Sailing with Alex

Sailing with Alex

By Thomas Welch

 

 

Growing up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, you’d think Alex Thomas would be passionate about cheese….or beer….or the Green Bay Packers.

Nope.

22 years ago Alex met and fell in love with his wife, Diane, whose dream it was to live on the coast of New England. So by “dumb luck” (as Alex describes it) they landed in Gloucester, settling in Bay View and raising their two children, Emma and Isaiah.

Alex quickly discovered his other great passion…Gloucester Harbor! Already an experienced sailor (he was a Sea Scout on Lake Michigan), Alex now keeps his 26-foot Typhoon sailboat moored off Rocky Neck.

It was blowing about 10-15 when Alex picked me up to go for a sail, but 20 minutes later, by the time we put in at Stevens Landing on Rocky Neck, the wind had come up to 20-25 mph. “No problem”, says Alex.

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With a confidence only years of experience can provide, Alex sets the tiller hard to Port, knowing she’ll fall off that way, he lets the mooring go. As if eagerly following some unspoken command, the vessel quickly brings her bow about, fills her sails and takes off, skipping over waves toward the western shore. Though it’s early August, this much Northerly wind not only invigorates the senses, it requires a light wind breaker to protect against the cold spray off the bow.

We enjoy an afternoon ripping back and forth from Niles Beach to Stage Fort Park, passing just south of the big rock off Ten Pound Island on every tack.

One of the many special gifts of spending a lot of time on Gloucester Harbor is the camaraderie you share with the other “regulars”.  Even if you’ve never been formally introduced you “know” them by their boat, their seamanship and their reputations. Alex offers a smile, wave and nod to Capt. Heath Ellis and his passengers on the schooner “Thomas E. Lannon” as we fly by each other, starboard to starboard. The same pleasantries are exchange with the happy passengers aboard the Charter fishing boat “WEJACK”, anchored on the fish at one of Capt. Joe Arsenault’s “sweet spots” in the Outer Harbor.

What a great way to spend an afternoon. Bonding with Nature. Reading Wind and Wave and reacting in accordance and respect of their power, enriching your Soul.

Alex is a perfect example of the thousands of residents who have settled in Gloucester over the years and embraced it. He makes a valuable contribution to the community by not only appreciating the Heritage and the amazing natural resources, but, more importantly becoming part of them.

 

By the way, if you know, or get introduced to, Alex Thomas in the next few weeks,  wish him luck. He and his dorymate, Donnie Favalora will be representing the U.S. in the Senior Division of the International Dory Races in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia on August 29th!

 

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The Value of Affordable Housing

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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.

 

 

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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.

#affordablehousing

The Fort Hotel is Here

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Today we offer a letter written by Fort business owner Ann Molloy to the editor of the Gloucester Daily Times, from November 4, 2011. The perspective of time, and events which have transpired since then concerning the re-zoning of the Fort to accommodate the construction of a luxury hotel there, weights this letter with a heartbreaking realism.

Don’t Throw Gloucester “Off-Balance”

  What makes Gloucester so cool? Why do you love it here? How does it make you feel? What makes it so great?   I like that it’s real. It’s authentic. I like that it was built with hard workers, tough working class men and women. We have something special here, something different. Saltwater runs through our veins.   Tourists come here and recognize we’re different. There’s magic here. We’re as tough as our granite and as powerful as our ocean waves. Our hands are calloused and our clothes worn. We’re the finest kind…   Now I ask-  what are we becoming? Do we really want to sell out? Should people with big money from out of town be able to change our look, our feel, our very existence? They want to pretty us up,  put in a Harbor Walk for the tourists, with kiosks that say, ‘This is where the fishermen “used to” tie up, and “used to” unload their boats.” Words uttered from a Harbor Walk representative at City Hall last summer. Was it a Freudian slip?

