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Valley Patriot Exclusive!
O’Rorke: Fiorentini Has No Team,
Doesn’t Play Well With Others

Haverhill Candidate Speaks Candidly About the Issues,
Her Opponents and Why She Should be Elected
Tom Duggan
(09/05/07)


Sally Cerasuolo-O’Rorke is one of three candidates running for mayor in Haverhill. She is facing incumbent Mayor Jim Fiorentini and former Mayor Jim Rurak. O’Rorke spoke candidly with the Valley Patriot last month about her vision for Haverhill’s future, her opponents and what it is going to take to run the city of Haverhill effectively over the next six years.

Why are you running for mayor?

 “I am running to assemble a team to put Haverhill on the map. I continuously hear that we have potential in Haverhill and people ask; ‘Why aren’t we Lowell? Why aren’t we Newburyport?’ I think everyone remembers those communities before they were the Newburyport and Lowell of today and we have to ask why did they succeed and how can we succeed the way they did. We have the same river. We have a lot of resources. We have 35 square miles of land. We are both inner city and farmland. We have a myriad of great things going on. So what is it going to take and when are we going to capitalize on the potential that we have?”

“I look back on the last 44 years and ask ‘Are we better off, worse off, or the same as we were 40 years ago, or even 20 or 10 years ago?  Most people say we are the same and some say worse off. So what is it going to take for us to succeed? I think there are a few common threads:

“First of all, one person can’t do it. It will take a concentrated, orchestrated team effort. And with everyone playing the role that they are strongest at, everyone wins. I use the analogy of the Patriots. If you take Bob Kraft, Bill Belicheck, Teddy Bruschi, and Tom Brady, and you ask ‘who don’t you want on your team?’ Well, you want them all on your team! They’re all important. It takes more than just one person. You need to be able to build relationships and a consensus to get anything done successfully. I’m capable of doing that. I’m capable of putting together a solid team. I have passion, I have vision and I think I am the best candidate for the job.”

Why you? Why should the voters pick you over mayor Jim Fiorentini, I’m sure he would say he has a vision for … ?

“He doesn’t have a vision. He doesn’t have a team. Who’s his team? He has no team. He doesn’t play well in the sandbox and he is not a team builder. I am. And that is what we need.”

Can you give me an example of where Jim hasn’t …

“The Haverhill Chamber of Commerce, under my leadership, has done a tremendous amount of work in support of the economic development of this city. But we were not embraced by the mayor. Team Haverhill was not embraced by the current administration. They are a volunteer, citizen-based asset in this community and were willing to meet month in and month out to improve the quality of life in this city. They have been ignored by this administration. So those are two glaring examples where he has not reached out to the community.”

What could he have done to embrace them? What would you have done?

“I would have showed up, for one. I would have had a dialogue with them, embrace their efforts and possibly provide financial support. You know these are good people trying to help and they shouldn’t be shut out of the process. And they have been.”

What about your other opponent, Jim Rurak? Why should the voters choose you and not Jim Rurak?

“I like Jim Rurak. I think Jim Rurak is a good an honorable man. But he had eight years to tap the potential of this city and move it forward. Do I feel that we are any better off because Jim Rurak was mayor for eight years? I’m not sure we are a lot different because Jim was mayor for eight years. So I say, if we couldn’t tap the potential in eight years of Jim Rurak what makes anyone believe we will be better off with another Jim Rurak Administration?”

“That’s why I think we need new eyes, fresh thoughts, creative thinking outside the box, and no stone left unturned. Everything is up for discussion. The community needs to be embraced and encouraged to give input. This is not Jim Fiorentini’s community. This isn’t Jim Rurak’s community. This isn’t my community. Its everyone’s community and everyone needs to be at the table being encouraged to participate. That’s what makes me different than both previous administrations. I am not part of the past. I am part of the future and I am part of the solution for Haverhill.”

What are the quality of life issues in Haverhill?

“Education, Education, and did I tell you … education. I don’t see myself as a typical person who runs for office. I am 54 years old. My goal is to make a difference and give back and give the best I have for the community. I’ve been to 50 teas, knocked on tons of doors, and what I hear in the community is that education is their number one concern.”

