Mayor Rivera's Inaugural Address 2018
Good Morning, Thank you for being here and for braving the cold and snow. Thank you to Council President Vasquez and my colleagues on the City Council, school Committee and state officials. There are many people to thank for me being up here today but I want to start with the volunteers everyone who knocked on doors, made phone calls, collected signatures, gave money and held signs I am here because you gave of your time and your families time and resources to make the Rivera campaign a success and we did it, thank you all and my family and I will always be in debt to you!
I want to personally thank Congresswomen Niki Tsongas who 5years ago took a chance to support a chubby kid from the project and endorsed him in a primary against a popular sitting mayor. She showed leadership by throwing her lot in with underdogs and helping us win then and she did it again this pass year helping us win again.
I know much will be said about Congresswoman Tsongas this whole year as she gets ready to retire, but I want to Thank her for years of leadership to Lawrence, for calming the waters so that the Alhefni Building at NECC could be built by personally calling City Councilors and convincing us 1 by 1 that it was the right thing to do. Now that building is a crucial part of the constellation of investments made by Northern Essex Community College. Thank you for all the advocacy and financial championing that you have done for Lawrence. We would be less advanced as a community if you had not been our congress women these many years and you will be missed.
Thanks to my wife Paula, my Son Daniel & Daughter Charlotte for more love and support then any one man deserves. Thanks especially to Paula's family who have helped us during one our happiest times of our lives (the birth of our daughter) while coming to grips with the loss of the matriarch of their family. Dona Iris we will miss you and try to make you proud.
Today I proudly stand before you as the mayor of the City of Lawrence at the beginning of my 2nd term. Proud of 4 years of hard work and progress. A bit battle worn, but much more prepared and focused on the problems that face our community, and excited by the possibilities that the next 4 years will bring as we continue the work to make Lawrence better.
Together this administration with the support of the residents of this City accomplished much in our first term.
4 years ago the government of this City had no moral compass, and no focus. It was mired in multiple political, personal and criminal scandals, and was intent on settling petty squabbles. We had a police department that was demoralized, divided, and decimated to a fraction of the size appropriate for our City. We had a fire department that had transient leadership and was under manned, with firefighters living in fire houses that were in poor conditions. The business community had no trust or confidence in municipal government. Most residents felt that their basic needs were not being met. No one trusted City hall to get anything right.
The staff, with some exceptions, at the highest and amongst the most crucial levels was either vacant or did not have the capacity to manage the complex workings of a $250+ million-dollar municipality. The City had just lost control of our schools and the extent of success of the district’s turnaround plan was yet unclear. Our local library that had continually lower and lower usage and the community did not see it as a real asset.
Business and property owners would go without paying their taxes for years. In the summers, trash, dirt and weeds would go un-cleaned and unkempt across the City. Places like the Showcase Cinema, the Diadimo Building, the Merrimack Paper site, the Ferrous site, Tomberello site, the Kane Gym site and the Point in the North Common neighborhood were properties that either brought problems to this city, or were symptoms of the blight across our City. The abandoned rail bed that stretched across North Lawrence was just that, abandoned and blighted with no prospect for improvement. At the State and Federal level leaders from the Governor to the heads of federal agencies wanted nothing to do with Lawrence. Unfortunately, that meant that the amount of State & Federal dollars were few and far between, despite the best efforts of our State & Federal delegations at the time. The pride and morale of people in our City was low. Their property values were through the floor and we had gone at least 10 years raising taxes to the levy every year with no regard for its impact to taxpayers and or businesses. Capital improvements to our city buildings, schools, and parks were little to nonexistent. The Message from Lawrence 4 years ago was pay more taxes, and deal with the dysfunction of City government.
I am happy to report that while we have not cured Lawrence of all its ills and problems, you and I, with the help of Congresswomen Tsongas, Senator L’Italien, Representatives Moran, DiZoglio, Matias and US Senators Markey and Warren, and Governor Charlie Baker; we have all worked hard to make Lawrence better.
