, Newburyport, MA

October 16, 2013

NRA flier causes rift in mayoral race


---- — NEWBURYPORT — Mayoral candidate Dick Sullivan Jr. has criticized the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority for “allowing itself to be used as an arm of Mayor Holaday’s re-election campaign” by disseminating a graphic brochure depicting the NRA’s tentative plan for the central waterfront.

Holaday fired back, denying Sullivan’s accusations and calling his statements “grossly inaccurate and divisive.” She also said that the current NRA plan isn’t in sync with her position — she has advocated for a smaller-scale design that eliminates some key aspects of the NRA plan, including high-end residential condominiums and an underground parking garage.

The NRA’s development plan has become a central issue in the mayoral campaign. Four of the five NRA members are appointed by the mayor, and one member is appointed by the governor. Sullivan has called for the NRA to disband if it continues to advocate for developing its land.

The 8-by-11-inch color “postcard” was received by several thousand households over the weekend. It could also be found on the counters of some local stores and businesses.

The four-color cards depicted two artist’s renderings of the NRA’s proposed development on the 4.2 acres it owns along the river. It was titled “Finally, a sound plan that works for Newburyport.” It explained the approach and tentative vision of the NRA. The communication included points that focused on its reasons for developing the two parcels, now used as parking lots.

Sullivan, who is running for mayor in the Nov. 5 election, suggested that several NRA members are “active contributors and supporters of the mayor’s re-election campaign.” Three NRA members — Patricia Dorfman, John Morris, and James Shanley — made financial contributions to the mayor’s campaign fund.

“I find it deeply offensive that the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority has allowed itself to be used as an arm of Mayor Holaday’s re-election campaign,” said Sullivan in a press release, “by mailing what I consider to be a campaign brochure supportive of the mayor’s effort to develop the central waterfront.

“The action of publishing and mailing a campaign piece to every Newburyport voter makes it clear that we need a new mayor, a disbanded NRA and a new direction with respect to the waterfront.”

Sullivan said the NRA accomplished its mission of revitalizing our “blighted downtown” a generation ago.

“Now it is time.” Sullivan said, “to dedicate the remaining waterfront land to the public use and enjoyment of the current and future generations of Newburyport citizens.”

Holaday yesterday responded, “I find Councilor Sullivan’s statement to be grossly inaccurate and divisive. The NRA is an independent body and functions autonomously from the city.

“The NRA owns this 4.2-acre parcel and has proceeded to create a concept plan to fund an expanded park and ongoing maintenance. Their concept plan includes development to fund the park and create year-round activities on the waterfront. The NRA, as any independent organization, chose to hire a marketing consultant to help get their message out to the residents.

“The material that was sent out was not in any way coordinated with my campaign nor does it represent my position. As I have stated, I am interested in some limited development to fund our park and expanded open space on the waterfront but do not support private condos, underground parking or selling the property. I truly believe after talking with so many residents that we can find common ground and finally have the park everyone wants on our waterfront.”

Tom Salemi, chairman of the NRA, said 11,360 cards were mailed at a cost of $4,089. The project was done without taxpayer funds.

The NRA receives parking fees on NRA lots. Members of the panel recently reported that it has about $180,000 in the bank.

Salemi yesterday said, “We’ve spent more than a year coming up with a practical plan to finish our waterfront. We simply wanted a chance to tell residents directly — through the flier and videos — what we’re looking to do rather than leave it to someone else to define our plan.”