Tag Archives: Barbara Haller

Barbara Haller

By Rosalie Tirella

The Barbara sign on her building. photo: R.T.

Former Worcester District 4 City Councilor Barbara Haller died a few days ago. I drove by Haller’s Main South office space yesterday and saw her sign on her building at the corner of Main and Castle streets, the sign that’s been at the top of the edifice for all to see for years … big, bold and direct: BARBARA HALLER CITY COUNCIL DISTRICT 4.

Someone once said to me, miffed: She lost the election! That sign is still up!

The person was hinting that the old guard – Barb – just couldn’t let go, couldn’t face the fact that the new guard, a Latina representing the now pretty much Hispanic district, District 4, was the future. That the white working class that had voted Haller in a decade ago, the same folks who voted in the late great D 4 city councilor Jan Nadeau, Haller’s political mentor, were dying off, not really defining the Main South, South Worcester and Green Island neighborhoods anymore. The heart and soul of District 4. When Nadeau died, her supporters and political network became Haller’s. Haller, even though brilliant, artsy, educated – really phenomenal in so many ways – reflected their old school values back on to them, thru her presence on the Worcester City Council. She represented her district well for that time: She, like everyone else, declared NO prostitution in our neighborhood! NO drugs! NO PIP wet shelter! NO homeless people! NO crappy three deckers with their crappy slumlords! WE MUST TAKE BACK OUR MAIN SOUTH! WE MUST TURN THIS NEIGHBORHOOD AROUND SO WE CAN ENJOY OUR BACKYARDS, PARKS AND SIDEWALKS ONCE AGAIN!

During her council tenure, Barbara Haller did all that – and more. Not only – as D 4 councilor for more than 10 years – did Barb Haller “clean up” her Main South neighborhood and surrounding ‘hoods – she helped them flourish. Made them walkable. Made them greener. Made them artsier, healthier … It was Barb and life partner Frank Z and former mayor Joe O’Brien (a one time denizen of Main South living a few streets away from Barb and Frank on Castle Street) who cleaned up Castle Park and made it pretty, clean and safe – devoid of used heroin syringes, garbage strewn under trees … It was Barb who got former City Manager Mike O’Brien to revive the last municipal swimming pool in Worcester as he was shutting the rest down. Not only was the Crompton Park pool saved, it was redone with adorable amenities like spray slides and new benches, new shower area … everything! Crompton Park, in D 4, is a city gem – Barb helped make it sparkle.

Barb got the handball courts rebuilt… they’re off the old Maloney’s Field on Cambridge Street in South Worcester – not in Main South, Barb’s neighborhood. Still, she brought her passion to the project, and they went from being drab to beautiful and new. These inner-city handball courts instantly drew hundreds of Latino folks during all seasons to play, exercise and have fun. Families who bring babies in strollers and sometimes pack a lunch to enjoy a summer day at their park together!

Barbara would patrol her District 4, a densely populated, sometimes dangerous D 4. She quit her job at National Grid to devote all her working – some would say waking – hours to her beloved District 4. As a reporter and friend I drove around the district (also my childhood stamping grounds – I grew up in Green Island) with Barb. More than a few times. I was with her as she checked on all her neighborhoods, three decker by three decker, park to park, mini Mart to liquor store. In her big old rusty SUV, Barb braking and accelerating, stepping on the gas or brake pedal in her cute signature brown or beige sensible shoes, wearing her faded denim long skirt, white cotton shirt and topped off with a black cotton blazer, Barb was on a roll. Little notebook by her side, pen by notebook, she checked the three deckers with busted windows, broken doors, used works – needles and other crap that heroin addicts had left behind in HER district. Barb was fearless in these inner-city fact finding missions, where she’d check on drug houses or abandoned warehouses, climbing over fencing, pushing aside bushes and brambles. Once, on one of our little jaunts, always followed by a nice lunch at Peppercorns or the Webster House – always on Barb – she and I saw two groups of young guys, in their late teens and early 20s, squaring off in front of a liquor store in Piedmont, baseball bats in hand. Fearing violence, smashed heads galore, I said: Barb, Oh, no… there’s gonna be a fight. Let’s call the police!

Well, Barb, being Barb, doesn’t hear I word I say and stops her vehicle just two yards away, in front of the soon to happen brouhaha and opens the SUV door to get out …

I say: No, Barb! What if someone pulls a gun on you?

All were so young and strong, bicep muscles showing definition in the summer sun…Barb was a senior citizen, heavy and sometimes … waddled.

I’m 63, she tells me, quietly. I’ve lived a long life …

and she gets out of her vehicle cool as a cucumber, John Wayne in THE SEARCHERS. Barb walks up to the guys, talks with them and they disperse.