I pledged then that my administration would rebuild our public safety departments and we have done just that. In the Police department, we have had 4 years in a row that we have had a drop in crime. and when you compare the 2017 to 2013 you will see historic numbers. Things like the lowest Residential Burglaries and lowest Commercial burglaries rates since before 1999. Chief Fitzpatrick and the men and women of the department are doing the hard work under extremely hard circumstances. We have added officers every year, 23 net new police officers in the past 4 years. This is the most ethnically and gender diverse police hiring effort in the department’s history. This is worth repeating. This is the most ethnically and gender diverse police hiring effort in the department’s history. This includes the first 2 Hispanic police lieutenants in decades, and yes the first Latina detective in the department's history. All of this should begin to help bridge the gap between the police and the community. This hiring effort will still be 20 police officers short of the high, back when John Romero was chief and crime rate was the lowest. We will keep at it, but we know that we will not have won the fight on crime until people in Lawrence feel safe. I will confess that while the total number of incidents of crime continues to drop year after year, there persists a sense of insecurity in our community fueled by high profile cases, the increase in the opioid drug trade, and our inability to ramp up the size of our police department to meet the demand. 11 homicides are also a historic number, and unacceptable number for a community our size. We however are undeterred we will put together a plan to battle the increase in homicides It will take the best of what we have done and match it with a new set of tactics and direction. It is clear what we have done to-date is not enough. desperate times require desperate measures. We will meet this problem head on.
In the Fire Department Under Chief Moriarty we opened the Bailey Street fire station. While the Ames Street station does not have an active company in there yet, the Department’s Fire prevention unit has made it a home and it is no longer vacant and abandoned. I however today pledge to you that we will find a way to open the Ames street fire station in this coming term the residents of Towerhill deserve that level of protection. We as a City have also invested millions of dollars in rebuilding our fire department infrastructure and vehicle fleet to the tune of 4.1 million dollars. Improving the firefighters living conditions, fixing roofs, boilers and painting living areas, and we upgraded the fleet with 3 new fire trucks. We have also been aggressive in insuring that minimum manning of the fire personnel was always met with consistent hiring and training of new fire fighters. Our departments are now regional and state wide leaders in public safety.
While we have not settled contracts with the public safety unions I am certain that we will do so in the near future. These contracts will be healthier for the City to afford and structurally sound and I promise that they will contain raises for the men and women of our police & fire department, they deserve it. The vetting of these contracts is a process that is necessary as good stewards of the people's money and for the long term management of the small tax base that we have here in Lawrence, the tax payers deserve it. We have moved the needle on economic development these past 4 years. First a site that had been closed and awaiting redevelopment for many years The Showcase Cinema 1-6 site on 114 was sold to the owners of Bulger Veterinary Hospital and they will build a state of the art animal hospital along with some medical office/retail space. Yes even a Starbucks. Now that development is a win not just because it is being developed, but because Lawrence finally took a stand that a higher and better use was demanded and expected for such a premiere site. We said no to gas stations, to Goodwill stores, to UHaul storage sites and all types of low end uses. We said no. We stood firm and ended up getting a development and an end use that will build a great business and improve the Lawrence brand. Similarly, the long abandoned Tombarello Salvage yard, off of 495, for the first time is owned by the City and making it a clean, developable site is no longer a dream. We can say today that the 14 acre site off of 495, with neighborhood input, could be clean and ready within 2-3 years for development. The Merrimack Paper site has been cleaned up to the tune of $1.2 million, and with the help of the Attorney General’s office the owners are being brought to justice for their delinquency. The Ferrous site is now a beautiful outdoor trail and park with an open gazebo that in the summer hosts music Festivals. The old Kane Gym site was where mounds of dirt and City snow overflow was kept; today it is the site of a modern soccer field and outdoor workout area. The Point, the site of the old St. Lawrence O’Toole church, today is a summer jewel. A spray park stands where for many years an empty formless lot once was. This has served to add to the transformation of that neighborhood. Finally, the abandoned Manchester Lawrence rail bed today has a bright future. And we look forward to the renewal and updating of the South Common park. Our library has become the cultural center and icon our City needs and deserves. Thanks to Jessica Valentine, the Board of Trustees and the staff, our community is finding a home in our library.
We will continue in the future to stand by our development philosophy. Development must have 3 ingredients for us to support it 1. will it bring jobs for people who live in Lawrence, 2. will it not disturb the neighborhoods it will be sited in & 3. will it build the brand of the City of Lawrence. The focus on these 3 principles, and with a eye to supporting good developers & supporting small and medium size businesses that play by the rules has given the business community a new sense of trust and encouragement in Lawrence. We will do more of this in the coming years. Since day one I said Lawrence was open for business and we meant it.
We have come a long way as a City in Staffing. Today not only do we have a fully qualified Director of Public Works, but we also have a Streets & Parks supervisor and a building and facilities director that are of the highest caliber and experience. We have a City Engineer that has her PE, a Master’s Degree in Engineering and is a resident of our City. A water commissioner of the highest caliber & education that can be found in the commonwealth Again having the top 5 positions at DPW & Water & Sewer department will make an incredible difference in our quality of life. This will insure we are working smarter not harder.
