Tag Archives: Piedmont

Next Tuesday, Nov. 6, please vote for Mary Keefe for state rep, District 15 …

By Rosalie Tirella

OK, so state rep (Worcester District 15) hopeful Mary Keefe and I will never be best buds. And we won’t be drinking our vanilla creme Green Mountain coffee with her campaign manager Kevin Ksen any time soon. But we have to admit: We have always agreed with these two on the issues – and backed them up. Prickly personalities, aside.

Kevin Ksen and ChaCha Connor were able to run a huge piece in Incity Times on the state of our municipal pools. Cha Cha and Kevin led the charge to have our neighborhood pools fixed and even went so far as to get estimates from contractors down South. We ran EVERYTHING because 1. they worked so hard and their work deserved to be seen by the public and 2. WE AGREED WITH THEM. We wanted the city manager to get behind Kevin and all the neighborhood folks who were behind this project. That didn’t happen. The neighborhoods were betrayed.

We also agreed with Ksen re: rebuffing the COPS show from Worcester. That reality TV show would have made the City of Worcester one freakin’ big stereotype – hurt the very people the show claims to want to help (bull!).

We were and are fans of Barb Haller, and believed she was better for District 4 than Keefe, who ran for that council seat several years ago. But when it comes to District 15, Keefe is the gal for us. We urge you to vote for her. We urge you to vote for Mary Keefe NEXT TUESDAY because she is RIGHT on all the issues.

Mary Keefe will:

* fight to keep low-income residents in the Piedmont neighborhood. There are some efforts to do a bit of gentrifying in the ol ‘hood. We are OK with making things prettier and yummier, but we are AGAINST displacing good neighborhood families or men/women just because they are poor. Keefe is promising to keep the low-income housing complex on Pleasant Street low-income, so families who have lived there for years can continue to live there.

* Bring jobs to Piedmont. Forget about the coffee barristas! We want jobs in Peidmont! We want light industry there, factories where people can get jobs that pay $11 or $15 an hour. Not great dough but better than minimum wage jobs. Better than the Work a Day crap lots of Peidmont residents must take to keep on keepin’ on. We are tired of poor people being exploited. Mary Keefe will work to make sure they are not exploited.

* Keefe will also fight to increase the state minimum wage, which is a joke. She herself said that given high housing costs and daily living expenses, the minimum wage “just doesn’t cut it.” Right on, Mary! Go, girl, go!

Minimum wage blows. I was raised in Green Island by a (wonderful) single mom who had a minimum wage job (when the minimum wage was actually worth much more than it is today). She worked 40 hours for regular pay and 20 under the table. BRUTAL. For her and us kids. We never had a car. We never went on vacations. We just all worked, ate, studied hard at school and prayed for better days. A tough way to live. Keefe gets that. She will work to make sure that if you work full time in Massachusetts you will earn a paycheck that will allow you to survive – pay your bills – and maybe then some.

We must stop punishing poor people. Mary knows this.

We also like wahat Keefe has done as director of the Pleasant Street Neighborhood Network Center. She has run a youth jobs program (which she wrote about in InCity Times several years ago). She helped women get together and create the Winslow Peace Park after a neighborhood youth was gunned down and died. The neighborhood women were welcomed by Mary Keefe into the neighborhood center, where they mourned the death of the youth but moved beyond the pain and created a lovely park in the middle of the innercity – in his honor. A symbol of hope.

We see Keefe as a symbol of hope for all the folks who need some lifting up! We know she will represent District 15 – all its people – with honor and grace!

Vote for Mary Keefe, District 15, state representative.

Go, Mary, GO!!!!

Worcester’s “better class of people” housing report

By Rosalie Tirella

We eagerly anticipate the housing study that the City of Worcester is about to share with the rest of us Woo-ites. As you may recall, 10 years ago a consulting group came in and studied Worcester (for a pretty penny) in all its gore/glory and made recommendations as to how we might improve our, um, image.

