Gateway Cities gain two new members

Attleboro and Peabody join the other 24

Gov. Deval Patrick last year vetoed legislation that would have expanded the number of Gateway Cities, but this year the economy is forcing his hand.

The Patrick administration added Attleboro and Peabody to the ranks of the 24 other Gateway Cities after concluding that their median household income had dipped below the statewide average, the one criteria that had previously denied the two communities admission to the group. The designation means Attleboro and Peabody can now compete against the 24 other Gateway Cities for tax credits and millions of dollars in housing, education, and transportation funds set aside for the communities.

Gateway Cities are struggling urban centers that Beacon Hill has decided need special help. According to the state’s definition, a community qualifies as a Gateway City if it meets three criteria: A population between 35,000 and 250,000; a below-average number of residents with college degrees; and a median household income under a five-year statewide average, which for this year’s calculation is $65,981.

Peabody and Attleboro met the population and education criteria, but last year they were just above the cutoff for median household income. Attleboro was just $125 above the state average until new Census data showed its median household income had fallen to $65,298. Peabody’s median household income squeaked in at $65,471. The designation, though, could be short-lived. The five-year average that determined the current median income was from 2007-2011, the bulk of the Great Recession. Either city could go back above the threshold next year if there’s a semblance of an economic rebound and lose the designation again, as could other cities on the list.

In a 2007 report, MassINC, the think tank that also publishes CommonWealth, coined the term “Gateway City” and identified 11 communities outside Route 128 that were struggling economically and deserved greater support from the state. The group included Springfield, Worcester, New Bedford, Lowell, Lawrence, and Fitchburg. In 2010, the Legislature passed a bill creating the official definition of a Gateway City and began setting aside funds to help redevelop the 24 qualifying communities.

Some lawmakers for the cities that failed to meet the state’s criteria tried to pass legislation as part of the fiscal 2013 budget process broadening the definition of a Gateway City. Patrick vetoed the bill, arguing that increasing the number of Gateway Cities would dilute the impact and availability of scarce state resources.

State Rep. Antonio Cabral of New Bedford, who co-chairs the Legislature’s Gateway Cities caucus, says he opposed the effort to change the criteria last year because he says it removes the incentives for those cities in need. Eventually, he says, lawmakers would continue to change and tweak the formula until nearly all cities and towns would qualify.

“Initially, the intention was to help places like New Bedford and Fall River and Brockton, Lowell and Lawrence,” Cabral says. “The danger of trying to do those [changes] is that every community would qualify so what is the advantage for places like New Bedford or Fall River?”

But Cabral says he welcomes Attleboro and Peabody into the group because they qualified under the definition written into the statute. Though it adds two more mouths at the table, Cabral says it increases the group’s “political power.” “In the end, it really gives us more ability to reach more folks,” he says. “It creates an opportunity for growth.”

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

Gardner Mayor Mark Hawke, whose city’s population is only 21,000, well below the 35,000 threshold, said the state shouldn’t be singling out communities for special support. Nevertheless, if special support is available, he wants access to it. “I’m against the whole Gateway City agenda, but, as long as it exists, I want to be in,” he said.

Hawke says his desire to be included is not just about the money. He says the governor’s office has arranged meetings between Gateway Cities and bio-tech firms and a number of other emerging industries. Hawke says Gardner deserves a seat at the table when those meetings are held.

 “Why not make it a level playing field?” Hawke asks. “I’m not going to be happy unless I’m in.”