NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

March 11, 2013

Waterfront discussion likely to be central to mayoral race

Newburyport City Notebook
Dyke Hendrickson

---- — The announcement last week that Councilor Dick Sullivan Jr. will challenge Donna Holaday for mayor — made so early in the election cycle — took some City Hall watchers by surprise.

Sullivan has been a councilor for only a year. If he loses, he is no longer a member of the council.

But there it is — a first-timer with deep roots in the community challenging a political veteran who is running for her third term. And pursuant to the new municipal charter, it will be a four-year term paying $98,000 per year.

Competition promises to generate debate about the key political issue at the moment: the central waterfront.

The Newburyport Redevelopment Authority owns 4.2 acres on the riverfront, which NRA board members say they plan to turn into a combination of park, open space and commercial structures.

True believers recall that during Holaday’s race against James Shanley in 2009, she favored an open waterfront — then defined as a park. Shanley favored some development.

In recent weeks Holaday has said that she would favor some aspects of the Union Studio concept that would include some commercial structures.

The Union Studio plan, and NRA members caution that it is just a tentative vision, would include two commercial buildings — total 70,000 square feet — shops, restaurants and 30-35 condominium units.

Holaday contends that she still favors open space, but asserts that it depends how one defines the term. She says some development might be necessary in order to develop the park and open space.

Sullivan? The 56-year-old retired firefighter has been coy about the issue, saying he has an “open mind” on the matter. He allowed he would favor some development but “not too much.”

Skulking and sleuthing by Your Scribe has produced the deduction that many residents feel that Holaday has turned her back on her campaign position calling for an open waterfront.

So her greatest task will be explaining why her semantics have changed, because she still contends that she wants open space.

Sullivan, meanwhile, will have to convince voters that he is capable of running the day-to-day operations of City Hall.

Certainly Holaday has proved she can.

In the past year alone, plans have been approved for two major school projects, a senior community center, a rebuilt clearwell (municipal water source), an updated wastewater plant and enhancements to public parks. City finances are in good shape, and veteran department heads say they enjoy working with her. They say she is committed, informed and follows up on details.

It will be difficult for Sullivan to say that she is not doing her job.

So Holaday has a strong record of achievement and a stance on the waterfront that she will have to explain.

Sullivan, meanwhile, comes from an old Newburyport family associated with public service. His father and brother were both the mayor here; his brother was a city councilor.

And his three decades with the fire department suggest that he knows his way around city politics.

Still, it isn’t clear that he can convince voters of his value. When Sullivan ran for the at-large post on the City Council in the fall of 2011, he came in fifth out of eight candidates.

Yes, he has the backing of several political “tribes” here. He is the oldest of eight, and many of his siblings will be working for him.

And because he is a veteran firefighter, employees and families in the police and fire departments will likely favor his candidacy. And he is a former member of the School Committee.

It appears that both candidates feel comfortable with the thought of being the mayor. Holaday has served there for more than three years, and Sullivan spent his formative years around City Hall because Richard Sullivan Sr. was mayor from 1978-86.

Because Sullivan declared so early, there will be plenty of time to debate the issues. And ... perhaps other candidates will enter the race.

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The following meetings are scheduled this week and are open to the public?

Today

Fire Chief Screening Committee, 10 a.m., City Hall.

Tuesday

River Valley Charter School Finance Committee, 6 p.m., 2 Perry Way.

Community Preservation Committee, 7 p.m., police conference room, 4 Green St.

River Valley Charter School Trustees, 7 p.m., 2 Perry Way.

Budget and Finance Committee, 7 p.m., City Hall.

License and Permit Committee, 7 p.m., City Hall.

City Council, 7:30 p.m., City Council Chambers.

Thursday

Fire Chief Screening Committee, 10 a.m., City Hall.

Disabilities Commission, 6 p.m., Nock Middle School, 70 Low St.

School Building Committee, 6:30 p.m., City Hall.

Harbor Commission, 7 p.m., City Council Chambers.

Newburyport Redevelopment Authorities, 7 p.m., library.

Fruit Street Historic District Committee, 7 p.m., City Hall.

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Dyke Hendrickson covers Newburyport for The Daily News. He can be reached at 978-462-6666, ext. 3226 or dhendrickson@newburyportnews.com.