My late mom used to love to watch our city council meetings when Konnie Lukes and Barbara Haller were on the council. She admired Konnie’s toughness and in your face political style. She thought Barbara was always intelligent – and that she always looked so cute! “She’s wearing her outfit!” Ma would say, between sips of coffee and nibbles on her danish. “She has her pencil sticking out of her bun!”

Yep. That was the great Barbara Haller. Fine grey hair pulled back into a neat little bun with a yellow number 2 pencil protruding. I don’t think I ever saw Barb’s hair down once, even when I visited her in her home – always her neat bun, a few grey wisps of hair framing her round pleasant face. The pencils spelled brilliant mathematical genius engineer – and they were also there in case she needed to take notes on District 4.

I am making Haller sound a bit severe – and she could be. That was maybe part of her political downfall – seeing every Main South addict as a criminal, every homeless person on Charlton or Sycamore streets as the enemy, every PIP client someone to eject from her neighborhood forever. Her biggest political mistake? Saying, on the record, that some days, walking past the PIP, walking along Main Street, she felt she was “the only legitimate person” in her ‘hood. This comment brought on a slew of haters and political opponents. From then on Barb had one political opponent after another vying for her seat on the city council, election cycle after election cycle – in Worcester, that means every two years! So there was Lynn, a founder of the Worcester Youth Center, Grace the progressive but pokey WAFT saint, even Dave from Dismas House on nearby Richards Street got into the act and tried to register homeless people to get them to vote for the person running against Barbara that year. Barb called him on it through placing a call to a T and G columnist who wrote a scathing column on Dave, making him look sneaky…reprehensible. Dave quickly moved to Westboro with his wife and little child.

Which leads me to say: Barb was a politician. A very savvy one. A true operator. I say this with pride, as a woman. Barb was ALWAYS the smartest person in the room. She knew exactly what every character was up to – and she knew how to foil their plans, making those phone calls, button holing this person, taking that person to lunch. Male pols do this all the time. It’s high time we acknowledge female politicians for doing the same…for better and for worse.

Barb was a joyful person: after she and partners sold the Gilrein’s blues club on Main Street to new folks, she threw a party. I went to it and watched Barb dance up a storm! The music started, the boxy, buxom Barb lept up, and light on her feet, with grace and rhythm, boogied with Joe O’Brien’s wife and then maybe one of Joe’s (at the time) young kids and then … alone. Just for the joy of the dance.

Once I gave Barb a Dollar Tree Christmas mug for Christmas. It was the best I could do that year. We were in her SUV when I gave her snowman mug to her. She looked at it and started to cry. She said: Thank you! It’s just what I needed!

When I got home later that day I wondered, why the waterworks? A few years later I realized it was because she loved me …

I could go on and on about how terrific a human being Barbara Haller was and how lucky Worcesterites were to have her live with us, for us. … A few years back, right before they were going to tear down the beautiful Notre Dame church in downtown Worcester, I saw a small group of people putting on some kind of farewell concert to the church – right before its demise, in front of the ugly brown tarp and silver chain-link fence that had cut the church off from the community. But the community had come! A few high school and college kids were reading poetry before the church, another person was playing a violin to her … There was a small audience. And sitting in a folding chair, before the little group of young people, before the great church with its high arches sparkling in the sun, there sat Barbara Haller, witness to it all, waking a friend that would soon die, even though she tried to save her! Barb was swaying gently to the music, and though I only saw her from behind, I bet she was smiling … and crying a bit, too.

Just like I am today! Goodbye, old friend! Like Note Dame, you were a once in a lifetime gift to Worcester!

Love …

Piedmont: The people hanging out at the corner of Chandler and Queen streets … From my point of view

By Barbara Haller

There have been multiple conversations going on – in various print media, social media, crime watches, business association meetings, and around the coffee table – about what to do about a few places where a group of people have laid claim to hang out all day (sometimes night too).

One site presently getting a lot of play is the corner of Chandler/Queen streets where the gathering is pretty non-stop.   The green space there is controlled by Community Healthlink (part of UMass) and has become an enclave for sitting, sleeping, socializing.  Grocery carts of belongings are often there.  The group spills over to the public sidewalk where there is a bench and a tree – both part of the Chandler business corridor revitalization effort.  The bench is used exclusively by the group and the tree pit is their trash receptacle.  Public drinking is frequent, fights occasional.  Public use of the sidewalk there is pretty difficult.  Sometimes one of the group will enter a nearby business seeking a handout, a bathroom, or a place to sleep.

