an obligation not to simply accept the Democratic party establishment’s meme, whether it is at the city, state, or national level, that Hillary Clinton’s nomination and ascension to the presidency is inevitable.

I am deeply skeptical that Hillary Clinton’s recent so called move to the “left” is genuine. I am deeply skeptical that Hillary’s new found concerns about wealth and income inequality and the “mass incarceration” of young men of color are sincere.
I, sadly, believe they are little more than cynically calculated political moves to try and placate the more liberal base of the Democratic party in the primaries so that she can secure the nomination. Once the nomination is hers, she will then move back to the center where will she will, overall, do the bidding of the big money interests who have been so important to her and  her husband’s political careers, not to mention their rapid accumulation of great wealth in the years following the Clintons’ tenure in the White House.
If Mrs. Clinton is genuinely concerned and appalled by the “mass incarceration” of young men of color, as she claimed in a speech at Columbia University in the wake of the Baltimore riots, why is he not criticizing the crime bill her husband and Newt Gingrich co-authored and signed into law that put the policy of “mass incarceration” into practice?
If Mrs. Clinton is so concerned about wealth and income inequality, why is she not questioning the wisdom of her husband and his treasury secretary, Robert Rubin’s decisions to loosen and do away with many of the financial regulations Franklin Delano Roosevelt put in place after the Great Depression? Perhaps it is because they did so at the request of the same big money and banking interests that played no small role in bringing the recent “Great Recession” down around our heads in exchange for hefty campaign contributions and lucrative speaking engagement fees – for both former President and Mrs. Clinton.
But for me, the biggest reason why Hillary Clinton should not be considered “inevitable” as the Democratic nominee remains her vote to allow GW Bush, and the neo-cons who dominated his administration to launch their invasion of Iraq in the wake of 9-11.  I say that because there was ample evidence available to anyone paying attention that the intelligence they were using to rationalize the rush to war was questionable at best, and patently dishonest at worst.
That evidence prompted Democratic Senators Ted Kennedy, Robert Byrd, and Russ Feingold, then Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee, and Congressmen Bernie Sanders and Barney Frank, to name just a few, to vote “no” on the question of invading Iraq.
But not Hillary.
She was one of those politicians who behaved more like a  profile in political expediency than a  profile in political courage.
As economist Paul Krugman wrote in a recent NY Times op-ed piece, “There was a definite climate of fear among politicians and pundits in 2002 and 2003, one in which criticizing the push for war looked very much like a career killer”.
Given Hillary’s long standing  presidential aspirations, it is now abundantly clear she decided to put those aspirations ahead of the lives and well being of hundreds of thousands of brave American men and women in uniform, and the hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians who were killed or displaced in a war that never should have been waged in the first place.
What else can explain her unwillingness to stand with Ted, Robert, Lincoln, Barney, and Bernie?
Yes sir. I believe the strong liberal and progressive community in Gloucester can not only stem the rising tide of greed driven gentrification that has transformed communities like Provincetown, Newburyport, and Nantucket into little more than potential locales for an updated remake of “The Stepford Wives”. I believe it can send the Democratic party a message that, given her record, Hillary Clinton has no business, no business at all, being considered “inevitable” as the Democratic nominee.
One way for the liberal and progressive community on Cape Ann to do that is to support Bernie Sanders in his bid for the nomination – no matter how “quixotic” or “just plain stupid” the Democratic “powers that be”, be they at the city, state, or national level tell us doing so may be.
Mike Cook, Truro and Gloucester
Mike CookMike Cook  is a long time liberal and gay rights activist who saw the uniqueness of Gloucester from the first moment he drove over the bridge during his move from Cambridge to Cape Ann in 1991 to run NUVA’s AIDS education and services programs.

Chief Campanello Breaks Down Barriers


Kudos for Gloucester Police Chief’s Innovative Drug Policy

by Mike Cook

As a follow up to my  essay chronicling the history of the heroin/prescription opioid epidemic in Gloucester, I wanted to praise Gloucester Chief of Police Leonard Campanello for his courageous decision to offer active addicts an opportunity to avoid all but inevitable arrest if they come forward, surrender whatever drugs they may possess, and agree to enter a treatment program.

One can be sure Chief Campanello will take some heat for his willingness to treat addiction as the public health problem that it is from some on the Gloucester police department, along with  more than a few uninformed and judgmental “civilians” in the city.