One of its conclusions: Worcester has enough low-income housing and needs more market-rate housing. Around town the idea was poo pooed and jokingly referred to as the “Worcester needs a better class of people” report. I was one of the many poo pooers. I felt the report was telling us to:

* eject poor Latinos, blacks, poor people in general, from our city to …

* lure more upper-middle class empty nesters with lots of time and money on their hands. (You know the type, BORING people in their early 60s/late 50s who have seen their kids graduate from college and leave home only to realize that living in their big (childless) house in the suburbs is a drag, besides being a tad lonely. So … to Worcester they must flock! To live and have fun (i. e. spend lots of their disposable income!). To eat and drink at our bistros! To watch plays in our playhouses! To do all the things that people with money want to do – but not at home in the suburbs.

Many of our city poo baas, lead by City Manager Mike O’Brien, feel this was/ is the way to bring money into our cash-strapped city to pay for … all our $100,000+ year city cops and our $100,000 a year city high school principals and our other grossly over paid “public servants.” And our city pension plan which pays these folks 80% of their salaries for the REST OF THEIR LIVES after they retire from the city at a very spry 62.

One way to save money (instead of sticking it to the city’s working poor): Why doesn’t the City of Worcester keep more of its money by raising the age which city workers can receive a pension? Raise it to 66/65 years. This move would save us millions of dollars! Another solution: What about hiring flag men and women instead of city cops to hover over Worcester construction sites/road work? The Worcester policemen do next to nothing at these sites! Every time I see one, he or she is on his/her personal cell phone – it looks glued to the side of his/her face! Most of the policeman I’ve watched seem totally uninterested in DOING THEIR JOB. So why keep giving them the LUCRATIVE work? Massachusetts is one of the two states in the country that still hires its cops to direct traffic at road work sites. Why can’t we be like the 48 other states in the union and hire flag men and women?! This move would CREATE JOBS and save the city a ton of money.

But no. We must treat the new housing report as some kind of talisman … the answer to the city’s need for millions of tax dollars to keep our bloated ship of City Government afloat.

So out with the CDCs and their apartments that rent for $650. In with the real estate developers who will charge market rate – about $900 for a 3-bedroom apartment.

Where do our poorer folks go?

Weston? Nahant?! Poorer folks come to cities because of the more affordable housing and all the support services they find here, in Lowell, Lawrence and … Boston. This is what America is! A country of immigrants bringing new ideas, new passions, new traditions to a new land where everything gets all mixed together and WONDERFUL things happen! Like jazz or the blues or Tin Pan Alley or Frank Capra movies! Why do we want to take the America out of Worcester?

I am all for making our neighborhoods more attractive, rehabbing foreclosed homes, etc but we are going to lose good people – people who have family and friends in Worcester. People whose kids attend Worcester public schools. People who may not have the money to own a car and count on the city buses to get them to work or supermarket, etc. People who have ideas, knowledge, passion, art … .

Witness the Canal District.

The Canal District is the new name for a once great urban, ethnic working class neighborhood, Green Island. Look at it today! With all its bars that cater to college kids looking to get laid/drink a lot, you wouldn’t have guessed that the neighborhood is loaded with a proud history, fine memories – or poor people. That’s because these days all the poor folks live conveniently across Kelley Square – on/off Millbury Street. Away from the “Canal District” part.

Is this the “better class of people” we want to move to Worcester? Boozy woozy young males with boners? We have pretty much gentrified one side of Kelley Square.

Before it all happened, I was watching my old neighborhood (I grew up in Green Island) transition to something more interesting … a Vietnamese neighborhood. Maybe Worcester’s version of Boston’s Chinatown. My mom and sister still lived in the neighborhood. My sister did some of her grocery shopping at a Vietnamese grocery store on Millbury Street. Green Street had – still has – a Vietnamese soup/noodle shop. Other Vietnamese stores were popping up on Green Street. My mom, who attended St. John’s Church on nearby Temple Street (off Green Street), told me the church had “hired” a Vietnamese priest because there were so many Vietnamese folks who attended Mass at St. John’s. The priest said the Mass in Vietnamese.

Did the city take the lead on this interesting urban seed that was sprouting roots? Did anyone offer any Vietnamese family or business any grants, federal loans? Probably not. Because the money guys/gals and connected folks hustled in and … took over.