A group of business owners are determined to stop it.  They see this behavior as anti-business and bad for Worcester.  They also see this situation as a violation of the partnership agreement with the City over closing the PIP shelter and siting of the homelessness Triage Center just up the street at 25 Queen Street.  Conversations among elected and administrative city officials, business owners, residents, Community Healthlink officials so far have led to “more of the same.”

And that is a shame.

As a long time Main South activist (1990 – 2002), 10-year District 4 City Councilor (2002 – 2011) and a 20-year neighbor to the area around Chandler and Queen (I live at the top Castle Street, near the top of Queen) I have deep knowledge and experience with these types of challenges.  Tempers can get hot, words can be twisted, and people can look the other way.  But, something needs to change at the corner of Chandler and Queen before these behaviors become more deeply entrenched.  Inch by inch is how it happens.

There are many attractive corners in our urban core for people to drink, drug, deal, fight, sleep, litter, vomit, and do personal hygiene.   I spent many hours working on such hot spots, starting with the front of my own business, Gilreins.  Here is what works:

1.       Engaged property owner(s).  This means a property owner or her/his hire that will be at the property nearly always, at least at the start of reclaiming the spot.

This person must tell people that the property is privately owned and ask the people to move on – kindly and respectfully.   By being physically present and clear in what is expected, much of the behavior will in fact move on.   This may take a while, especially when the site is long-standing.

2.       Partnering with the Worcester Police Department.  This means explaining the problem and the strategy to end it to the appropriate police officer.  A great place to start this is with the Community Impact officer assigned to the area.  This officer will see that the rest of the WPD is on board.  The officer will also serve a vital feedback role as to what is working, etc.

This may require posting the property – No Trespassing.    The police will take notice and stop to move people along for the times when the property owner(s) are not present.

Again, the message needs to be consistent and repeated.

3.       Public gathering on public property is legal.  However, public consumption of alcohol is not legal.  Nor is littering.  Nor is blocking the sidewalk.

Police are key for enforcement against these behaviors.   Police may not feel arrests are appropriate in many of these violations but they can confiscate alcohol, make people pick up their litter, tell people to keep the sidewalk open.

When citizens see these behaviors and have a developed partnership with the police, these behaviors must be reported consistently.  If someone appears unconscious call 911 and request medical attention.

4.       Recognizing and respecting people’s rights to gather on public property.  This means that we can’t just tell people to move off the sidewalk or a bench just because we don’t like the way they look.   This is important to understand.  Disrespecting people will escalate most situations and only makes solution more difficult.

If (when) we step over the line into disrespect, apologies need to be given while returning to the consistent message.

Many times over the years we have used these best practices to clear up problem sites.  It takes time and sincere commitment.  The longer we wait the more difficult it is.

In the case of Chandler and Queen – the enclave is established and occupies both private and public properties.  Worcester Police Department is doing some focused work for the short haul but a longer term strategy is needed and that should come from Community Healthlink – they control the green space that is the center of the activities.  Community Healthlink must be frequently present at the site, explaining that people cannot loiter there and that WPD will be called on any illegal behaviors.  They must closely partner with WPD for consistent messaging and enforcement.

Especially because of the elevated status of UMass in our city, elected and administrative officials should insist that UMass develop a long term strategy to correct the behaviors at this corner.  As the parent organization to Community Healthlink and because Community Healthlink has not been successful in this area, the burden of solution falls to UMass directly.

This is not rocket science.

Worcester Police Chief Gary Gemme DELIVERS

By Barbara Haller

Everybody’s got an agenda.  Worcester Police Chief Gary Gemme’s agenda is Successfully Making & Keeping Worcester a Safe City.

I have worked with Police Chief Gary Gemme since he was hired as Worcester’s Police Chief in 2004, most of this time as the District 4 city councilor (2002-2011) and in the last 3 years as a local resident and active community member.  While chair of the Council’s Public Safety Committee we met nearly every month one-on-one to discuss community problems.  I also met many times with him and key staff members and neighborhood constituents to discuss specific problems and strategies.

I also know Worcester for many years in many capacities.  I went to school in the City (Worcester Junior and WPI), have worked in the City (NGRID), had a small business in the City (Gilrein’s).  I own my home in the City (Main South).  My daughter and her family live in the City (Newton Square); my grandchildren attend Jacob Hiatt.  My partner owns and manages rental properties in Main South.

I know the struggle to get community policing to work.  I know about problem employees, difficult people.  I know about guns, drugs, and rock and roll.  I know about partisan politics.  I know about agendas – hidden and public ones.

Here’s what I know about Gary Gemme:

  • Chief Gemme is the real deal when it comes to commitment and honor.
  • Chief Gemme is a professional in all the positive ways – in touch, engaged, informed, pro-active.
  • Chief Gemme has made and is making a significant impact on controlling and reducing crime.