In fact, that criticism is already brewing on the city’s right wing version of “Enduring Gloucester”. One blog site is already full of posts criticizing Chief Campanello, with dire predictions  the chief’s actions  will result in a tsunami of addicts coming down the line and over the bridge to “beat the rap” and take advantage of Gloucester’s sucker mentality – thanks to all of us “mentally defective liberals”  who become fabulously wealthy running social service empires paid for by all the aggrieved right wing, law abiding, over taxed, Christian residents of Cape Ann.

But let’s get back to Chief Campanello’s policy shift. This is a major positive step in the right direction for several reasons.

Perhaps the biggest positive is that Chief Campanello’s initiative will, finally, help  break down the barriers that long prevented social service and substance abuse treatment providers in the city from working with law enforcement in ways that actually might have helped address drug addiction in a truly substantive manner.

I recall, at the height of the anxiety in the early 1990’s over how HIV might impact the city’s needle using population, their sex partners, and, sadly, their children, doing a presentation at City Hall on needle exchange programs and why the Massachusetts Department of Public Health saw Gloucester, given its long entrenched heroin problem, as a prime candidate city for a pilot needle exchange program.

Law enforcement at that time was one of the most vociferous opponents of even discussing such a public health intervention and, given its influence in the city, it quickly became clear there was no point in trying to educate the community about such programs.

It mattered little such programs were highly structured. Needles, for example, were all numerically coded. Addicts didn’t just come in with any needle to exchange for another. They had to enroll, anonymously, in the program. They then would receive a numerically coded clean needle. When they brought that needle back, they would receive another coded, clean needle.

There were “no questions asked”, but participants in such programs were constantly provided with information and encouragement regarding treatment and the various services available to them when they decided they had had enough and wanted to get clean.

Needle exchange programs also provided epidemiologists with the opportunity to get solid data on the extent to which blood borne pathogens like HIV and Hepatitis B & C were present in injection drug using populations because the returned needles were sent to the state laboratory so that antibody screenings could be done on any residual blood  in the returned syringes.

But it was the “bridge to treatment” the exchange programs  created in communities like Provincetown and Springfield that proved so beneficial in getting other wise out of treatment addicts connected to services that ultimately led many into treatment.

Unfortunately, community resistance to a Gloucester needle exchange program two decades ago, with much of that resistance coming from law enforcement at the time, meant Gloucester missed out on the benefits such programs were shown to provide.

Chief Campanello’s proposal has all the potential of needle exchange programs of twenty years ago to serve as a genuine “bridge to treatment” for addicts looking to break the mad cycle of their addiction.

It represents a major shift in thinking on the part of law enforcement and will allow the police department and service providers to begin to work more closely together and build the kind of trust between the two systems that was missing for far too long.

Chief Campanello is to be commended for this bold shift in direction and, if the need arises, members of the community who understand the old punitive, enforcement approach to addiction has failed will need to raise their voices in support of the Chief because there are still those others who refuse to accept that addiction is a disease that requires a public health approach to addressing it – not just the “lock’em up and throw away the key” attitude that was prevalent in Gloucester for far too long.


Mike Cook  is a long time liberal and gay rights activist who saw the uniqueness of Gloucester from the first moment he drove over the bridge during his move from Cambridge to Cape Ann in 1991 to run NUVA’s AIDS education and services programs.

Gloucester’s Drug Problem is Not a New One

There has been a lot of coverage in the media recently, at the local, state, and national levels,  about the scourge of opiate addiction-whether the addiction is to a street drug like heroin or to highly addictive, opioid based prescription pain medications.

This scourge is taking a devastating toll on individuals, families, and entire communities. Sadly, Gloucester has not been spared that harsh reality.

What is interesting about Gloucester is the problem is not a new one in “Fishtown”. In fact, the problem in Gloucester dates back almost fifty years to the late 1960’s, when Gloucester’s working class young men who could not avoid the draft began coming home from Vietnam – more than a few of them addicted to heroin.

I recall sitting in my office at NUVA at 100 Main Street in the mid 1990’s with a recovering heroin addict who was enrolling in a program to assist him with obtaining his medications for his HIV-Disease.

It was he who educated me about the role his generation’s service in Vietnam played in the entrenchment of the heroin problem on the “island”.

The son of a hard working, Italian fishing family, this man did not have the means to go to college. He had planned to make his living from the sea, as his father and grandfather had done before him, but the draft and Vietnam intervened in devastating and life changing ways.

Talking with this man, who died not too long thereafter as a result of complications from AIDS, opened my eyes as a social services professional as to just how interwoven seemingly unrelated events and issues really are.