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What is the spirit of Gloucester? Is it a grand hotel and marina down the Fort? Is that really what we want? People from out of town move here because they feel the power here and fall in love with Gloucester. What kills me is the people who move here and then try to change it.   As I think about the days ahead, it aggravates me to know I must take time away from my family and job (a marine industrial job down the Fort) to fight again, for the third time, to save the Fort from rezoning, therefore allowing a hotel. And as the mayor(Carolyn Kirk)  was quoted in the paper saying “Third time’s the charm”.  It honestly makes me sick, and at this point after about four years of fighting this, it feels like harassment.

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But now the real big bucks have arrived. The third richest man in Massachusetts (Jim Davis,) can afford to sway votes and public opinion with his cool million (half million for the naming rights, and half million for construction) for the New Balance Newell Stadium. Dollar signs in one’s eyes blurs vision sometimes.   Mr. Davis paying double and triple for property will increase all the Fort people’s taxes, by creating a false sense of property values. How many will be forced out? This is what some people want. Is it what you want? Do you want to look like Newburyport, or Newport, RI? Do you want their traffic? Why would anyone pay so much over value for this property? And talk about putting the cart before the horse, especially after rezoning failed in the last two, very recent, attempts. I sure wish he wanted to make sneakers there.   Many will say I’m living in the past. Fishing is never coming back, so I’m dreaming. We’re holding the city hostage. Please look a little deeper, before passing judgment. Look at the thriving MI (marine industrial) businesses that are down the Fort.   If this zoning goes through, it will benefit my family financially, if we wanted to sell out, but at what cost? I’d rather leave our future generations with something real, authentic and of substantial value, like my grandfather and father did for us. Showing us, with hard work and ambition, you can accomplish great things. I think that’s worth much more than selling out, and leaving them a trust fund.   The Fort is basically an industrial park, a marine- industrial park, and the people who live there deal with that daily. Do we want to put tourists and their kids down there with all the big trucks? Sounds like an accident waiting to happen. Do we really want more traffic? Our way of life as we’ve known it will no longer exist. Tourists won’t even want to come here.   So, when you’re sitting in traffic for an hour, trying to get over the bridge, will you think of this letter and say “Wow, what have we done? What have we let our town become?”   If you value what we have here, will you stand up with me and help me “Hold the Fort”, before it’s too late? It could be your neighborhood next.

Ann Molloy

Neptune’s Harvest Fertilizer

88 Commercial Street     (Down the Fort)

 

ann photo (2)

Ann Molloy was born and raised in Gloucester. After several years of traveling around the country and world, she settled back here and has been helping run her family business, located down the Fort and on Kondelin Road. For over 20 years, Ann has been in charge of Marketing and Sales for the Neptune’s Harvest division of Ocean Crest Seafoods, which came about as a way to fully utilize 100% of the fish, by turning the gurry (everything that’s left after you fillet a fish) into an organic fertilizer. She has a wide knowledge of organic fertilizers, and the fishing industry. She also loves to paint, write, and see live music.

Sefatia Announces: “Gloucester for Gloucester!”

 

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Photo by Louise Welch

 

 

Sefatia Announces: “Gloucester for Gloucester!”

Peter Anastas

 

Today, I announce that I am a candidate for Mayor of Gloucester.

I do so because I love this city and all of our people. And, during the past six months, my team and I have demonstrated that government can be run openly and honestly to serve every citizen in Gloucester fairly, and with respect.

When the City Council elected me Mayor, I didn’t know how much my team and I could accomplish—I had no idea what a difference we could make. While I was humbled and honored to serve as Mayor, I thought then that the best way for me to help the people of Gloucester was to return to my seat on the City Council.

But by working closely over the past few months with Gloucester’s business and community leaders, private industry, and most importantly, the citizens of Gloucester, my team and I have made progress in a number of important areas, including economic development and tourism, the arts, and the health and well-being of our citizens. I believe that great things can be achieved as long as we keep working together.

Every day, I talk with people across the city and test my approach. They tell me that open and honest communication, teamwork, and a sharp focus on what Gloucester needs will move this city forward. That’s my style.

I am committed to Gloucester and all of our people. I am proud of what we have accomplished but I realize that there is much more to do, and I want to continue the work we have started. That is why I’m a candidate for Mayor.

