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Worcester’s 5 Big Issues: Tim Murray Weighs In

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

 

Tim Murray debunks the notion that Worcester is an unsafe city, challenges John Henry to preserve the Telegram and Gazette, and believes the city has too many good things going right now to debate a mayor-based government. That's the word from the Greater Worcester Chamber of Commerce's President and CEO. In an interview Tuesday with GoLocalWorcester, Murray talked about all things Worcester - from baseball to business.

Perception of crime

GoLocalWorcester recently reported on the city’s slide to the bottom quartile in the most recent nationwide crime survey of America's cities by Congressional Quarterly. Based on the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program, the annual rankings factor murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, and motor vehicle theft in more than 400 cities with populations above 75,000. Despite the slide, Worcester still compared favorably to others of like size throughout New England.

Facts and perceptions, however, don’t always agree. To the continued perception that Worcester has a serious crime problem, Murray said he sticks with facts.

“I don't agree with that perception. Like a lot of gateway cities or urban centers, sometimes perception is more than reality. The fact of the matter is that, when looking at the data, Worcester is one of the safest cities of its size and demographic as any in the country,” Murray said.

“Like a lot of inner cities, it’s the perceptions we have to be aware of. People see graffiti and panhandling, which are characterized as quality of life crimes, and those need to be addressed. They add to the perception."

Murray said he’s proud of the police department, which he believes is instrumental in keeping the numbers of murders and assaults in Worcester lower than sister cities in size and demographics.

“I think the police department does a very good job.”

Everybody loves baseball

This might warm you up: Tickets for the Worcester Bravehearts’ home opener go on sale in three weeks. Their first game is Jun 5th, which is part of an opening weekend with four home starts and post-game fireworks starting on June 6th. Murray said the current winter season’s brutality has people excited for their local team.

“The Worcester Bravehearts are in the collegiate league and we’re very excited about them. They are locally owned by a multigenerational Worcester family company who know about the business of baseball and the food concession end of the business. They’re very rooted and connected in Central Massachusetts.”

Murray stressed the league’s insistence on teams having a contingent of local players as a sign of the deepness of those local roots.

“It adds to the fan base and the identity. This league is very family friendly, from the quality, the price points for tickets, food and concessions. Since it’s college payers the operational costs are much less than other minor leagues. It’s more like a Cape Cod League experience, which is what people really enjoy.”

Newspaper town?

The only local buyer for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette has bowed out. This comes after Boston billionaire John W. Henry put the newspaper up for sale one month after gaining control of the paper. Henry has said he’d like to find a local buyer for the 147-year-old Central Massachusetts publisher.

“I have been very vocal publicly to John Henry. We want to hold him to his commitment. The New York Times gave him a discount because he was a local buyer. He stated publicly he was committed to quality journalism and said the same thing to the public and his. He wants to sell the paper to a good steward and we hope he will do that.”

Murray said Henry will complete his process of evaluating potential buyers this summer. A strong newspaper, Murray said, is important to towns like Worcester that don’t have affiliate TV stations.

“They’re the largest media outlet in Worcester. There’s a history there. They play a role not only in the day-to-day identity of the region but from a development point of view there are jobs behind the company that are important to the community as well.”

Capturing innovation

As a former Lieutenant Governor, Murray is the kind of person who can speak with authority on things such as crime, baseball and media. However, he’s head of the Greater Worcester Chamber of Commerce now. That means business, and he means business, too.

The proliferation of higher education in Worcester marries well with business innovation and growth, Murray said. This ball has been rolling well for the city, and Murray plans to keep it that way.

“We'll be making announcements soon on one of the new roles the chamber is taking on. It’s a new partnership with the higher education community in the ways we’re organizing our work at the Chamber to recruit, retain, and incubate. The incubators are very much focused on colleges. We’re linking campuses with chamber businesses for intern programs, getting them involved in chamber activities outside of campus so they know there are quality jobs available to them in Central Massachusetts.

The three-tiered approach aims to bring college students into the workforce via internships, keep them there with recruiting and help them launch their own careers via incubators.

“Having a dozen colleges and universities in the region is a huge asset to companies seeing a greying of the workforce. They need well-trained, well-educated people. We’re facilitating linkages and partnerships between our nearly 2,500 members and the colleges.”

State of the City Manager

Many Worcester residents believe Interim City Manager Edward Augustus is a lock to get the job full time, even though he stated when he was sworn in that he won't seek the permanent position. Some think it’s time for a Mayor. Murray thinks the latter is a distraction; one the city can’t handle right now.

“I'm not convinced at this time we need a strong mayor form of government. We have a lot of momentum going on in this city. I think our time would best be focused on that. Historically, the city has been supportive of a strong mayor form of government. In an ideal world, if we were staring all over, we would have that debate.”

But the city is not starting all over. It is on the cusp of completing important projects, Murray said, such as Gateway Park.

“We have 20 planes now at the airport. We have some things going on. Sometimes, if you’re creating uncertainty at City Hall or out in the community it’s not conducive to private sector reinvestment. That debate right now could potentially distract us from completing these things.”

 

Related Slideshow: 9 Challenges Facing Worcester’s New City Manager

Now the Edward Augustus is serving as City Manager for Worcester, GoLocal reached out to the city's leaders to find out what they believe are the biggest challenges Augustus will face in his new role. 

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Keep Forward Momentum

Paul Giorgio, publisher of Pagio, Inc. and a GoLocalWorcester MINDSETTER™:

“Priority One: Keep up the momentum.

Two: Work with the mayor on creating a task force for the north end of Main Street.

Three: Insure that we keep our school renovation plan on track.”

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Economic Development

Councilor Anthony Economou:

“Economic development is huge. We have a lot going on, and we have to keep the momentum up,” Economou said. “Make sure we don't miss a beat. You don't want to lose a period of nine months and not have forward progress.”

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Financial Management

Roberta Schaefer, former president of the Worcester Regional Research Bureau:

Schaefer said continuing the sound financial management of former City Manager Michael O'Brien was the greatest task for Augustus. But in addition to financial questions, she called for Augustus to “follow the lead of Michael O'Brien, to make sure he represents all the interests of the city, as the CEO of the city.

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Business Climate

Tim Murray, president and chief executive officer of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce:

In addition to budgeting and economic development, Murray pointed to fostering the business climate in the city. “Try to make Worcester as business-friendly a place as possible,” he said. Whether through permitting, customer service, or other incentive, “whatever we can do to make the city a supportive (place for business).”

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Budget Concerns

Christopher Pinto, member of the Worcester Republican City Committee:

“Can he really do pension reform? Can he spare the taxpayers from more abusive taxes?” asked Pinto, who wonders what Augustus will do about the Responsible Employer Ordinance and how the new city manager will make appointments to boards and commissions.

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Capital Improvements

Councilor Frederick Rushton:

Rushton said the number one challenge Augustus will face is following through toward new buildings and/or renovations to area high schools in need of capital improvements.

"Second," he said, “is completing CitySquare.”

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Public Safety

Councilor Sarai Rivera:

Rivera points to economic development, neighborhood development, and continuing to support public safety and public service, as well as “working with private and labor to support the (Responsible Employer Ordinance) and look into an apprentice program.”

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Neighborhood Development

Councilor George Russell:

“It's not necessarily 'A, B, and C,' it's more what you want to see overall,” Russell said. “For me, it's more neighborhood orientation.”

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Collective Bargaining

Councilor Anthony Economou:

Economou also cited the upcoming task of collective bargaining with union city workers. “One of the challenges will be the contracts,” Economou said. “I imagine it's on his radar, to get those discussions going.”

 
 

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