Let’s talk about another Canal District option.

Eleven years ago, when I first began InCity Times, there was a fledgling gay scene on Water Street. Vibes, Rage Club, the Gay Pride Celebration – all on Water Street. I thought: COOL! This is gonna be great! I put some of the leaders on the cover of ICT and ran a cover story. We attended the gay pride celebrations and took photos galore. But what happened? The Canal Fest folks didn’t want the gay folks to piggyback their event onto Canal Fest. Irish Catholics got a little homophobic and basically turned a cool shoulder to good folks who should have been their brothers in arms. So … there went the gay flavor. Yes, there are still a few spots on Water Street that are gay venues but they are overwhelmend by the Irish frat boy contingent.

Was this the best way to go about reviving a WONDERFUL old industrial neighborhood like Green Island?

No.

But hey, the area brings in money for the city.

Do we need to further gentrify Worcester’s inner city neighborhoods, using the soon to be released housing report as “proof” that this move is a great idea?

Let’s try this instead – a great way to bring in money to the city and lift up the folks alreay in our urban core: Let’s do what New Bedford is doing and LURE LIGHT INDUSTRY TO OUR INNERCITY Neighborhoods. $12 or $14 an hour (full-time) jobs are better than $8 an hour (part-time) jobs at WalMart, CVS the Canal District restaurants and wherever else our working poor are toiling these days.

I grew up working poor – my mom raised her family on a minimum wage paycheck – and it was brutal, even though, back then, the minimum wage was tied more closely to the cost of living. Now?! Forget about it! You cannot work full time at a minimum wage job and support a family. Desperation sets in … .

SO… let’s revitalize our inner-city neighborhoods and help poorer families by bringing in LIGHT INDUSTRY/factory jobs. Let’s give these companies whatever they want, tax credits, brown field clean up help! You name it! Anything to get the underskilled working for good wages again (the way our factories did years ago).

By increasing the wages of the working poor, you make them less a strain on the system and give them more buying power. Power to buy stuff and goods in their inner city neighborhoods. That was what Green Island, Quinsig Village, Vernon Hill were all about in the 1930s and 1940s. These neighborhoods sprung up around Worcester’s mills and factories. The neighborhood stores catered to the neighborhood people.

This is the “class” of people I want to see in my neighborhoods. These people need $12/hour jobs. These folks don’t need to be told they are not the right class of people. They do not need to be not so subtly removed by City Manager Mike O’Brien and his cheerleaders, housing developers with their eye on the buck/game. Let’s not build inner-city monuments to the gargantuan egos of a few men who do not even live in the city or live part time in the urban core! Let’s build neighborhoods where our families can flourish!

The last people we need to make our medium-sized city sizzle is a bunch of rich old fucks. We need youth! and conflict! and alliances! and posses (but without the knives/guns). All the great art that has come out of America was born from people who were most definitely not of a “better class,” whether that be blues, jazz, rock n roll, tin pan alley, THE GREAT AMERICAN SONG BOOK. The sons and daughters of immigrants – poor Jews, Italians, blacks, Latinos have given America her American-ness. They were part of the lower classes, even the under class … and yet, the music Irving Berlin, the movies of Frank Capra, the sound of Frank Sinatra will live on forever.

Does a really great meal at a bistro = Frank Sinatra or “You’re a Grand Old Flag”?

Hardly.

Let’s keep our city a real AMERICAN city. Full of sweat, labor, dreams, desires, ambitions, traditons from countries all over the planet! Worcester needs to support/respect the people who are here/who want to come here. The city’s CDC’s do just that – respect inner-city folks, create places and spaces that Worcesterites can enjoy… and thrive in.

We don’t need a better class of people, Worcester. We need a better class of city leaders.

The Piedmont neighborhood’s The Raven club forced to eat crow!