In his own journey of recovery, he had begun to make the connections between his life growing up in Gloucester, where life as the son of a fisherman was good but often hard. Harvesting the sea was, he made clear to me, a tough way to make a living and, as a result, many who do so work hard and play hard.

He came to see the inter-generational pattern of substance abuse within his own family, where the men of the older generations often drank hard after a tough stint fishing at sea. His family, he assured me, was not at all atypical.

When he was drafted and sent to Vietnam, substance use/abuse was a common phenomenon and the availability of cheap heroin became just another way to cope with the high stress of war – much the same way throwing back a few too many beers or shots at Mitch’s or the old Depot was a way for the older generations to deal with the stresses of working the sea.

That opiate based “coping” mechanism, as dangerous and deceitful as it was, followed more than a few of those young soldiers home to Gloucester.

In the 1980’s, a young Gloucester Times reporter named Sean Murphy, working with long time Gloucester educator and community activist Phil Salzman, pulled the curtain back and exposed the extent of the heroin problem in “Fishtown”.

The breaking of that story resulted in the CBS news magazine “Sixty Minutes” coming over the bridge to do a feature on the heroin scourge in “America’s Oldest Sea Port”.

The demographics of the problem were both astounding and frightening.

Gloucester, at that time, had, per capita, more heroin addicts within its city limits than the Big Apple.

The community did not respond positively to either the story or the reality and scope of the problem . In fact, many people were angry at Murphy and Salzman for what, in their eyes, was nothing but an attempt to damage Gloucester’s reputation by bringing the problem to light.

At the same time Gloucester’s heroin problem was making both local and national news, another scourge was emerging in America. I am, of course, referring to the AIDS epidemic.

Initially and erroneously written off as a “gay plague”, it was becoming clear by the time the story about Gloucester’s heroin problem broke that AIDS was caused by a blood borne pathogen impacting a growing number of people far beyond the gay community – including injection drug users.

By the late 1980’s, several gay men in Gloucester who were living with AIDS began working with their friends and the growing number of holistic health practicioners making Cape Ann their home to form what became known as the North Shore AIDS Health Project.

At the same time, Ron Morin, who was the executive director of NUVA,  then the city’s leading out patient substance abuse treatment provider, recognized that HIV/AIDS was likely to become an issue in Gloucester among the city’s local injection drug using population and their sexual partners.

NUVA worked with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to obtain funding for an HIV counseling and testing program, case management services, and a prevention, education, and outreach program.

Shortly thereafter, the VNA of the North Shore received funding for a home care program for people living with HIV, and a variety of other social service agencies on Cape Ann, including  Child Development Programs, Addison Gilbert Hospital, Action, Inc., representatives from the school department, to name just a few, joined with NUVA and the Health Project to form the Cape Ann AIDS Task Force. The task force provided a forum for providers to better coordinate and plan  responses to the myriad needs emerging from a public health crisis that linked the diseases of addiction and HIV in a truly unsettling way.

Within a few short years, that kind of cooperation and collaboration had Gloucester being held up as an example by the state for other communities in Massachusetts to emulate.

That kind of collaboration and cooperation also played no small part in preventing the dual epidemics of HIV and addiction from having a much bigger impact  on Gloucester than they have.

Today, the dual scourges of HIV and opiate addiction are still very much with us, both in Gloucester and across the country.

As a result, there are those who argue funding for programs like those in Gloucester was and is a waste of tax payers’ money.

To those people I pose this question, “Can you imagine what Gloucester might look like today if those programs and the services they provided had not been funded and never existed, as the dual crises of AIDS and addiction came together in a truly unholy alliance on the ‘island'”.

It is a relevant question for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact Gov. Charlie Baker has proposed cutting funding for programs that serve people struggling with both HIV and addiction while at the same time claiming the opioid addiction epidemic is one of his top priorities.

But beyond that, there is growing evidence  the escalating opioid addiction crisis has reignited the spread of HIV among people trapped in the addiction cycle to a degree not seen in more than a decade.

Nowhere is that more evident than in a rural Indiana county reeling from opioid addiction. Since December, public health officials have diagnosed over 80 people in the county as HIV positive. All of them are either opioid addicts who also share needles or the sex partners of people who do.

That explosion of new HIV diagnoses in so short a time has local, state, and federal public health authorities scrambling to intervene on numerous fronts.

The federal Centers for Disease Control are concerned the strains of virus being spread are likely to be ones that have been exposed to anti-retroviral medications for years, increasing the likelihood those strains within a new host will be resistant to the medications that slowed the progression of the disease in the original host.

Translation, the opioid epidemic could well be  fueling a new epidemic of HIV infections already resistant to medications that have been such godsends to so many for so long.

