ACTIVISTS, NOT MAYOR, CHANGE NEW BEDFORD

Your article on the mayors of New Bedford and Fall River (“Bright Lights, Little Cities“) is well-written, but there is a message that is lost, and those of us who are considered activists see it as a glaring omission. The biggest hurdle through all these decades has been that “our leaders” have always had very rosy views of the future in their speeches and then delivered nothing. Our Portuguese populations, steeped in the horrible memory of European fascism, generally kept their mouths shut and their support visibly high, even when that support was not deserved.

Take the Whaling Museum. It inhales a great amount of grant money and pays a few top officers well. However, most whaling museum staffers work as volunteers. The money the museum takes in stays there. Overall, the museum is an economic zero to the average working citizen. If city officials put as much effort into revitalizing our economy as they do to fund the Whaling Museum, we would be in a better place.

Or take the Corson building, which just received a $6 million grant for rehabilitation. That $1 from each Massachusetts resident. In the end, though, because it will be just an extension of the federal visitors’ center, it will pay no taxes and employ just a few lucky federal employees. Granted, it will remove blight from downtown, but again, it will be an economic zero to most residents.

As you mentioned, whaling is a 150-year-old industry. New Bedford has yet to find a new industry and, as such, is floundering. When Mayor Lang took office, he asked me and everyone one else he met, “How ’m I doin’”? I told him that if he doesn’t do something that the most regular person will notice, then he will have accomplished nothing. Unfortunate to say, this is where we stand one year later. Granted, Mayor Lang is putting forth a good effort, but his ties to the old political machine prevent him from firing the deadwood and making the toe-stomping changes that are necessary.

This where we (activists) come in. Our little group has driven several issues down here. You mentioned that Lang held public “Great Idea Forums.” That idea came from our Grinnell St. Group, which held neighborhood Great Idea Forums in front of our house. We then shared these ideas on our cable access show. Our lasting success was the rapid removal of the biggest drug dealer in our neighborhood. Also, the park nearby is now mostly always clean, and the loud neighbors have quieted down.

We also started the “clean the city” initiative. This was a direct extension of Citizens in Action for Progress (CAP). Eventually, Mayor Lang started his own group, called Operation Clean Sweep, which is modeled after a Los Angeles initiative of the same name. We started our group knowing the necessary legislation was not in place for the city to enforce non-littering behavior, but we were looking to encourage a kind of “me too” cleaning initiative. Success was mixed. Clean Sweep is, of course, having the same mixed success. Without legislative teeth, people are allowed to be slobs.

Our group also began the trend of photographing crime violations, from drug dealing to abandoned houses to trash. Now, just a short 18 months later, everyone is running around photographing various parts of “Dysfunction Junction” (New Bedford). This habit of photographing led us to record the City Council in action, to make them more accountable. However, they passed and then rapidly repealed council rule 12A, which prohibited the use of recording devices in City Council meetings without the council president’s permission — a blatant violation of the Open Meeting Law. If you read the humor section on http://www.whalingcity.info, you will find references to “the duck” The duck story is complicated, but is directly related to CAP’s activities regarding the recording of the City Council and their misplaced efforts to stop it.

CAP was painfully vocal about abandoned property and tax title property. At our insistence, Mayor Lang assigned a full-time lawyer to the tax title issue, and he is making a dent in it. Lang also added an abandoned housing task force, run from the Office of Community Development. This, too, is a good effort, but it is making headway at a snail’s pace. The point is, we also drive that issue.

Our leaders are not kings. They will respond to public requests if such requests are presented correctly and accurately. The trick is not to let them convince us that nothing can be accomplished without them. This is the USA, and it is the citizens who run the ship.

I hope I can encourage your magazine to come back to New Bedford and view the city from a side other than some corner office. You need to meet the people and the groups that will change and have already changed New Bedford. We like Scott as a mayor simply because he will listen, and he will respond. Perfection is still a ways off.

Dave Gould
New Bedford

SOUTH COAST NEEDS HELP TO HELP ITSELF

I was born in Fall River and went to school there, and grew up just over the town line in Westport. (Of course, things being as they are, I now live in Greater Boston.) Thank you for reminding people that Fall River and New Bedford exist. I hope Michael Jonas’s excellent article will spur some people in Boston reexamine the senseless waste of two major cities and a region that desperately needs some help from its capital to help itself.

Thankfully, the first step has already been taken on the road back for the South Coast – electing Deval Patrick as governor.

Robert Lamontagne
Cambridge

NOW CW IS PART OF THE BIG DIG PROBLEM

First, I have always had the utmost respect and admiration for Phil Primack, going back to his days at the Boston Herald. But the cast of characters highlighted and quoted (“Learning from the Big Dig“) in your current edition of the magazine is absolutely incorrect. They are either the enablers or should be labeled as the guilty.

I would credit the following persons who attempted to bring accountability and oversight to the project since day one. They include Joe Barresi, Steve Cotton, Marie Parente, Peter Howe, Joe Bergantino, Larry Overlan, William Nagle, William Keating, Tim Sandler, Ron Golobin, Walt Sanders, Steven Troiano, Bill Coughlin, John Strahinich, Warren Tolman, Tom Hammond, and the Washington–based watchdog group Project on Government Oversight, to name a few profiles in courage who dared to stand up and demand accountability and oversight of this project. They were dismissed or demeaned by the special interest groups of contractors, consultants, businesses, labor bosses, media allies, and political entities.

Michael Dukakis and Fred Salvucci (“Second-Guesswork“) are the architects of no accountability, which became an art form under James Carlin/James Kerasiotis, Steve Karol/Robert Havern, and Weld/Cellucci/Swift/Romney.

Your magazine should have done better for our state’s citizens and your readers instead of now being formally part of the problem that will further hinder needed reforms.

John Gatti Jr.
Southbridge

ATTENTION FROM STATE WOULD HELP HOLYOKE

A Tale of Two Valleys” is very interesting and well written. I think mention should also be made of the huge Holyoke Mall at Ingleside, which helped to kill downtown retail in Springfield and Holyoke, but which is a big economic plus for the city. Another thing that would help Holyoke and the Lower Pioneer Valley would be some attention from Massachusetts state government, which still seems to think that New York begins just west of I-495.

Eric S. Einhorn
Amherst