                                    –Sefatia Romeo Theken, July 13, 2015

 

Though I respect the other mayoral candidates for their service and commitment to the city, I feel a special affinity for Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken.  Her father, 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 clothing was not in fashion.  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.

Sefatia learned these caring ways from the cradle, and 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 has 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 have 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 knows who their aunts and cousins were, and they, in turn, know her.  She can tell you who lived on which street and 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.

The previous administration, though it helped to move the city in some positive directions, especially regarding our fiscal status, was, in my mind, largely technocratic, corporate in its approach to governing and in its client preferences.  As such, it was often out of touch with the people, especially those whom its policies adversely affected.  Considering the fault lines left in the wake of the Beauport Hotel controversy, Gloucester needs 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 and is not tone deaf to the diversity of local voices.  We need a mayor who will not attempt to manufacture consensus or claim it exists when it does not—a mayor, especially, who will not dismiss a neighborhood’s fight to preserve its own culture as NIMBY, or 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 constructive dialogue that is the cornerstone of our democracy.

I believe that Sefatia will be this kind of mayor—she has already demonstrated these qualities as a much respected city councilor and during her tenure as interim mayor. We need 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. We particularly need a mayor who understands and cares deeply about our fishing industry and the importance of our working waterfront.  I believe that Sefatia will be this kind of mayor.  That is why I am endorsing her candidacy and urging all those who want our city to move forward without losing sight of the heritage that has made us what we are to join me in voting for Sefatia.

Classism in the Gay Community

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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.

Nino Nets Some “Guppies”

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Gloucester Dock Scene. Russ Webster (1904-1984)

Back about 1970 when I was just a boy working for my dad at Ocean Crest Seafood, there used to be a retired fisherman who worked for us by the name of Nino Trupiano.  A better man would be hard to find. Always with an interesting tale to tell, he once recounted a story I have not forgotten to this day. Back in the days when fishermen were allowed to ply their trade whenever and however they wished, the only thing that would prevent them from leaving the dock was weather,  and by weather, I don’t mean a little rain, I mean “WEATHER”!  Fishermen of the day would never let someone get the better of them,  so if one man left the dock, all would follow. One particularly foul and windy day the men and boats waffled by the shore, hesitant to brave the turning waters,  when Nino, never one to be indecisive,  cast off the lines and intrepidly braved the waters.

He sailed past Fort Point, past Ten Pound Island, and out beyond the breakwall.
At this juncture, it became abundantly clear that this was no weather to fish in.
Not wanting to be made out as foolish for sailing into foul weather alone, he decided that he would return to the dock under the cloak of darkness ( as it was still before dawn) by turning off his running lights and hugging the shore as he returned to port. As the other boats were waiting at the dock to hear his report on conditions beyond the breakwall, they called on the radio “Nino, Nino what’s it like out there?”   Nino replied “Beauuutiful, just Beauuutiful!”
At this point all men and vessels at the dock cast off their lines and headed for the open sea. Once arriving at the outer shore they realized that the weather was not fit for man nor beast and they called out to Nino imploring “Nino, Nino, where are you?” to which he replied “I’m at the Gloucester House;  it’s too windy out there”.
Leonard Parco
IMG_2269Leonard Parco has been working the Gloucester waterfront for over 40 years and is the president of Ocean Crest Seafoods Inc. He is passionate about “Cape Ann School” art, especially that focused on Gloucester’s maritime heritage.

Adventure Sails!

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Guests of the captain aboard Adventure as she pulls away from Maritime Wharf for her first official passenger cruise in 27 years.

The Schooner Adventure sailed proudly from Maritime Wharf in Gloucester Harbor Saturday afternoon, past Pavilion Beach crowded with Fiesta revelers, and 13 miles out to sea toward Boston, with an appreciative group of 65 guests on board.  With that four-hour trip, Adventure reclaimed her place on Gloucester Harbor.