When he agreed to be hired as Chief, he made it clear to then City Manager O’Brien that he would not compromise on his vision for the Department.  The Manager agreed to support his efforts to change the Police Department culture and our community engagement in solutions to crime.  The 2004 city council was delighted with Manager O’Brien’s success in hiring Gary Gemme as our Police Chief.

The Chief delivers.

He reorganized his department using the split force model allowing for effective reaction to crime and pro-active prevention.  He put together a leadership team with targeted responsibilities and expertise.  He takes action on firing ranges, gun permits, porn houses, knives, officer discipline, technology, party houses, street crime.  He improves and grows partnerships with youth and youth-serving organizations, religious leaders, ethnic groups, athletic organizations.   He works with the Office of Human Rights to improve officer training.  He, working with Manager O’Brien, broke barriers among city departments to successfully develop inter-departments teams to address persistent problem properties.

The Chief’s commitment to neighborhood crime watches, foot beats, along with rapid response to data-driven hot-spots and developing crime trends is nothing short of great.  Last week at my local neighborhood crime watch meeting, our community impact officers were engaged – giving updates on progress for previously reported problems, listening to neighbors’ concerns.  Rather than standing up and telling us what to do, they sat with us and brainstormed possible solutions.  The feeling of partnership was strong.

All this being said there are always those who look for opportunities to criticize. For those of us who are not dogmatic in our beliefs or who feel uninformed, these people cause us to pause and reconsider if we are going in the right direction.  And sometimes they are right.  And sometimes we change our views.  And sometimes needed change comes.

And then there are always those to look for opportunities to misrepresent, demean, and incite.  My experience is that these people have some grudge, a need to see their name in the media, sell papers, get elected, and/or feel obligated to always act against authority and position.  There is an agenda and some ulterior motive.  They too cause many of us to pause and consider.  But we are mistaken if we allow them to lead us to change.

My experience with Police Chief Gary Gemme comes over many years and in many situations.  His commitment to his job and Worcester runs deep.  His motivation is honor and justice.   We don’t have to always agree with him; we don’t have to like him.  But we should respect his knowledge, expertise and professionalism.

We are fortunate to have Chief Gemme in service to our City.  Those who are attempting to misrepresent his accomplishments, demean his character, and incite others to do the same are not acting in Worcester’s best interest.   We would do well to ignore them.

From Main South community activist Barbara Haller, re: THE KNOCK OUT GAME

Please share!   – R. T.

The violent “Knockout Game” has come to Worcester.

In what has become a national – and sometimes deadly – phenomenon, randomly-selected victims are punched in the head by an assailant who is usually traveling in a group.  In most instances, the motive in these attacks is pure violence and not robbery.

Four recent incidents have been reported in various parts of  Worcester:

1.      Friday – April 4, 2014 @ 707 Main Street

2.      Monday – April 7, 2014 @ Richmond Ave near Big Bob’s Package Store

3.      Sunday – April 13, 2014 @ 85 Millbury Street

4.      Monday – April 14, 2014 @ Chatham Street heading toward Main Street


Worcester Police  are asking all to pass this information along to their communities:

Safety Suggestions

Keep your head up.  Always be extremely alert and attentive as walking along urban settings.

At 10 feet – Pay Attention

*   Be visually aware of your surroundings.  Pay attention to any group that is either approaching or has just passed. Watch their hands, body posture, eyes, and the distance they keep.

*   In “Knockout Game” incidents, most groups allow their victims to pass, and then attacks from the rear.

*   When at all possible, allow an approaching group to pass you first by stepping to the side.

*   If walking past a group and there is a wall off to your side, stay shoulder close to the wall. This limits the approach angle of a potential attacker and can give potential victims additional time to respond.

At 5 feet – Keep Hands Free, Listen & Look

*   Remove your hands from your pockets. Purses, bags or backpacks should be on your non-dominant side.

*   Listen to what is being said – or note any silence – within the group; in some attacks, the group wages a “silent storm” and stops talking as they get closer to their target.

*   Watch eye contact from the group – some will look away as if they are trying to ignore their potential victims. Many times an attacker(s) will try so hard to  blend in, they actually stick out.

At 2 feet – Manage your Positioning

*   When possible, walk close to the right side of the person approaching you – in this “game,” most assailants like to take a big swing, and this physical  positioning limits the strength of their hand movements, and/or causes them to have to make sudden adjustments to their movements, giving potential victims additional time to respond.

*   Do not walk with your head down – attackers choose victims who they believe to be UNAWARE.

*   Be prepared to block, duck, dodge, slip, cover and even defend yourself – if one punch fails, an attacker – or another member of their group – may follow  with another.

