NEWBURYPORT — Candidates running for City Council seats in the upcoming Nov. 5 municipal election discussed their vision for Newburyport’s future on WJOP 96.3 FM this week.

All nine candidates — seven of whom are competing for five councilor at-large seats, and two competing for a Ward 6 councilor seat — appeared on the show, and were each given a brief one-on-one interview with host Mary Carrier. 

During his interview, Paul C. O’Brien, a former chief of staff to Mayor Donna Holaday, said he hopes to deal with neighborhood issues and combined sewage overflows in the Merrimack River.

“I’m out knocking on doors and talking to hundreds of residents, and they feel the need that they want to bring the government back into the neighborhoods. They want to see things done a little bit better back in the neighborhoods; streets, sidewalks, schools,” said O’Brien. 

Charlie Tontar, the current Ward 4 councilor who is running for an at-large seat, discussed his unique perspective as an economist, and expressed some worry about a possible recession that may come within the next few years.

“I think that one of the things we have to do is we have to be really careful borrowing right now,” said Tontar, expressing concern over the city’s proposal to bond $10 million over five years to pay for street and sidewalk repairs. 

Barry Connell, who will soon complete his eighth term on the City Council and his first as president, is vying for re-election as city councilor at-large. During his interview, Connell named street and sidewalk-related issues as well as zoning for Waterfront West among his chief concerns. 

“We have some strong protections in place (for Waterfront West)... but the development is going to change the neighborhood if it takes place, and I think we have to get it right,” said Connell.

Bruce Vogel, who is running for re-election as councilor at-large, discussed the need to breathe new life into the city’s business community.

“If we’re not careful we’re going to become a downtown of eateries and real estate offices,” said Vogel, adding that he would like to work with the mayor to bring on a new economic development director position in City Hall. “We need to do something to revitalize our shopping downtown, we need to do something about economic development across the community, not just downtown but we also need to reach out and bring businesses into the business park.”

Rob Germinara, a city resident who also hopes to be elected to his first term as a councilor at-large, said that if elected, he would ensure that the expanded Waterfront Park opens and remains open space with a handicap-accessible restroom. He also said he would be “tough” on New England Development through the approval process for Waterfront West.

“It just seems ludicrous that they would install eight buildings there,” said Germinara. “I’m very concerned... what we ought to be doing is protecting the interest of Newburyporters and not going out of the way to help developers do what they want to do.”

Afroz Khan, who hopes to be re-elected as a councilor at-large, discussed her hopes to make council business more clear during ambiguous situations, which she said she feels often pop up in discussions about zoning changes.

“I do have some ideas for increasing transparency and understanding, not only for councilors but for residents as well,” said Khan. 

Joseph Devlin is running for his third term as councilor at-large, and said he feels that he is still not done with working on the city’s “schools, streets, sidewalks, safety and services.”

“There’s only so much that can be done here, and I think we can contain our small town charm while also having some aspects of a city, and I would like to maintain that balance,” said Devlin.

Ward 6 councilor candidates Byron Lane and Sarah Hall — both of whom are political newcomers — also sat down for interviews during the radio show, discussing both their backgrounds and plans for the future, if elected.

Lane discussed his life growing up in the city’s South End and his hopes to give his ward’s residents more attention.

“I’d love for my son and the children of Newburyport experience the same thing that I did, have those relationships and have that sense of community,” said Lane. “I think some things have been neglected in that end of town, and I think that needs to change. I think we need to serve all of our residents equally.”

Hall discussed her background in education and said she hopes to help Newburyport keep its “yankee charm” and small city feel.

“I think that the pace of change here can be a bit alarming for people, especially people who have lived here their whole lives,” said Hall. “I’m more focused on preservation than development. I think we’ve got a great thing going here.”

The show is available to stream on the PortMedia YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pH2JrxMIidc&t=362s 

It is also available on NCM Hub’s Soundcloud page at https://soundcloud.com/ncmhub/meet-the-candidates-with-mary-carrier-fall-election-2019

The interviews will also be rebroadcast on Channel 9 at 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. through Nov. 2.

Staff writer Jack Shea covers Newbury­port City Hall. He can be reached via email at jshea@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3154. Follow him on Twitter @iamjackshea.

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