By Rosalie Tirella

Imagine you are a cool, young, handsome guy. Imagine you are a cool, young, handsome guy who digs music. Imagine you are a cool young music-loving guy who wants to bring cool music to Worcester’s masses – especially to young people. So, because you are young and cool and hopeful, you buy a club. You buy the old Cardinal bar in Worcester’s Piedmont neighborhood, on Pleasant Street/Congress Alley, and rechristen it The Raven because you are an Edgar Allen Poe fan and, with your shiny long jet black hair and angular attractiveness, you kinda look like a crow.

Then you – in this case Chris Bettencourt, 35 – watch your dream – and nerves – unravel, courtesy of the rough neighborhood to which you have hitched your dreams, the unsavory punks from the ‘hood who want to piss all over your dream, a half-hearted police force that will allow the punks to defile your dream, a missing-in-action neighborhood center staff, and a city manager’s office that seems too busy to bother about your dream.

This is what is happening to Bettencourt! Right now, as you read this! Chris still has his dream and his biz, but on many days he can often been seen sitting on the black metal bench outside his establishment sucking so hard on his cigarette, shoulders hunched, head down, that you’d think he had just checked into Deb Ekstrom’s Community Health Link/detox center, a 10 minute walk away. But no. It’s just the shitty side of Piedmont wearing a good man down.

Take the following facts:

* The area The Raven is trying to survive in looks … foreboding. Yes, Chris has a nice new trash barrel and bench outside The Raven and his small parking lot is always clean, but things across the way and up the way still look dumpy. The kind of dumpy that if the parents of one of The Raven patrons saw it, they would drive straight to Clark/Holy Cross/Assumption/WPI, pull their kids outa bed, shove ’em in the trunk of their Beamers and drive ’em straight back to their comfy homes in suburban Connecticut, New Jersey or Pennsylvania where they would staple gun Biff and Buffy to their bedroom doors for the next four years. It looks that tough.

* Weapons are being brandished. One night a neighborhood punk pulled a knife outside The Raven. Chris told the knife-wielding punk: take one step on my property and the you’ll deal with my door guy. The punk walked away, but true to punk nature, he then went on to slash the tires of five cars – five cars belonging to Raven patrons/kids.

* Chris turns to the people in the City of Worcester who are supposed to help, be there for a good guy with a good business: the cops and The Pleasant Street Neighborhood Network Center, on Pleasant Street, just a stone’s throw away from The Raven. Well, the cops come and say: we can’t do anything about this. Kevin Ksen, annoying uber neighborhood volunteer who for this year, to the annoynace of many city folks, has planted his wide ass in a chair at the Neighborhood Network Center, comes to The Raven to give Chris advice. Kevin Ksen tells Chris to have a good game of basketball with the knife-wielding punk. Befriend the poor victim of society’s ills.

Chris later told me: The punk is 35! Play basketball with him? Are they nuts??

I hear ya, Chris. Message to Kevin Ksen: The guy needs a job, not an enabler. The guy should apologize, retire his knife, get a job and then after a hard day’s work … play a game of hoop with Chris.

* Then there was the group of 20 guys – TWENTY!!! – just hanging out at the corner right by The Raven. Up to no good. The Worcester police were called; the cops said they couldn’t do a thing. Chris, feeling a tad overwhelmed at this point, called the cops again. This time the cops who came did in fact arrest the entire bunch except for one kid, a homeless dude.

* And we won’t go into the recent rash of fires in Piedmont that have made everyone in the neighborhood as jittery about their homes/apartments as Chris is about his club.

So, to see Chris sitting on his black bench outside his parking lot smoking like a chimney, a lost soul looking for an oasis in a desert of grime/crime, is heartbreaking. He says he wants to sell The Raven. He says he is looking for a partner to help him run the place. In truth, he is looking for someone to support him as he goes through all this crap. Someone who can be at his side the next time the bad boys ride into town and want to screw with his salloon. Chris is the Gary Cooper of Piedmont. This is his “High Noon.” No freaking deputies to be found! Anywhere.

Let me say this: It takes a truckload of guts to do what Chris Bettencourt is doing, to open up a club in a sometimes violent, inner-city neighborhood.

