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Disbelief in Worcester Following Resignation of City Manager

Friday, November 22, 2013


Worcester residents and public servants across the political spectrum expressed disbelief and little confusion at the resignation of longtime City Manager Michael O’Brien, and his impending employment with the scandal-tinged real estate developers, WinnCompanies.

Public officials and civic leaders were quick to give O’Brien high marks for his enthusiasm for the city he has managed since 2004.

Barbara Haller, a former city councilor, called O’Brien the ultimate “Worcester Booster,” who had a “great vision of what Worcester should be and where it should go.”

John Giangregorio, of the Canal District Business Association, called O’Brien “a very competent administrator” who’s “positive outlook was always helpful.”

Bonnie Lund Johnson, former leader of Worcester’s Seven Hills Tea Party, admitted “sadness” saying “With Mike we knew what the vision was.”

Amongst the populace, the bag is a little more mixed.

“Another do nothing crony who specialized in helping his friends instead of constituents” wrote one commenter on this publication’s Facebook page, perhaps tacitly referring to O’Brien’s next gig.

Another disapproved of O’Brien being “a big Obama guy.”

Said another: “He resigned because of a big money opportunity in the private sector. City manager is pennies on the dollar compared to what's out there in the private sector.”

There is little doubt about that. But what about the private company that is offering O’Brien those dollars?


WinnCompanies is a nationwide company specializing in real estate development and property management. They have five properties in Worcester, and are currently spearheading the ongoing renovation of what will become the VOKE Lofts in a landmarked former vocational school. Winn’s recent redevelopment success, the Canal Lofts, also came during O’Brien’s tenure.

However, Winn probably remains best known for their overreach in Boston’s failed Columbus Center high rise project, a 13-year odyssey that featured over $60,000 in illegal campaign contributions, a $100,000 fine …and no building.

Arthur Winn, the man who paid that that fine – and narrowly avoided a jail sentence – is no longer with the company. As of January, O’Brien will be.

So it’s true that some were not altogether surprised that O’Brien stepped down after hinting at the possibility in September. But, Winn?

“That did surprise me” says Haller.

And while she spoke effusively of the “excellent relationship” O’Brien had with her and her former district, she admitted that “we clashed from time to time on CDC’s (Community Development Corporations).”

She also points out that, affordable housing is primarily Winn’s stock in trade, a field for which O’Brien has “never had a particular craving.” That, combined with Winn’s history of fund-raising impropriety, could only mean one thing in the minds of many: the company simply made O’Brien an offer too good to pass up.

“Winn is a huge company with a lot of clout, and that had to be appealing to Mike.”

“I didn’t anticipate it… It must have been a good fit” says Stuart Loosemoore of the Worcester Chamber of Commerce.

Now What?

As for what happens next, that too is a muddy issue. Not long after O’Brien’s announcement, Tim Murray, CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, and long considered the most likely replacement, said in a statement, “I will not seek, nor do I wish to be considered for the position of city manager of Worcester at this time.”

“I do not envy the task ahead of them,” says Loosemoore, referring to the city council.

So, while some see this situation as an opportunity, and some as the beginning of a potential leadership void, all can agree, the political landscape in Worcester is about to undergo significant changes.

Ultimately, Giangregorio describes this as a “new day for Worcester.” He also says he’ll miss O’Brien, someone who was always able to “put a positive spin on the city of Worcester.”

Now, how much will O’Brien have to try to put a positive spin on Winn?


Related Slideshow: Worcester Municipal Elections 2013: The Winners

The results are in. Joseph Petty retained his seat as Councilor-At-Large, and will remain Mayor of New England's second largest city.  Let's take a look at the rest of the Worcester City Council following the completion of the Municipal Election.

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Mayor & Councilor-At-Large

Joseph M. Petty

Votes Received: 8,854 Mayor, 8,451 Councilor-At Large
Mayor Joseph M. Petty was elected to his ninth two-year term as Councilor-At-Large and his second term as Mayor of the City of Worcester. He is a graduate of Holy Name Central Catholic High School in Worcester, studied at Nichols College in Dudley, and received a law degree from New England School of Law in Boston. 
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Kate Toomey

Votes Received: 8,133 (13.80%)

Councilor Toomey was elected to her fifth term, earning the second most At-Large votes.  She has served as Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Public Works, which considers all matters pertaining to streets, water, sewers, sanitation, recycling, snow removal and the construction of public buildings.

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Morris A. Bergman

Votes Received: 6,768 (11.49%)

The newly-elected Bergman is a practicing lawyer, a former prosecutor for the Office of the District Attorney-Middle District-Worcester and a past two term member of the City of Worcester Zoning Board of Appeals.

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Konstantina B. Lukes

Votes Received: 6,520 (11.07%)

Councilor Lukes served as Mayor of Worcester from 2007-2009, and is serving her twelfth two-year term as a Councilor-At-Large.She also served four two-year terms as a member of the Worcester School Committee.

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Rick C. Rushton

Votes Received: 5,720 (9.71%)

Councilor Rushton will return for a fourth term in the city council. He ha served as Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Economic Development, he which considers all matters pertaining to economic development, neighborhood development, housing development, marketing, workforce development, zoning, planning and regulatory services functions of the City and energy.

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Michael T. Gaffney

Votes Received: 5,607 (9.52%)

Attorney Michael Gaffney was elected to his first term on the Worcester City Council.  He is one of two newcomers to the council 

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District 1 Councilor

Tony J. Economou

Votes Received: 2,464 (59.64%)

Councilor Economou will return to his District 1 seat for a second term. He has served as Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Traffic & Parking,which considers all matters pertaining to traffic and parking ordinances and off street parking facilities.
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District 2 Councilor

Philip P. Palmeiri

Votes Received: 1,119 (55.84%)

Councilor Palmeiri will return to his District 2 seat for a seventh term. He has served as Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Public Service & Transportation,which considers all matters pertaining to cable television and telecommunications, public transportation, street lighting, taxis and liveries.

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District 3 Councilor

George J. Russell

Votes Received: 1,454 (100.00%)

Councilor Russell ran uncontested, allowing him to retain his District 3 seat for a second term.  He has served as Chairperson of the Standing Committe on Rules & Legislative Affairs, which initiates and reviews proposals for amendments to the rules of the City Council and any other matters affecting or determining the conduct of the City Council meetings.

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District 4 Councilor

Sarai Rivera

Votes Received: 1,100 (100.00%)

Councilor Rivera ran uncontested, and will be serving her second term as District 4 Councilor. She has served as Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Youth, Parks & Recreation, which considers all matters involving youth, parks, playgrounds, recreation activities and Hope Cemetery.

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District 5 Councilor

Gary Rosen

Votes Received: 2,289 (54.08%)

Gary Rosen returns to the City Council after defeating incumbent William Eddy. Rosen had previously served five terms on the School Committee and three terms in the City Council.

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Gaming Proposals on the Ballot

Municipal ballot initiatitives in other regions of the state may have implications local to Central Massachusetts.  Voters weighed in on proposals for casions in East Boston and Palmer on Tuesday. 

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Voters in the Western Massachusetts community of Palmer narrowly rejecting a bid by Mohegan Sun to build a resort casino in town. 

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East Boston and Revere

Even though voters in Revere approved the construction of a casino at Suffolk Downs, East Boston voted against the proposal. Support from both communities was needed before the venue could formally apply for a license with the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. 


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