 

No longer a work project, Adventure has again taken her place as a functioning member of Gloucester’s working waterfront, where she made her mark from 1926-1953 as a high-liner,  a workhorse of Gloucester’s historic schooner fleet, becoming, by her last season as a fishing schooner in 1953, the last of the legendary Grand Banks fishing schooners.

 

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Passengers and crew work together to raise the mainsail

 

 

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Captain Stefan Edick  with volunteer crew member Elisabeth Kerr at the helm.

The guests for this first passenger cruise since Adventure was issued official passenger certification by the US Coast Guard a few weeks ago were all friends and family of Adventure’s Captain Stefan Edick and president of  the board of Schooner Adventure, John Morris. For each person walking down the gangplank, the afternoon’s outing held its own significance.

 

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Helen Garland with Adventure’s board president John Morris, and Shirley Morris

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George Smith of Manchester with Helen Garland of Gloucester

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Helen Garland, widow of Joe Garland, renowned Gloucester historian and author, Adventure’s principal fundraiser and advocate for the 27-year, 4.5 million-dollar restoration project, was pleased to be on deck for Saturday’s trip,  surrounded by people, natives as well as newcomers  who “represent various aspects of Joe’s  vision for Adventure.”

 

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Joe Garland, 1923-2011

“We have with us today,” she said, ” our native sons like author Peter Anastas and Captain John Morris, symbols of Gloucester’s proud heritage, along with our new friends like Bing McGilvray, who respect that heritage and have chosen to become part of Gloucester’s story.  The children running over the deck, they all give me hope for the future.  Gloucester and Adventure are proof of the spirit and bravery …that created the vital democratic energy which defined this country.”

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Three members of Enduring Gloucester’s board of editors, Bing McGilvray, Lois McNulty and Peter Anastas

Helen Garland noted that she hopes to honor what the gift of Adventure means to Gloucester, in the way that  Jim Sharp, Adventure’s former captain and owner,  who donated the ship to the city of Gloucester in 1988, envisioned it. Sharp called his gift of Adventure  “a monument to the history of Gloucester and for the education and pleasure of the public.”

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Peter Anastas with Helen Garland and Judy Walcott

Helen Garland adds, ” If Adventure can be allowed to play an active and daily role in teaching children and their parents to nurture the health of our oceans, I know that Joe’s work will not have been in vain.”

 

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Adventure board member and volunteer crew member Greg Bover helps a child with a life jacket.

 

From Adventure’s website,  www.schooner-adventure.org

The Gloucester Adventure, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit maritime historic preservation and educational organization. We are the stewards of the 1926 dory-fishing Schooner Adventure. Our mission begins with restoration and preservation in perpetuity of the National Historic Landmark Schooner Adventure, one of the last surviving Grand Banks dory-fishing schooners. The Schooner Adventure is a national treasure that is resuming active sailing as an icon of the American fisheries and as a floating classroom for maritime history and environmental education programs. The Schooner will be operated at sea, primarily along the New England coast, as a living monument to Massachusetts’€™ fishing heritage. As such, the Schooner Adventure is important not only to Gloucester, but also to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and all America.

Today Adventure is a rare survivor, an irreplaceable artifact from an extraordinary era in American history. Adventure was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1989, designated a National Historic Landmark in 1994 and was honored to be selected as an Official Project of Save America’s Treasures by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1999. A prominent destination site on the Essex National Heritage Area Maritime Trail, Adventure serves as a living memorial to the more than five thousand Gloucester fishermen lost at sea.

 

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Peter Anastas and Bill McLauchlan on the deck of Adventure, with the Schooner Thomas E Lannon sailing alongside .

Lois A. McNulty

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Isaac’s First Fiesta

Peter Anastas

St. Peter’s Fiesta, which opens its 88th year with music on Wednesday, June 24, at St .Peter’s Park and concludes on Sunday night, June 28, with a procession through the Fort, is Gloucester’s most meaningful celebration of our collective identity. Watching the lights and the altar go up this week and feeling the excitement in the air of impending carnival, which so many of us have experienced since childhood, I couldn’t help but remember the first time I took my grandson to Fiesta…

 

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Isaac and “Papou” go to Fiesta

 

 It was June of 2009.  My son Ben and I were taking his 19-month-old son Isaac to his first St. Peter’s Fiesta.  My mother had accompanied my brother and me when Fiesta started up again after the war, and I, in turn, took Ben and his two siblings, beginning in the 1960s.  If you count the fact that my mother, who was born in Gloucester in 1910, had attended the earliest Fiestas, beginning in 1927, four generations of our family have been celebrating the Feast of St. Peter with our Italian friends and neighbors.