I share all this because people should know about Gloucester’s leadership role through the years  in the fight against two of the most serious public health crises the US has ever faced and continues to face today.

That leadership role is something to be heralded and respected, not belittled by those who think trying to address these types of issues is a waste of time and money or somehow an affront to Gloucester’s reputation and the reputations of its residents.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, could be further from the truth.


Mike Cook, Gloucester and Provincetown




Mike Cook  is a long time liberal and gay rights activist who saw the uniqueness of Gloucester from the first moment he drove over the bridge during his move from Cambridge to Cape Ann in 1991 to run NUVA’s AIDS education and services programs.


Gloucester- Playground for the Affluent?

news from the fleet

News from the Fleet. 1918. Augustus Buhler (1853-1920)        

Coastal Communities as Playgrounds for the Affluent

I read the Gloucester Daily Times’ story March 27, 2015 (see the Enduring Gloucester post What Does Gloucester Need? March 27) about the community and economic  development expert’s assessment of what Gloucester supposedly needs to do to address the issues confronting it in the face of the decline of the family fishing industry and industries associated with it.

I was struck by the intense focus on the shortcomings of the city’s website, of all things.Now, not for nothin’, but with all the issues confronting Gloucester today, it seems absurd that a focus on the city’s website would be such a centerpiece of both the expert’s assessment and the Daily Times’ story.But then, a flawed website is a much easier issue to wrap one’s head around than a housing market growing so expensive that more and more people cannot aspire to rent an apartment in Gloucester, let alone buy a home.

It is a much easier issue to wrap one’s head head around than the reality that tourism, although an important element of Gloucester’s overall economy, will not provide the  jobs that produce the kinds of incomes that will allow people working in the industry to actually live in Gloucester – despite what those who view high end restaurants, slips for yachts, and three hundred dollar a night hotel rooms as Gloucester’s economic salvation, may think.

What I have realized in recent years is that more and more communities by the sea, whether in temperate or tropical locales, are rapidly becoming places where only the affluent will be able to live.

Here on the Outer Cape, particularly in Provincetown, that sad reality has resulted in this once viable, if not always terribly busy, year round community devolving into a virtual ghost town from November to mid April.

To scan the Provincetown Banner for a seasonal rental to live in while working for the summer tourist season is all one needs to do to see why tourism and hospitality industry businesses are desperate for employees to staff their establishments. It would make no economic sense for me to work here this season if I did not have the network of old friends that I do.

Dumps are renting for seven and eight thousand dollars a season. People are taking in boarders who clandestinely sleep in their basements on air mattresses for 175 and 200 dollars a week.

More and more businesses are staffed by English speaking eastern European college students and migrant workers from Jamaica and Central America, not because Americans don’t need work, but because the cost of housing is so prohibitively high it makes no sense for American workers in the hospitality and tourism industries to come here to work.

But I’ve realized the very same thing is happening in Puerto Viejo, CR, the sleepy little surfing and fishing hamlet at the end of a long dirt road to nowhere I washed ashore in fifteen years ago. It is happening in Vieques, where I worked two years ago.

Now, change is indeed inevitable. But given what is at stake, especially for ordinary working people, be they gringo, Latino, or Martian, those who view themselves as the leaders of these increasingly desirable coastal communities, from Cape Ann to the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, really need to  not focus on  just short term gains and quick bucks for the affluent few, but on the well being and quality of life of the workers who make these coastal communities the kinds of places tourists want to visit in the first place.

If that doesn’t happen, all these coastal communities are likely to go the way of Key West, a place that these days is a far cry from the funky, bohemian and diverse place it once was.

And that would be very sad, very sad indeed.

Michael Cook
Gloucester and Truro

“Yes, We Live Here!” by Mike Cook

This has been a winter of unexpected turns of events, blinding blizzards, and a realization that Gloucester is one special place after all.

I keep a journal on my PC, of entries I share with no one, and of copies of essays and sundry rambling thoughts I’ve written down and shared with Enduring Gloucester, the Gloucester Daily Times, and a couple of other outlets that indulge me in my rants.

I was reviewing the entries and essays I’ve compiled in the two months since I wound up landing in Provincetown, in what I hope is  just a temporary stop gap measure until I can get back to Cape Ann, and I realized that this transitional time has been generating an awful lot of internal angst  in me that has really taken a toll.

The major factor in that angst is the growing realization that this area of the country where I was born and raised, by that I mean the coastal regions of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, is becoming such a desirable and expensive place to live that I may not be able to stay here as I age and my ability to earn the kind of income the region demands to cover even the most basic costs of living is diminished.

