By Mac Cerullo
---- — AMESBURY — In 2013, Amesbury residents said they wanted change, and this year they’re going to get a lot of it.
Amesbury’s new leaders will be sworn into office this month, and for the first time since 2005 somebody other than Thatcher Kezer will take the oath as mayor. How these new leaders will operate, how they will coexist, and what their priorities will be are just some of the questions residents have going into 2014.
There will also be a number of major projects going forward this year, including the reconstruction of Route 150 and the continued progress on the Whittier Bridge, but here are three of the big stories to keep an eye on this year in Amesbury:
The big question on everyone’s mind is what kind of mayor will Ken Gray be? A virtual unknown before he stepped forward to challenge Kezer last spring, Gray’s victory over the four-term incumbent was one of the biggest stories of 2013.
Gray campaigned on a promise of bringing fiscal responsibility and a businessman’s mindset to the city’s top elected office. He said that improving the city’s property values and the quality of its school system would be among his top priorities, but at this point nobody is quite sure what kind of approach he will take to accomplish these goals once he officially takes office.
After eight years, most people in town had grown accustomed to Kezer’s leadership, so one of the early stories of 2014 will be how people adjust to the new sheriff in town.
The new City Council
Joining Gray in City Hall is a new City Council that includes a number of new faces along with a handful of returning ones.
Paul Sickorez and Dave Moavenzadeh both join the council as first-time members, while Jonathan Sherwood is returning to his old post after a four-year absence. Bob Lavoie, Joseph McMilleon, Anne Ferguson and James Kelcouse all return to the council in their current roles, while Donna McClure returns as councilor at-large.
How this group works together, and with Gray, will be a major question on everybody’s mind going into the new legislative session, but based on their campaign promises, it’s fair to say there won’t be as many unanimous votes over the next two years as there have been in the recent past.
Sickorez, who is succeeding Bob Gilday as District 1 councilor, campaigned on a platform similar to Gray’s, promising to bring a more reasoned approach to spending with an emphasis on trying to bring down the tax rate.
Moavenzadeh is believed to also hold similar positions as Gray, Sickorez and McClure, but he was much less active on the campaign trail, given that he was running for District 3 councilor unopposed.
Sherwood, who succeeds Derek Kimball in District 6, is a strong supporter of Kezer and figures to be a part of the council that will carry his administration’s political philosophy into the future, along with Ferguson and Lavoie.
The other returning councilors, Kelcourse and McMilleon, are expected to be the more moderate voices on the council, though both have historically voted in concert with Ferguson and Lavoie on most issues.
As for the District 2 councilor, nobody is even sure who that’s going to be yet. Christian Scorzoni was re-elected in November, but given that his family recently moved to the other side of town, he is no longer eligible to retain his seat and will be forced to vacate it when the new council is seated.
Once the seat is vacant, the City Council will accept applications for the position from any eligible residents living in District 2, and councilors will appoint new member once a qualified candidate steps forward.
Regardless of who takes Scorzoni’s seat in District 2, the days of the City Council voting 9-0 or 8-1 on most issues are probably over. How the council votes on issues going forward will be something to keep an eye on in 2014.
The Lower Millyard
After years of discussion, planning and debating, the revitalization of the Lower Millyard is finally expected to begin in earnest this year.
Over the coming months, the soil contaminated by industrial pollutants will be scraped out and replaced with clean soil, and what was once an ugly, blighted brownfield will transform into a new downtown park.
At the same time, the new Department of Public Works garage is expected to be completed on South Hunt Road, and when that has happened, the old garage in the Lower Millyard will be torn down, clearing the area of one of the city’s most notorious eyesores.
Work on the final phase of the Riverwalk Trail is also expected to begin, and once that’s done, the trail will connect the Carriagetown Marketplace to Main Street, allowing visitors a clear path between the city’s two main shopping destinations.
Additional work on Water Street and the surrounding buildings will continue into 2015 and beyond, but if all goes well, the Lower Millyard should look completely different by the end of the year.