Though a bit overwhelmed by the crowds along the midway, the music from the rides, and the amplified voices announcing games of chance, my grandson seemed to take to Fiesta.  Eyes shining with wonder, he refused to be carried by his father or me, rushing instead among the legs of those on their way down Beach Court to where we could watch the seine boat races and greasy pole contest from the shore.

 

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Isaac with “Papou” and his dad watching the greasy pole contest

 

Returning to Commercial Street, we decided to walk to Fort Square for a better view of the events and so that Isaac, who loves to play in the sand boxes of Brooklyn’s city parks, where he lives, could fully enjoy Pavilion Beach.  On the way there I pointed out the old Birdseye plant with its iconic white tower to Ben, where, from 1928, his grandmother had worked as Clarence Birdseye’s secretary.  On our way back to Fiesta we walked around Fort Square to Charles Olson’ house, where we took a picture of Ben, Isaac and me in front of the commemorative plaque to Gloucester’s great poet.

 

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Isaac points to the memorial plaque for Charles Olson at 28 Fort Square

 

That afternoon we covered the entire Fort, from Beach Court to Fort Square.  We shared fried dough and Ben shot a few baskets to see if he could win a stuffed animal for Isaac.  What came home to me during our walk, along with the powerful sense of attraction I’ve always had for Fiesta and for the Fort itself, where I once worked on fish, was an increased concern that if a proposed hotel were to be built at the Birdseye there could be unforeseen consequences.  Prospective developers had already expressed reservations about this traditional marine industrial neighborhood (one was quoted in the Gloucester Times as having said, “When our guests arrive we want them to know they’ve arrived somewhere”—as if the historic Fort were nowhere!); and one wondered how many of their guests would spend a lot of money to stay in a busy neighborhood full of trailer trucks and early risers. What would be the impact of the new hotel on Pavilion beach, which was public and protected as such?  And while I could imagine some hotel guests enthralled by Fiesta, would others on vacation be annoyed by the noise, the crowds, or the smells from the working waterfront—the engines of the fishing vessels, the early morning activity of taking on ice?

 

 

During our walk I tried to envision the Fort with a fancy upscale hotel in its midst.  All I could think of was that the hotel might ultimately displace the neighbors, the neighborhood, the Fiesta, and all the traditional kinds of single and multi-family housing on the Fort.  Once the hotel was in place, there was certain to be greater pressure for upscale housing or condos.  Then, quite covertly, we would have the beginnings of Newport right in the heart of the waterfront.
I was especially concerned about the potential for “collateral damage” in the neighborhood as a consequence of outsize development, especially if traditional fishing industry businesses were pushed out, and long-term residents with them.  These thoughts troubled me as I walked with my little grandson and his father—three generations of Anastases enjoying Fiesta (and a fourth if my mother, who first took me, were still alive)—and suddenly a great sadness came over me, followed by a profound sense of loss.

 

What should ultimately have been an occasion of joy with my family, my grandson’s first Fiesta, prompted a bittersweet reverie, in which I could imagine all that has meant so much to our family and every other Gloucester family of Fiesta and of the Fort itself, taken from us were we not vigilant about protecting our heritage and the very places in which it lives and breaths.

 

Today the hotel, so utterly alien to everything the Fort has stood for, is fast becoming a reality, and we can only hope that Fiesta, along with the Fort itself, will not be swept away by this new wave of urban renewal called gentrification.

Viva San Pietro!

 

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Photo courtesy Document/Morin

Peter Anastas is Editorial Director of Enduring Gloucester

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

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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