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Port in Progress

July 20, 2007

Three mayors, one goal

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Al Zabriskie, George Lawler and Byron Matthews were the three mayors who led Newburyport during its two-decade urban renewal era.

They were three very different men with three very different styles, but they would weave their views, strengths and characters into the fabric that makes Newburyport the vibrant city -- and statewide model of renewal -- that it is today.

One thing all three had in common was their love of Newburyport and their belief the city could rise again, no matter how far its once-thriving economy had fallen since its heyday.

They also bore other similarities -- all three have been city councilors representing Ward 5; they were all friends and were born into homes within a stone's throw of each other.

Each mayor played a pivotal role in Newburyport's revival: The first began it, the next changed the redevelopment's direction from demolition to restoration and the last pushed and prodded to get Newburyport whatever it needed to resurrect its historic profile and give it new economic success.

Albert H. "Al" Zabriskie Jr.

Mayor, 1960-1963

As President Woodrow Wilson had "Fourteen Points" for establishing lasting peace in Europe after World War I, Zabriskie took the mayor's office in 1960 with a nine-point program to build "a better Newburyport for the people."

Zabriskie promised residents and businesses "action and progress, rather than words and stagnation." Included in his nine-point plan were open government, better schools, more off-street parking, increased harbor facilities, a search for new industries, a master plan for city development and the magic words of the time: urban renewal.

By 1959, when Zabriskie ran for mayor against former Mayor Andrew J. "Bossy" Gillis, the Clipper City's economic crisis was no secret. Unemployment was about 17 percent, according to Daily News reports. Most buildings on lower State Street were boarded up and many shops and factories were closed, said George Lawler, who was City Council president while Zabriskie was mayor. Some businessmen were so discouraged, Lawler said, they simply locked their doors one night and never returned.

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