What makes all of this especially heartbreaking is The Raven is kind of a Worcester icon. It is located on Congress Alley, the tip of the Crown Hill neighborhood. Back in the 1960s Congress Alley was Worcester’s Haight Ashbury neighborhood, a place where Worcester’s young artistes came together to make music, poetry, paintings and protest the Vietnam War. A place where Woo’s hippies hung out to strum their acustic guitars and listen to their own beat poets because the cool old historic homes of Crown Hill were not yet reclaimed and rehabbed. They were just elegant junk, waiting for kids to move into them and decorate their lovely tired old maple and oak walls with tie-dyed curtains, macrame plant hangers, feathers and love beads and copies of The Whole Earth Handbook. There was even a relativley famous 1960s Worcester band called Orpheus that recorded a a couple of albums while they hung out on Congress Alley. They even record a song about the scene. It’s called (what else?) “Congress Alley” and sounds like a Byrds song, all jangly and cool.

So, good people of Worcester, we say how we want to be up and coming and cool and attract young people to our gritty environs, but we are letting Chris Bettencourt and The Raven dangle in the wind! New people and their NEW ideas are what make a city grow and thrive! It’s not just bricks and fancy crosswalks. It’s the peeps, peeps! Chris and his Raven club are a shining example of what Worcester should be in 2012 and beyond. Let’s not let the dude down!

On the Clark University gang/youth violence conference

By Rosalie Tirella

Last night’s conference at Clark University on gang violence and at-risk youth is something we hold to make ourselves feel better. No one wants to get to the real crux of the youth violence/gang problem: sky-high rents in Worcester. The good factory jobs are gone. Many adults in the innercity have McJobs. No one can pay Worcester’s exorbitant inner-city apartment rents. Our elected officials do not work to solve the real problem. So everyone throws out other little fixes, like Bandaids over blown off limbs: youth mentors, part-time jobs for kids.

Jobs for kids – we love the idea! Mentors can sometimes turn lives around! But really, how are you going to change a kid’s world, if his mom and he and his siblings are living in an apartment in Piedmont and struggling to pay $850 a month rent? How can a family keep paying the bills and have a little money left over for a few fun extras, if they are behind the eight-ball every month?

And the idiots who diss Worcester’s CDCs are just that – idiots. They whine about the city’s “no-lo housing,” about the govt subsidizing the CDC apts when if fact the govt is also subsididzing their crumby inner-city apartments every time they take a tenant who receives “subsidized rent.” Could these greedy landlords charge what their apartments are really worth a month – around $600/$650? Certainly. But they will take the $1,200/grand the federal govt gives them per crumby apartment and perpetuate the system, a system in which Worcester apartments rent for too much money. Inflated rents! Then all the other landlords jump aboard, charging $800 or so for their digs. And guess what?

The youths politicians like Mike Moore, District Att. Joe Early Jr. and pals say they are trying to help are not helped one iota. The youths are too busy moving to new digs with their parent/s who are on the run from landlords (for not paying rent). Even with subsidized rents, the families still struggle, and we are creating a very dependent group of people who are too afraid to get off welfare because everything is so expensive and a McJob is not going to pay the bills! So that means the kids are probably changing schools, as their family moves to another Worcester slum apartment, and parents feel to stressed to vote or even register to vote in their new neighborhoods.

When I was kid, we were poor and so were all the families around us. My dad was MIA – like many dads were back then and still are. BUT my life was stable and so were many of my friends’ lives BECAUSE the rents were low enough for families to pay the bills and have a bit of cash left over. I attended Lamartine Street School, K – grade six. Guess what? I graduated from Lamartine with MOST of the kids I started out with – my kindergarten classmates.

Because of the inflated rents in Worcester – especialy in our poor neighborhoods- poor families cannot stabalize. So food is a problem, electricity bills are problems, clothing, taxi fare, school atttendance, teeth – all the other stuff – is a problem. Inner-city fmailies get stressed out. Dads bail. Violence, anger set in. The kids are hurt, angry, mad, ashamed. Of course, youths in the middle of a family crisis will act out. I am surprised there are not more Worcester kids breaking the law and carrying guns. They are having such a crappy time in our city!