I know that we can be doing better with trash clean up. That is why we started and will continue our annual “Clean Lawrence” effort of hiring 25 ninety day laborers to clean and beautify our City streets attack the courage of graffiti in our City. Our public work department will continue to be nimbler, more prepared and provide a better service in the years to come. On the education front: Thanks to Parents, teachers, students, the Lawrence Teachers Union, the Superintendent and his staff Today, Lawrence schools are in a very different place then they were a short 4 years ago. Test scores are at all-time high in proficiency rates for math, English and science, with the state’s calculations showing Lawrence has passed more than 40 other school districts. Today ½ of the schools in the district are either level 1 or level 2. The dropout rate has been cut in half. The graduation rate has jumped nearly 20 percentage points. One of the things that I think is part of the secret to Superintendent Riley's success is the investment in arts, sports and enrichment. All those things and a longer school day and year for most kids. Today kids are learning in Lawrence like never before.
And for the first time in a long time we are planning for the building of a new Oliver School a new Leahy school, and will be putting new boilers and roofs and even windows in many others schools. These are the first large capital investments in our public schools in decades. I must say and I believe that Superintendent Riley will also say that all this success is not just the state receiverships success this is the students’ success, the parent’s success and the faculty and staff's success. The reward for this success should be shown in a new contract for our teachers and staff one that insures less teachers leave the system every year and pays teachers for the innovation that they have implemented. This contract should be completed before a new superintendent is chosen. This would be a great way to end Superintendent Riley's tenure with our City.
For 4 years we have been fiscally conservative, and have been able to squirrel away $14 million dollar in free cash reserves even after paying $3 million to fight record blizzards in 2015, resurfacing 22 new baseball fields including, new turf on the fields and new dug outs at Mt Vernon Park and Hayden Schofield Playstead. Hiring anti-gang workers, and opening gyms across the City 4 nights a week. This fiscal stability with targeted investments has made Wall Street happy we have had 2 bond rating increases since I became mayor. I know that taxes have been a concern to many. We’ve made Lawrence more financially stable and we still kept Lawrence as the 3rd lowest average tax bill in the Commonwealth, according to the Department of Revenue for communities our size. Our administration has kept taxes lower than any administration in the last 12 years. This will be something we will continue to do.
I would like to also think that we all have brought back just a bit of pride to being a Lawrencian. A little more to hold our head up about. State-wide people see are problems and our successes and they are finally cheering for us to overcome them to be more successful. People are finally cheering for Lawrence.
As I look to what faces our city in the coming years I will tell everyone that will listen that... you WILL read on the front page above the fold of most newspapers, you WILL see on TV on the evening news and you WILL read at the top of your Facebook feeds about the many problems we face in Lawrence every day.
We have had, and we will continue to have problems in Lawrence, that's not the point. The larger point is how we manage the day to day crisis of a midsized, aging industrial City trying to rebuild itself. We will continue to hold workers to a high standard so that they do the right thing and provide the services that the community expects with the professionalism it deserves, even if it means continued discipline and firing of bad workers, but always celebrating the achievements of those that go above and beyond.
We will continue to support our public schools adding a similar increase to the Schools budget like we did in the fiscal 2018 budget. We will continue to be fiscally conservative so as to maximize our free cash reserve. I hope to use some of those $14 million dollars and our capital improvement plan to fix and update all the basketball courts across the city, like we did with the baseball fields. Fund the fixing of a million dollars in sidewalks every year for 3 years, and at least 500,000 annually in tree removal and replacements throughout the City fund traffic studies and plan for the impact of a growing community and the steady flow of immigrants
that historically have come into American society through the gates of our city.
I don’t want you to think for one minute that I am taking credit for all that we have done in these last years or that we can do these great things in the next 4 years alone. This is the work of the staff, the department heads, our state & federal elected officials and our community as a whole. Again I am happy to report that while we have not cured Lawrence of all its ills and problems, you and I have all worked to make Lawrence better.
This work of running our municipal government is hard work, hard but important work. It won’t always be pretty, we will have a crazy personnel matter or two, we will have tragedies, We will need every one of us here and at home to play a roll, to pitch in, to not just share a problem they see on Facebook, but to participate in the solution to that problem. We will have failures but we will also have victories and we will continue to make Lawrence better every day.
I promised in my first inauguration that none of this will be easy and it has not been That many will say to us along the way "you can't do it" You won't do it, the odds against you are way to high... and many did Some will point out that the forces that we face in making Lawrence better are way too smart, ........way too experienced and that no one has every beaten them before!" and they did say those things too.
Yet we did make Lawrence better despite the obstacle from without and from within city. We just had focus and get to work and we did. Today I say what I said election night we have work to do and we must get back to it, the future is waiting. Thank you.