It’s a pretty unsettling thought.

I suppose that’s why this morning, with a brilliant sun shining down from a cloudless sky upon the oversized mounds of snow that line every street in Provincetown,  in ways that are both dazzlingly beautiful and quite daunting to boot, I decided to hike out to the National Seashore to drink in the beauty of this place at Land’s End. I could no longer  simply dwell on the very real socio-economic issues confronting this town that have so many people on edge and thinking about joining so many others who have already bade this place farewell.

As I walked the area of Herring Cove Beach the ocean has cleared of snow, I was struck by the enormity and beauty of the National Seashore and how fortunate we all are that people in the past had the foresight to preserve it.

However, there is  also a sad irony in knowing it is precisely because of the foresight to have preserved such beauty that Provincetown  is increasingly becoming a place where only those who are well to do can live.

As I walked along the road back to town, I realized all coastal communities in temperate and tropical climates, from Cape Ann and Cape Cod, to the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, seem to be on the same trajectory. Living by the ocean is not just a life style choice anymore. It has become a status symbol and the age old law of supply and demand is making it more and more difficult for people who are not affluent to live the coastal lifestyle – even if they were born and bred right along the coast line.

It was on the walk back  to town that I realized as different as Gloucester, Provincetown, and the once sleepy little hamlet of Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica that I called home for fifteen winters may seem on the surface, they are all being impacted by economic forces that are fundamentally changing the very fiber and essence of what made them such unique places for so long.

For an example, when I washed ashore in Puerto Viejo in 1999 one of my greatest pleasures was grocery shopping. That was because grocery shopping was an adventure. There was no “super market”, so when you wanted bread you went to the local “panaderia”. When you wanted meat, you went to see Don Jesus at his “carcineria”. When you wanted fish, you stopped by the “marisqueria”, or you went directly to the beach where the local fishermen kept their boats and bartered with them face to face and, when you wanted fruits and vegetables, you headed to the “verdura”.

The result was grocery shopping could take a couple of hours, but it was a sure fired way to get all the juicy gossip and tidbits about local politics that make small town living so interesting.

But, as the numbers of  American expats coming to “retire in paradise” grew, many of them found having to go to four different  locations to get their grocery shopping done annoyingly inconvenient and the talk soon shifted to the need for a real “super market” in town.

Within just a few years, as the expat community grew  in size and economic influence, that “super market”, known as “Mega Super”,  a Central American subsidiary of, yes, Walmart, opened its doors.

Its impact was enormous. Most of those old local establishments quickly went out of business. That rippled through the community in a big way because many of the local, low wage workers who clean ex-pats’ houses, work as chambermaids in foreign owned hotels and guest cabins, and chop the flora and maintain the  grounds of such places generally get paid monthly. For most, their wages are so low they do not even bother to open bank accounts.

Those local stores used to extend credit to those workers who would pay their tabs at the end of each month when they got their wages. Don Jesus, for example, kept a spiral notebook by his cash box and recorded the items a family purchased and collected payment on an appointed date each month.

As those small businesses went under, those workers, with no bank accounts, savings, or credit or debit cards, began to find it increasingly difficult to feed their families because the “Mega Super” was not going to extend credit to those workers, and keep track of it in  spiral notebooks  by the cash registers.

As the gentrification brought by the expats escalated, the cost of everything in the community escalated right alongside it.

Increasingly the workers who clean those  expats’ homes, tend their gardens, cook in the restaurants, and change the sheets in hotels and cabinas have been forced to move inland from the coastal towns they were born in because demand for housing near the ocean has  sent rents to unreachable heights for the workers given their low pay.

It is, in many ways, exactly what has happened in Provincetown, Newburyport, and Portsmouth, and could well happen to Gloucester in the wake of the decline of the middle and lower middle income jobs the fishing industry and industries related to it provided workers for so long.

People working in the tourism and hospitality industries , for example, in the years ahead, may find themselves having to move to Lynn because the new gentrified Gloucester will be just too pricey for them to afford on the lower wages those industries generally pay.

It all can get overwhelming and make one feel really powerless, but then that’s when you need to get out and see the beauty that is all around in coastal communities and be grateful for any time and opportunity you have to enjoy it.

That’s what I did today, and it has made all the difference in the world.

mike_cookMike Cook  is a long time liberal and gay rights activist who saw the uniqueness of Gloucester from the first moment he drove over the bridge during his move from Cambridge to Cape Ann in 1991 to run NUVA’s AIDS education and services programs.