“Yes, we have challenges in our schools, but we have a lot of assets in our schools too. We have a fabulous superintendent, but we need to give him the tools to do the job and not micromanage him. I don’t believe you hire a professional, pay him $100,000 plus, and then tell them how to do their job. That’s why you hire a professional, because they know how to do their job.”

“I think the schools, the facilities themselves, have had no capital projects plan and we don’t have a maintenance program for the community. The schools need to be involved in that. I think the teachers and administrators have been taken advantage of, not appreciated, not encouraged, not given the tools, and sometimes it just takes a kind word of appreciation that you are in the trenches with them and that we are all working as a team to educate these kids. Many teachers I talk to say they don’t feel appreciated. They get it from both ends, they get it from the parents and they get it from the politicians and it isn’t right.”

What kind of tools would you give them?

“I want to start a program called the blue ribbon panel where we find private financing and donations from businesses and give those funds to each school to be used as the principal sees fit. I would like to do it to the level of twenty-five thousand dollars for each school. Just that encouragement alone, for teachers and administrators to know that they can buy paper and chalk and school books, takes a tremendous amount of pressure off their shoulders. I would also have teacher appreciation and ‘highlight a school.’ Do we have challenges? All communities have their challenges, but we have to think differently and work with people to make a difference in our education system. That’s not happening now.”

Would that include ads on school buses or in the schools like we’ve seen out west?

It could. We have to be willing to look at everything, but, you see, it comes down to more than just dollars and cents. Dollars and cents are very important to the big picture, but what is equally important is the quality of education our kids are getting at the end of the day. One in four kids don’t make it to high school graduation in Haverhill. We lost 121 kids dropping out last year. We failed those 121 kids. Parents that can afford it can opt out and some are doing that, and that’s fine. But, I would like the parents to opt out because they have two great choices not because they feel like they have no choice at all. But what about the kids who can’t opt out? We have an obligation to raise the standards and educate them well. 

So you Support School Choice?

"Yes, I support school choice."

What about Merit pay for teachers?

“I think there is merit to merit pay, forgive the pun, but I think it’s hard to compare one classroom to another classroom. Someone who has a higher success rate in their classroom could be because the parents in that class are more involved. So, it’s hard to measure the merit of a teacher. I’m not sure how you can control standardizing the product [education] in order to base merit pay and measure it effectively. But, like I said, everything is going to be on the table.”

How about the health insurance costs in Haverhill?

“I know we have the majority of the unions who have opted into a single payer plan, but I would be interested in looking at Governor Patrick’s municipal partnership act.”

What percentage do city employees pay now? “I think most are 80% (paid by the city) - 20% (paid by the employees) and I know there was a move to go to 75% - 25% …”

Would you support something like that?

I would have to look at it. Under my administration everything will be up for discussion and research. I am going into my office the first day to open the windows, educate the people and understand what we are dealing with and then come up with the best solution, which I believe always comes from Dialogue.”

What about the police department and the crime rate in Haverhill?

“Haverhill has the lowest ratio of police officers per-capita in the commonwealth of Massachusetts. We have 1.5 police officers for every 1,000 residents. When one of our residents needs the attention of a police officer, that leaves the other 999 residents without protection.”

So what would you do, add more cops?

“Again, look at the big picture. What can we afford? How can we better utilize the resources we have? I think we have a terrific chief of police and he is doing an admirable job without the resources or support he needs and at some point, if we don’t address it, it is going to get worse. We need to be ahead of the next crisis. Until you know what you are doing as a community when it comes to public safety, things are not going to get better. Does it mean we have to spend more dollars? Maybe. But maybe we can utilize the dollars that we have to spend and let the police do their jobs.”

“I know we were very successful with a grant we helped write with Methuen. There’s an awful lot of homeland security money, state and federal dollars available, but we don’t even have a grant-writer so we are losing out on millions of the dollars available.”

That was a little vague on adding more cops. Should more cops be hired?