Like I said, the kids go to new schools every year. Of course, their grades will suffer. The families move to a new neighborhood. Of course, mom or dad or any guardian will not be registered to vote in the new neighborhood. And will they take the time to re-register, if they are registered at all? This is why inner-city District 4 – Main South, Piedmont, downtown – has the fewest registered voters.

Families are on the move all the time. The result: intractable poverty, violence, stress, the creation of an underclass in Worcester.

Worcester’s underclass does not need basketballl with cops on a Friday night – though that may help. Worcester’s youth’s need Worcester City officials to call HUD- the federal office of Housing and Urban Development. Our city leaders must tell HUD that Worcester apartments are not worth the amonunt of money the feds are givng us – basically Boston vouchers. We are not Boston. Our jobs don’t pay as well as Boston’s; our cost of living is not as high. HUD’s rental vouchers must reflect that. If that happens, greedy Worcester landlords will get what they deserve for their third-rate subsidized apartments AND the other non-subsidized rents will come down for the rest of the apartments in Worcester’s poor neighborhoods. The rents have been inflated in this city for too long. The govt must stop feeding our bad habit.

By making rents affordable for poor families in Main South, Piedmont, Harrison/Providence streets, we will be stabalizing poor, inner-city families and neighborhoods.

Then – and only then – will we see a drop in youth crime/gang activity. We will also see stability in our inner-city (District 4) schools and we will have more registered voters in District 4/poor neighborhoods.

We will then be empowering kids in a real way. We will be strengthening poor families in a real way. Education, voting, empowerment. It all will come with rents that are affordable for the poor. McJobs are here to stay.

Just like it used to be in my Green Island neighborhood years ago and most every other poor neighborhood in Worcester. We had no underclass then. We just had immigrants and their kids and poor people living in stable neighborhoods, living together, forming a true community.

Family Health Center shit-storm

By Rosalie Tirella

Last week I wrote the piece about FHC’s inability to process SNAP (Food Stamp) applications.

First, I got a call from the wonderful Dennis Irish who, in his typical even-handed, thoughtful way, told me yes, the SNAP program had been stopped at FHC. He also told me FHC reapplied for grant $ and got it – so now FHC will once again be able to take Food Stamp applications! This is great!

Dennis also said he would get an email out to me, with more info., which he did:

Here it is:

Hello Rosalie,

Dennis Irish has asked me to follow up with you regarding SNAP outreach happening around the city. In addition to being able to apply at DTA as well as at St. Vincents Hospital and at UMass Memorial Hospital, SNAP application assistance is available at a variety of locations in the city. With the help of Project Bread funding, Family Health now has SNAP application assistance and information available daily from 9:30-2:30. Also, through continued funding from the Health Foundation of Central MA, Hunger-Free & Healthy is able to fund a mobile SNAP Outreach worker that travels to a variety of sites including Jeremiah’s Inn, Friendly House, Continue reading Family Health Center shit-storm

Depressing sight! Shame on FHC Executive Director Frances Anthes!

By Rosalie Tirella

With all the pols and papers in town congratulating themselves on how well Worcester is feeding its poor, I did not think I would see this telling little sight:

Today, in the early afternoon, at the Family Health Center on Queen Street, there’s a young Latino woman. She is bundled up against the cold in a short jacket. She is wearing sneakers. She comes up to the secretary in the doctors’ suite and says this: I was told I could apply for Food Stamps here.

She was told this by the un-sympathetic secretary: No, you can’t do that here any more. We lost the grant that pays the person to take your application. You have to go to the Department of Transitional Assistance now.

FUCKING PATHETIC! You want something to work on Mayor Joe O’Brien? Here it is! Project #1.

Here we are in the middle of Piedmont, with poor people just trying to stay abreast of heating bills, rent, etc, and Family Health Center which is, on the whole, responsible for the health of  Worcester’s poor, can’t help a poor person put food on the table for herself (and I’m guessing) her kids. FHC can’t help a poor person stay healthy. Continue reading Depressing sight! Shame on FHC Executive Director Frances Anthes!