, Newburyport, MA

October 16, 2013

Ward 4 candidates sound off on NRA, schools


---- — NEWBURYPORT — As part of its coverage of the Nov. 5 municipal election, The Daily News will provide profiles of residents running for City Council.

Today’s coverage focuses on two candidates for the seat representing Ward 4. This ward covers neighborhoods from Toppans Lane and Broad Street, to the end of Merrimac Street near the Hines Bridge, and from Route 113 to the river. Also included are numerous streets near Highland Avenue and Anna Jaques Hospital. This description is approximate because the ward map is characterized by irregularities.

Thomas E. Jones

Age: 54

Family: Wife, Terry Berns

Occupation: Carpenter and construction superintendent

Education: Bentley University

Reason for running: “I am running for my fifth term on the council because I’ve gained valuable experience and insight into what works for Newburyport and the pitfalls that many cities and towns suffer, and how best we can avoid them. I was born and raised here and wish to keep this community a great place to live and raise a family, to preserve the quality of the community and improve the opportunities for our families.

Position on central waterfront: Jones says he has been concerned about “the general wrongheadedness” of the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority. He favors a waterfront maximized for public use. He said that the riverfront would benefit from a visitors center that could include restrooms and information desk.

The candidate said he would like city officials to consider the waterfront with a view that exceeds simply the central waterfront. “The waterfront over the years will be developed from the American Yacht Club to the old Towle complex.

“A key factor is getting a credible developer,” said Jones, who has spent his career in the construction business. “A good developer wouldn’t want to be tied to a project where there was disagreement among city officials and residents.”

Jones said that patience, despite the years of debate, could be useful. “This is not a good market in which to launch complicated construction projects,” he said. “Why would a developer want to take a risk of litigation delays and increased carrying (financial) cost if a city couldn’t agree on the direction.”

On schools, Jones said that he has been impressed with the new Bresnahan School and the renovations to the Nock/Molin complex. “But buildings don’t teach kids, a good education system does.” He said he is hopeful that the arrival of a new superintendent of schools can bring an end to the “revolving door” of education administrators here.

Jones said that he supports more teaching of languages here, including Spanish, French and Portuguese.

Special interest: Jones said that he finds satisfaction in working to enable all types of citizens to live here. “There are working-class people in this community and those who have retired. Many are trying to keep up with their tax bills and with their expenses. We’ve got to work to keep costs of fees and services down, so people who live here can afford to stay. My eight-year record shows that I am an advocate for the most vulnerable in the community.”

Charles F. Tontar

Age: 63

Address: 29 Jefferson St.

Family: wife, Candace, son, Darien, and dog, Obi

Occupation: Professor of economics, Merrimack College

Education: Georgetown University, MA, New School for Social Research

Reason for running: Tontar said his background as an economist and administrator will help him in his role as a councilor.

“As an urban and environmental economist,” Tontar said, “I have worked with cities under grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Environmental Protection Agency to improve economic vitality and quality of life in cities.

“One of the most important lessons I learned is that it is essential that elected officials be accessible to their fellow citizens and listen to their concerns. It is a special interest of mine to assure that, if I am elected, residents of Ward 4 have every opportunity to tell me how they think city government can improve the quality of their lives.”

Position on the central waterfront: “My position on the waterfront is a moderate one framed by three principles. First, parking for automobiles does not belong on the riverbank and should be minimized. Automobiles pollute the watershed with heavy metals and toxic fluids.”

Tontar, who gained hands-on municipal experience when he worked on an urban development project in Lawrence, added, “Improvements to the central waterfront should not increase property taxes unless voters approve of a bond override for that specific purpose.

“Third, it is essential, as a community, that we show a willingness to respect divergent positions. Staking out extreme positions will likely result in a continuation of the status quo and be indicative of a community too fractured to envision a better future.”

Position on the schools: “A significant contributor to K-12 educational success is the capacity of an educational system to engage families in educational partnerships. We should make every effort to further family-school partnerships.”

Special interest: “I am particularly interested in the city’s potential for non-residential economic growth. This includes the potential for growth in the downtown business area, the business park and the Low Street/Storey Avenue and Route 1 traffic circle areas. An expanded commercial tax base could serve to lessen the tax burden on residents and create a revenue stream that could be used to enhance the city’s sidewalk, street and park infrastructure as well as our school system.”

“One of the important elements of that character is that historic Newburyport is particularly amenable to walking and biking given its creation in a pre-automobile era,” he said. “Growth should serve to preserve and enhance that characteristic.”