Yesterday’s inauguration ceremony was perhaps the best Newburyport inaugural that we have seen in years. It combined so many elements of what makes this city tick —a general feeling that the city is going in the right direction, acknowledgement of the many charity-minded people and entities that make it a strong community, a nod to the city’s past and agreeable goals for the future. It also had an informal formality that reminded us this is a small city where individuals and the little things matter.
Though the day was rainy and gray, the inauguration took place against a bright backdrop. Newburyport has been riding a high tide for several years. Its finances are healthy, it is well run, it is a desirable place to visit and to live. Its downtown is vibrant, its waterfront is improving steadily, it has a solid economic base and a huge reservoir of volunteers and charities working to maintain and improve the city. Its problems, though fought over and sometimes obsessed over, are small compared to what other cities must deal with. This is a good era in Newburyport’s history, and certainly the inaugural reflected that.
Newburyport is also a city that respects and understands its past, and knows something about perseverance. That was a theme that served as the overall thrust of this year’s inaugural.
This year marks the 250th anniversary of Newburyport. In 1764, the merchants and seafarers of the “Waterside” neighborhood of Newbury petitioned to have a sliver of land split off to form Newbury Port. The Port was a condensed pocket of industry surrounded by the farms of Newbury, its future tied to the waterfront. Though the shipyards, ships and factories that propelled Newburyport’s past are long gone, the waterfront and the legacy of that past are still what draws people here.
Mayor Donna Holaday made clear that this will be a special year for the city. The anniversary will be marked by a series of celebrations and events that will help people share in their appreciation for Newburyport. Holaday is a student and fan of Newburyport’s history, and her inaugural was sprinkled with acknowledgements of the city’s legacy. Seven Newburyport High School students read a chronology that brought listeners from the first settlement of Newbury in 1635 to today. Each living mayor, and the family of recently deceased Mayor George Lawler, were invited to the ceremony to be recognized and to receive a gift. Giant posters showing views of Newburyport in the distant past stood prominently in front of the stage. City Council President Tom O’Brien, a Newburyport native, recalled growing up in the city when every neighborhood had a corner store and the downtown was filled with locally owned businesses.
Holaday acknowledged the many charitable organizations that call Newburyport their home — a surprisingly large number given the city’s small size. But that is one of the strengths of the city, something that has helped carry it through the lean times and augmented the good times.
One of the key goals set for 2014 and beyond is improving the city’s schools. This was a theme touched on by both Holaday, who serves as the School Committee chairwoman, and Vice Chairwoman Cheryl Sweeney. For observers who were looking for extensive details, there were none offered, but that is to be expected at an inauguration.
Newburyport’s inaugurations are steeped in traditions that are largely absent from those of other cities. It makes the experience unique to the city. One of the key differences is the format — the inauguration is actually a City Council meeting, at which the 11-member council is sworn in and elects, by unanimous vote, its new president. At the start of the inauguration, the mayor is absent from the chamber. As is the case with all City Council meetings, the mayor can only enter the chamber upon the invitation of the council, and is then escorted in by two designated council members. This was done with much ceremony and respect, about halfway through the two-hour event.
Holaday added her own piece of tradition to the inauguration. The Newburyport Public Library’s archives department managed to track down the 276-year-old, 3-inch-thick Book of Common Prayers that once presided in Newburyport’s first church, the Third Parish Church that stood for many years in Market Square. The book served as the Bible upon which Holaday was sworn in.
Music was also an important part of the inauguration. Who knew that incoming City Councilor Meghan Kinsey had such a dynamic singing voice? The Molin School chorus regaled listeners with a nod to Newburyport’s nautical past, the high school’s band performed an inspired overture, and Mayor Holaday’s husband Joe and sons Jared and PJ — all three phenomenal musicians — performed “America” on the guitar, drums and saxophone.
The 2014 inaugural has gotten Newburyport off on the right foot for its 250th anniversary year. We look forward to what the next 12 months bring to the city.