The Straight Scoop on Worcester’s Community Development Corporations (CDCs)! Connect the dots!

By Barbara Haller, Main South Community Development Corporation Board member, former District 4 City Councilor, and Main South resident

There are several things going on that impact CDCs. Connecting the
dots correctly is difficult. Lots of people have lots of different
opinions. Lots of people are wrong. I believe that I can help ICT
readers understand some of the realities CDCs and the City are facing.
How I know what I know:

Over the past almost 25 years I have been involved in our Community
Development Corporations. Before being elected District 4 city
councilor I served as a board member for Worcester Common Ground and
Main South CDC. While city councilor I no longer served as a board
member but was an active advocate for the work of CDCs across the
City. Since leaving office I rejoined the Main South CDC as a board

What I know:

Dot 1: Local political climate has shifted towards more support of
business development.

Dot 2: Local political climate has shifted towards downtown

Dot 3: Demographics show Worcester is losing its middle class.

Dot 4: Local political climate strongly favors home ownership over
rental properties.

Dot 5: Federal money for Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) is

Dot 6: CDBG has been used for lots of things including Code
Inspections, Operation Clean City, Friendly House, Henry Lee Willis,
South Worcester Neighborhood Center, Centro Las Americas, and much
more. It has also funded CDCs for some of their work in the community.

Dot 7: There are other Federal and State funds for developing
affordable housing — HOME, NSP, Lead Abatement. CDCs and private
developers have been awarded use of these funds either by the City
directly or under the Cityâ€Ts supervision.

Dot 8: There have been some scandals associated with some of these
funds. 5 May Street (private developer) was given money without
doing the work. Hadley Building (private developer) was completed
with public money but at excessive cost. Former Ionic Ave Boys &
Girls Club (private developer) was given public money but was never
developed. Lead removal program was corrupted by bribes.

Dot 9: There have been lots of questions around costs for developing
affordable housing. Many think it is too expensive.

Dot 10: CDCs take the sites with the most problems, in the worst
conditions, using money with the most strings attached, and
revitalize neighborhoods.

Dot 11: Local political climate wants more money to go to private
developers, home ownership, more middle class neighborhoods.

Dot 12: Federal audit of CDBG for past 3 years found City mismanaged
at least $2 million and maybe as much as $5+ million. A large portion
of these dollars were given to the CDCs. The audit is critical of the
City Administration contracts and monitoring of the contracts.

Dot 13: The dollars were used for operations that the Feds say were
ineligible under the program.

Dot 14: There is no indication that there was any misuse of funds by
anyone. No double-dipping, no excessive salaries, no slush funds.

Dot 15: The City has said it will go after the CDCâ€Ts for the money.

Dot 16: Those opposed to using public tax dollars to build affordable
housing are connecting the dots to say that it is time for CDCs to go
away or at least consolidate.

Dot 17: Those who want to protect the Cityâ€Ts Administration are
connecting the dots to say that it is the CDCs who messed up.

Dot 18: Those who want to protect the CDCs are connecting the dots to
say it is the City Administration who messed up; CDCs did as they
were contracted to do. If the City wrote contracts that scoped work
that was not covered by federal CDBG funds then it is the City who
erred, not the CDCs.

I firmly believe that the CDCs are vital to our City’s success. I
believe that the CDCs did nothing wrong and that CDBG funding was
used to fight neighborhood blight.

I also believe that the City Administration is not interested in
partnering with the CDCs anymore. I believe that the City Council
supports the City Administration’s plan to shift more resources to
other parts of the city and to and reduce affordable housing
development by CDCs. I believe this is a mistake for lots of reasons.

You can connect your own dots, but the way I see it inner-city
neighborhood revitalization is in for a serious slowdown.

Henry Lee Willis’s Community Services demise: Where’s the “community” in community care?

By Barbara Haller

When Rose asked me to write an article on the sage of the loss of Henry Lee Willis Community Services I hesitated before saying yes. This is a complex story with much still unknown. There are so many aspects to this, so much angst, so much pain, so many questions. It is hard to decide where to focus. That being said, this is a situation of vital importance to Worcester. And so I make an attempt to explain what we know, to summarize the key issues as I know them.

All of us who love and live in Worcester must feel outrage over what has happened. We have been and continue to be disrespected on so many levels. Outrage must lead us to call, write, and talk about it to our family, friends, colleagues, elected State officials, elected local officials.

So many in our community have spoken eloquently about the magnitude and broad reach of the closing. I urge readers to go to the City Council’s web site for the video of Monday, 2/4/12, Council Committee of Public Health and Human Services and watch and listen to community leader and activists as they grapple with this. It will make you proud and it will show you the depth of destruction we are facing as a community. Find the time and share this.

