This year’s election marks a major milestone for Newburyport. It is the first in which the elected mayor will serve a four-year term, twice as long as mayors have served in the past.
That makes it crucial to have a leader with a proven track record and demonstrated experience. We feel that Mayor Donna Holaday is the right candidate to manage the city during this transition to a new phase in the mayor’s tenure.
Holaday has been a capable and energetic mayor during her first two terms in office. Much has been accomplished, and the list of new projects is ambitious.
Her performance during the mayoral debate earlier this month reinforced the notion that she has a solid command of the issues facing the city, can defend her record well and presents herself as an articulate leader.
Holaday has attracted more than her fair share of detractors over her four years in office. She can be quick with a sharp rebuke, can get a little too involved in the small details, and sometimes snaps to judgments before stepping back and considering. This is where her opponents and critics have largely found fault with her.
But she is a doer. She is in constant motion, bulldozing her way to accomplishing well-defined goals. She tackled the implementing of a downtown paid parking plan, she made sure that the tax hikes to support the school and senior center projects passed, she pushed through the revamping of the sewer plant, parks improvements and more money for sidewalk repairs.
She’s also done the little things that demonstrate her personal pride in her city — for example, having Newburyport named a Coast Guard City and putting together the Clipper City historic tour that highlights Newburyport’s fascinating history to residents and visitors.
She’s guarded the city’s solid financial footings and improved them. She’s a fighter who focuses on the task at hand and gets it done. She’s as good an ambassador for Newburyport as the corner office has seen in a long while.
Politically, Holaday is a pragmatist. We think that’s the prudent way to manage Newburyport, a city with so many diverse interests. The controversy over the Local Historic District was a good example of how she seeks compromise on large-scale and divisive issues. This was an issue that threatened to tear the city apart, and though Holaday initially favored the LHD, she offered compromise and ultimately let the LHD fall to its inevitable defeat. She alienated supporters on this issue, but she took the pragmatic approach that saved Newburyport from continuing its bitter and unproductive fight over the LHD.
If there is one area that Holaday’s penchant for big-issue compromise has fallen short, it’s the fate of the city’s central waterfront.
Every candidate running for office has repeated the same observation — the majority of people in the city are opposed to the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority’s plan to build three structures on its land. Holaday, who ran four years ago on a platform of an “open waterfront,” has migrated to a precarious position. She is somewhere in between the “open waterfront” and pro-NRA sides. That position pleases neither side. And voters seemed to respond to the mayor’s change in position during the preliminary election in September. She won the election, but by the slimmest of margins — and most strikingly, 65 percent of the voters cast ballots for her opponents, both of whom favored an open waterfront.
The ground under the NRA’s plan is constantly shifting, and the results of the election will no doubt rock it even more. There are plenty of people who have reservations about Holaday due to her shifting position on the waterfront, but we feel confidant that she will move to where the majority of the public opinion resides. And once there, we will see the same Donna Holaday who bulldozed her way to completing the tasks at hand, pushing forward with the waterfront’s long-awaited completion.