By Jim Coughlin
Worcester’s Mechanics Hall in downtown Worcester was the scene on October 28 of the city’s 2021 Mayoral Debate that featured incumbent Mayor Joseph Petty, At large City Councillor Donna Colorio, Bill Colemen who has been a mayoral contender in past elections and Worcester funeral director Peter Stefan.
The debate was before an audience of about 125 people in the auditorium in which President Abraham Lincoln once spoke during his presidency in the 1860s. Throughout the hour-long debate, the candidates responded to familiar issues that have been raised throughout the campaign, ranging from affordable housing in Worcester, reforming the Worcester Police Department, the search for a new superintendent for the Worcester Public Schools, Free Bus Fare on the Worcester Regional Transit Authority (WRTA) and others.
My impressions … First of all, it featured four different kinds of mayoral candidates: the incumbent Mayor Joseph Petty is a Democrat with an impressive track record when it comes to our city, while his colleague on the city council, Donna Colorio, is a Republican who is also a psychologist. She’s serious and studies the issues.
And there is Bill Coleman …
… who has run for city councillor and mayor of Worcester several times and who has a long record of public policy initiatives before the city council (too numerous to mention). Rounding out the field of contenders is Peter Stefan, a first time council and mayoral candidate, who runs a funeral home in Main South and who has established a fund on his own to help struggling individuals and families pay their rents, mortgages, utility and food bills.
First of all, this debate in Worcester was a role model for other cities holding their city councillor forums and also for some past state-wide debates here, in Massachusetts and national debates featuring candidates for national office, up to and including the presidency in that it was a very civil exchange of ideas and most important a difference of ideas and policies. Perhaps the most touching moment between the candidates to underscore my point about the debate’s civility came when Stefan who had a hard time hearing some of the questions being asked, and it was one of his rivals for the mayoralty, Mayor Petty who bent over to him and repeated the questions for him.
Mayor Petty has not only been almost the longest serving mayor, he, along with City Manager Ed Augustus, has done a fine job of informing the citizens of Worcester throughout the Pandemic by holding regular news conferences to inform them about COVID, and city services available to all during this difficult time. He’s a modest man who doesn’t let his ego get in the way of making Worcester a better place. Mayor Petty has a track record of gladly working with everyone, and he advocates for all of the people and neighborhoods of Worcester. A lot has been accomplished during his tenure. Mayor Petty says he wants to continue to lead Worcester through these challenging and exciting times.
Councillor Donna Colorio is the highest elected Republican in the city. She is a serious city councillor who studies all the issues that come before the council. In addition, her background as a professional psychologist is a helpful tool on the council for public policy issues that involve human service matters such as homelessness, housing, health matters and caring for the disabled.
And there is Bill Coleman who is not just talk talk talk … He (as the old adage goes) “walks his talk.” In other words, he acts on matters that are of concern to him both as a good person but also as a long time candidate for city council. Without any question, he cares about the city and its history. If he is elected to the council, he will not need any coaching from his soon to be council colleagues on how to carry out his job because he has already done the work of a councillor!
And, finally, there is Peter Stefan.
Stefan is a very kind person who has been known for years as a funeral director who buries for free many of our poor, homeless, abandoned citizens. In the circles I have traveled in my life, we call people like Peter Stefan an “angel.” In 2015, when the eyes of the world were riveted on Boston in the wake of the Boston Marathon Bombings, it was Peter Stefan who came forward and volunteered to bury one of the Boston Marathon Bombing suspects. This too was leadership in a different way. On a personal note as a survivor of that bombing in Boston’s Copley Square, I personally salute Mr. Stefan for his more than obvious moral courage and bravery in doing this.
That is the lineup for the Worcester Mayoralty. Whoever the voters choose to be the mayor on Tuesday, November 2, our city will, without question, be in the hands of a very good leader!
Worcester has an affordable housing/homelessness crisis. This week: a couple outside the recently opened Hotel Grace shelter located on Vernon Street; it provides lots of services to the chronically homeless and is open 24/7. Worcester’s next mayor will need to lead on this issue.