Here is the link: http://view.liveindexer.com/ViewIndexSessionSL.aspx?siteSKU=v8DtaSEkm6TB6AlPIZIUkA%3D


Accountability: Question: how can the state defund community-based programs without including the community in the discussion? Ans: because they can – they have the power of the purse.

Cultural competency: Question: have the new providers demonstrated cultural competency? Ans. Mostly no.

Power: Question: who benefits from this? Ans: SMOC, Advocates are the biggies – both from Framingham. Both get both property and programs.

Local Opportunity: Question: Can Worcester-based organizations complete? Ans: Not easily. To quote Councilor Rivera, “Small fish, big shark.”

Timing: Question: this was announced mid-December 2012, saying the state has to scramble to keep people being served. This is hard to believe. Ans: some people knew a lot, some people knew a little. Merger/acquisition talks had happened and failed.

Why: Question: the state has said the defunding was done “without reason” as is it’s perogrative; the state has also said “Based on serious concerns with financial management and client care issues, state agencies have moved to terminate all contracts with the Henry Lee Willis Center.” (Telegram, 12/11/2012) What gives? Ans: who knows and the state has said it will not comment further due to a potential investigation. As many have said, shouldn’t the invesitgation be real and completed before defunding?

State leadership: Question: where is our governor, lt governor, state delegation on this? Ans: we are told that no one knew anything. Question: but where are you now? We need leadership to get Worcester at the table. Ans: deafening silence.

Jobs: Question: will people be hired by new providers? Ans: not known and as far as we know, not yet.

Options: Question: can we stop it? Injunction against the state? Ans: the nasty deed is already done.

And on and on.

One positive that I can think of – our Mayor and local city councilors are engaged on this now. We need to tell them to keep on it. Our trust in state government has been seriously damaged. We need new strategies to heal what has been done and to protect us from having this happen again to another local, community-based group.

And we need to find ways to compete with the “big sharks” that look to Worcester to expand their power. Social service is big business because it has big money associated with it. But social service is also community-based service and local providers give neighborhoods a sense of connectivity and access. The community is community services needs to be prominent for everyone’s benefit.

Speak up. Shout out.

District 4 Blues

By Ron O’Clair

I was picking up the latest copy of InCity Times and happened to be around when ICT Chief Rosalie was delivering the new edition. We exchanged greetings and hugs, and during our brief conversation a topic came up: our mutual friend Barbara Haller, former long time District 4 Worcester City Councilor.

That got me thinking about all the things that Barbara started in motion that are now paying dividends in my neighborhood after many years of abject neglect and indifference to the plight of the decent, hardworking residents of the area who collectively suffered for many years while our neighborhood was besieged by hordes of criminal minded types that constantly despoiled the peace and serenity of the area.
One of those long suffering residents: Mr. Gerard (Jerry) Michaud, of whom I featured in an article printed in InCity Times. He was a long time resident here in the 700 Block of Main Street and a longtime resident of the building I manage here at 707 Main Street. He just passed away this past week, the fourth week of August, 2012.

Jerry, as everyone called him, had the best view out of this building onto what was a constant parade of lawlessness, seven days a week, and all throughout the night as well. He lived directly above the corner of Main & Charlton Street in the largest room in the building known as: “The Charlton”. He had three windows that faced Main Street, and two that faced Charlton Street. He saw, and heard it all, all day, and all night. It was chaos, plain and simple. The poor guy suffered from emphysema and could hardly breathe towards the end, but he stayed the course living here right up until he died this past week.

He died in the hospital, where he had been spending much of his time recently. Jerry was the type of guy who did for other people, and was very active in the A.A. Program of recovery, as am I. We both had over 30 years of continuous sobriety from alcohol, and were very active in helping bring the message of recovery to those still suffering from alcoholism, or drug abuse.

Living here there were many opportunities to reach out a hand to help an active alcoholic achieve sobriety. Before he took ill, Jerry was the caretaker at the Notre Dame Des Canadien’s Church at Salem Square, where you would often see him at the noontime A.A. meeting that was held there for many years. He was a staunch believer in the program of recovery from alcohol and drug abuse that A.A. has come to serve as a dual purpose recovery program.