“I do think we absolutely have to add more police but it has to be done in a responsible manner. That’s what I’m saying. When I talk about the big picture, this is it. You cannot save police at the expense of fire, you cannot save police and fire at the expense of education. We have to look at the big picture and be realistic about what we can afford. We have to look at it in an equitable manner. So to say we are going to add ‘x’ number of officers without knowing how you are going to pay for it or what they are going to be doing isn’t the answer. I certainly wouldn’t second guess the chief. It goes back to what I said about the Superintendent, I think we have hired a great chief of police but you have to let him do his job. I certainly wouldn’t be interfering with his decisions for public safety. We need to have a multi-year plan.”

Is the current mayor not doing that? Is he not letting the chief have a say in the way crime is being fought in the streets?

“Yes. I think so. He is micro-managing the department. If you are a micro-manager you tend to want to micromanage everything. You don’t pay people over $100,000 to micro-manage them. It’s that simple. That’s a leader, someone who assembles the team hires the people and then lets them do their jobs.”

How about 40B? [low income housing requirements for cities and towns]

“We are between 8 % to 9 % affordable housing. We are right in line with what the state is looking for as far as affordable housing.”

One of our columnists John Michitson wrote a piece for us recently saying that basically, government cannot solve problems by it’s very nature. That it really takes the private sector to solve community problems. You come from the private sector, do you agree with that?

“I am a strong believer in Deval Patrick’s mindset that no one sector can solve the problem, but collectively everyone needs to be at the table to address these issues. Do I think government plays a role? Yes, it plays a major role. This community is succeeding or not succeeding collectively. Everybody is in the same boat. We all succeed or fail together. The answer is not the business sector, or the non-profits, or the government. It is a collective effort.”

Jim Fiorentini writes a column for us called ‘Moving Haverhill Forward’ where he talks a lot about his business successes and the new businesses moving to Haverhill. As the former head of the Chamber can you give him credit for…?

“I’d love to talk about this. I’m hoping that you can get this message out because I know the facts. When I look at the community’s tax base, it’s value-based. So ‘x’ amount of value in the community is broken into two sections; the residential and the commercial. In 1984 33% of the value of properties were residential and 67% was commercial, according to the assessors’ office. This year we are 88 % residential and 12% commercial. Now, those are facts. Those are glaring facts! Those should be shocking facts!”

“So, if he’s growing the commercial base, why doesn’t it show in value? It doesn’t show for two reasons: residential is growing off the map and commercial is not keeping pace. Now, you go to the specific projects he (Fiorentini) talks about that are supposedly growing the commercial base. Look at Starbucks. It replaced a Mobile gas station which was commercial property before. So where’s my growth? There’s no growth, only turnover. Look at BJ’s. They are mostly entry level jobs with 220 part-time jobs and 30-full time. It replaced Victory Plastics that was paying us $80,000 in taxes and had 50 median income jobs. Look at Lowe’s and Target stores. They are replacing Analogics who, on the books, is paying us $175,000 in taxes. They’re empty, but paying taxes. Estimates yesterday show maybe an additional $250,000 in additional taxes. So, all this economic growth we are hearing about by the mayor may bring in under 100k in new taxes and that brings me back to my original question: Is the current ‘growth’ under Jim Fiorentini bringing that 12% commercial value up? No, it is not. Jim Fiorentini is not growing the business community. He has shut them out.”

What do you want to see downtown look like?

We have 19 store fronts downtown that are empty. We have to ask the community what they want it to look like and how do we want to make that happen. You have to be proactive, and figure out what we as a community want downtown and then do what it takes to make it happen. The way it’s being done now, this administration is just sitting back and taking whatever comes along. We have to have more involvement. I see a cultural center for kids. I see a Gourmet-to-go, a wine bar and upscale restaurants. Maybe we could be subsidizing some of them at the beginning so they will flourish and contribute to our future success.

This is part one of a three part series. Next month The Valley Patriot will be interviewing former mayor Jim Rurak. Mayor Fiorentini’s interview will be published in the Special Election Edition to be printed October 25th.

 *Send your questions comments to ValleyPatriot@aol.com
The September 2007 Edition of the Valley Patriot
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