Old-timers’ in the halls of A.A., which would apply to Jerry and myself, would tell you that the program of Alcoholics Anonymous is about recovery from alcohol, and only alcohol. That is the primary purpose of A.A., to bring the program of recovery to those that still suffer from alcoholism. In reality, it has morphed over the years into a combination of A.A., & N.A., and no one can tell this old timer any different. Anonymity is essential also, and normally one would not profess in press, radio, or television their full name, I am breaking one of the Traditions of A.A., by putting my name out there as a member of A.A. while still alive. It has been long a tradition to acknowledge membership by name after a person dies, but not before. There have been exceptions, mostly those that are glory hunting and want to take credit for the good works of the fellowship as a whole, as if they were directly responsible for the recovery of this or that member.

In the halls of A.A., Gerard was known as: Jerry M., and I as; Ron O.
Jerry helped a lot of people by leading them into the recovery phase of addiction, and many owe him a debt of gratitude. May Jerry rest in peace, he was a good person, and gave unselfishly to help those less fortunate than himself. I will miss Gerard Michaud, there are not that many like him left in this world of ours today where most people are thinking only of themselves.

This brings me back to Barbara Haller.

Far from thinking only of herself, Barbara represented this district, and all of its inhabitants with a fierce determination to not allow the rights of the people to live in a safe community go unheard.

She was the voice of the people of the 4th District, and worked tirelessly to represent their interests in the Council Chambers. It was primarily due to her efforts that the police patrols that were so instrumental in reclaiming this neighborhood came into reality. Since the crackdown that resulted, the neighborhood has improved dramatically. The hordes of the unwashed, foul mouthed, ignorant, and rude multitudes have found new places to sell their illegal drugs, and to prey on the hardworking residents of the city elsewhere.

It was not all Barbara, all the time, many people worked to change the neighborhood alongside the police, myself included, but Barbara was the magnet that pulled all the pieces together towards one goal, the improvement of an intolerable situation. People would have had to have lived through it to understand just how bad it was. I wrote many articles on the subject to highlight the problems and work towards bringing about a solution.

I never sought, nor received any praise for my efforts to reclaim this neighborhood, and did not bring about the transformation by myself either, but we all put our oars in the water to steer the boat in the right direction. The unifying force behind all the transformation was indeed all Barbara. Without her being in the District 4 seat, none of the action would have happened.

Barbara Haller, if you are reading this: Please run for an at-large seat on the City Council the next time around, you have my vote, as you always did, and I bet there are many other people that did not vote the last time around that regret they did not return you to the post that you so effectively used to transform this nightmare into a semblance of a normal neighborhood.

It was through our collective efforts that the transformation happened, and the police have seemed to have a new attitude as regards the long suffering resident’s rights to a peaceful and quiet neighborhood as to the rights of the lawless to continue to disturb the peace. It never would have happened without you at the helm of the ship that all our oars helped navigate through the troubled waters of an uncaring City Council.
No one did more than you Barbara, yet many were involved in their own little ways. Without all the pieces of the puzzle that you helped put together, none of what has transpired would have taken place.

Poor Jerry spent his last days here in relative peace and quiet, and he never would have had that blessing without your efforts Barbara.

Barbara Haller, District 4 needs you, the City of Worcester needs you, please if you decide to leave the peace and tranquility of Vermont, and come back to Worcester, please run again for the council. The peace and tranquility is not of the sort you are getting used to, but after all the troubles, it is a godsend and you should come to see what you helped achieve.

If you enjoyed this article, or if you hated this article, I would love to have your feedback at: ronaldoclair@hotmail.com

TODAY: Remembering Main South’s Oread Collegiate Institute

Remembering the Oread Collegiate Institute: TODAY, May 23rd

5:30 pm  – 7:00 pm

· 1st woman’s college in United States

· Current site of Castle Park

Oread-Castle Park, at the children’s playground

· Walk & Talk around the park: photos, discussion of the Oread Collegiate Institute, “The Castle”

· Brief overview of “The Castle” by Jan Parent, docent of Preservation Worcester

· Interviews with:

– Eli Thayer, founder and architect, as portrayed by Jairo Reyes Vega

– Maria Goodrich, alumna & wife of 1st principal of WPI, as portrayed by Sara Hazouri

– Mary E. Lincoln, student & future wife of George I. Alden, as portrayed by Lucero Reyes Vega

· Light refreshments

This is a Facebook event – check the Friends of Castle Park page for more information on “The Castle” and future events in the Park.

Sponsored by the Castle Park Task Force and the Main South Community Development Corporation with gracious help from the College of the Holy Cross Theatre Department, Worcester Historical Museum, Preservation Worcester, Worcester Public Library, interns from University Park Campus School, and the City of Worcester.

Lorraine Laurie and D-4 City Councilor Barbara Haller …

By Rosalie Tirella

… are picking up the Santa Suit this afternoon (and some of the folks) for the lighting of the Kelley Square Christmas Tree later today!

Yes, once again District 4 City Councilor Barbara Haller proves to be … well, herself … quietly doing the right thing for the ‘hood.

Barb will be gathering up Green Island neighborhood activist Lorraine Laurie at 3:30 p.m. Together, they will pick up the Santa suit and then drive around D-4 to round up folks for the festivities at Kelley Square, which start around 5:30 p.m. State Rep. John Fresolo will also be there. Wagon rides and resfreshments will round out the fun event.

Sorta wistful for me. This is Haller’s last time leading the Green Island holiday festivities (with Lorraine) while wearing her District 4 City Councilor hat.

Things change. I grow wistful …

Years ago (10) when I first started InCity Times, Lorraine told me to visit St. Mary’s Elementary School on Richland Street and talk with the principal, an ancient (very nice, if by the books) nun who ran St. Mary’s – and the school’s Christmas Tree annual ornament contest. Her assistant principal, also a very old nun (they must have been in their late 70s/early 80s) was also on hand. Together – thrilled to get press – the old women (one of them with a limp) took me to a few classrooms. The kids were all busy making their Christmas ornaments for the Kelley Square tree. The nuns were serious about this and so were their young charges – quiet, focused, just the way I remember the old St. M’s when my two kid sisters attended the Polish/Catholic grammar school. The students’ Christmas ornaments would go up on the Kelley Square Christmas Tree! The creators of the three or so best looking works of art would be awarded prizes!

Everyone was excited!

Well, the nuns are gone. A “civilian” is head of St. Mary’s now. And (of course, why make the extra effort?) there is no longer a school-wide Kelley Square Christmas tree ornament contest. No sparkly, felt-covered, paper-plate-enhanced and styrofoam-ball-glued trinkets for the Kelley Square Christmas tree. (though there will be plenty of lights)

Sometimes the past – wrapped in elderly nuns wearing their black and white habits – and their old fashioned desire to do the right thing – evaporates right before your eyes.

Then there is D-4 City Councilor Barb Haller. Haller didn’t win re-election. This has broken my heart, too. I believe this is a huge loss for D-4, the Worcester City Council and the City of Worcester. Haller has done so many great things for D-4 – without fanfare, without asking for credit. Quietly and with focus Barb, has made us a better place.

This is her last “official” stint as Kelley Square Christmas Tree cheerleader (avec Lorraine, of course!).

Things change …

Bravo, Barb and Joe!

By Rosalie Tirella

Tuesday (Nov. 29) night’s Worcester City Council meeting re: the SMOC Triage Center was a night of broken promises, a night of dumping on the poor and powerless, a night of forgeting about all the inner-city/Main South small biz folks and residents who have had to endure the people who PREY on a place like the PIP – scum who have made life a hell for everyone.

It’s not the SMOC clients; it’s the drug dealers, the users, the abusers – all the hangers-on who prey on/will prey on the clients of the PIP/Triage Center. How can District 4 ever get well? How can our inner-city neighborhoods recover – and begin to flourish?

Well, at least we can say this: Mayor Joe O’Brien and District 4 City Councilor Barbara Haller proved themselves to be class acts – people who stayed true to their word (they voted against the move back to the old PIP building – 701 Main St.)

It is heartbreaking that the end of Haller’s stellar – and I mean stellar – terms on the city council should end in a vote that broke her heart. She was right when she said Main South residents were not given the chance to voice their opinions. But – here’s the problem – unlike their middle class peers near the Anna Maria rest home (the proposed SMOC site that was shot down by almost 800 Apricot Street area residents), the folks of Main South are up to their eye balls in challenges – economic, social, etc.

Makes it hard to agitate for your rights, poverty does.

I grew up in D-4, very poor. My mom was a single mom with a minimum wage job. She worked 60 hours a week and tried to keep me and my two sisters safe, well fed and happy. She was always there at PTA nights at Lamartine Street School and Prov. Jr. High, but she could never take the time out to leave her HUGE RESPONSIBILITIES to engage in heated civic debates. I remember her conking out, quietly snoring, head back while sitting on the sofa, watching TV with us kids – at about 8 p.m. She was in bed at 9 p.m. – out like a light. She had to get up at 5:30 in the morning to begin our daily routine (school, lunches, her job at the dry cleaners, a.m. house work/breakfast) etc the next day.

My mom was too poor/overwhelmed to canvas neighborhoods, get ultra involved. Factor in my shit-head dad who came in and out and wreaked havoc on our little fmaily unit and the result: my mom was overwhelmed.

This is the story of a lot of families in Main South – a stone’s throw from the PIP.

Barbara Haller and Joe O’Brien know these stories/families and validate them – every day. They honored them Tuesday night by their votes.

Bravo, Joe and Barb!

Thank you!