A lot of people looking for a progressive Berlin are upset about the outcome of the election. I have to ask: Why?
Perhaps the candidate you wanted to win didn’t, but does that really matter? The city still has $4.3 million to take down or fix up dilapidated properties. It still has funky new stores opening on Main Street. It still has a brand new ATV trail, which people for years have been fighting for. The roof is still going up on Fagin’s Pub, and Tony’s Pizza is still newly opened. There is more good than bad going on in Berlin, and protesting effective democracy doesn’t seem to behoove people calling themselves “forward thinking.”
People came out to vote on the seventh: 40 percent of registered voters cast ballots. Paul Grenier’s message about jobs connected; many people have struggled in the last two years, more for reasons affecting the nation than what is going on in Berlin. I’ve heard numerous people say Berlin is turning around, and I don’t think changing a few councilors matters.
Honestly, I’m excited to see some of the faces that got elected to council get to work. Both Ryan Landry and Tim Cayer were appointed to their seats, and now they have the people’s support to back up their positions. Mr. Landry has a passion for Berlin, and I agree with Paul Grenier’s comment that he is a “rising star.” It was several months ago Mr. Landry was talking about being proactive with the property BIDPA acquired on Main Street, and here it is November and BIDPA is considering similar steps.
David Poulin is another person who I’m interested to see get to work. His speech at the debate was fiery and sharp, and he may come into city hall looking to push the progressive policies he espoused.
These people will be fighting for a progressive Berlin, and it’s likely it will continue to improve.
The council will be an interesting mix this session. Councilor Tom McCue will join the three councilors listed above to make a pretty united front. Councilors Lucie Remillard and Mark Evans will be swing voters on some issues, but the fact is I don’t know that Councilors-elect Bob Danderson and Mike Rozak are going to create a united front with Mayor-elect Grenier. On Laidlaw they have a consensus, but the fact is the city does not have much to do with that process for the foreseeable future. As everyone says, the ball is in Laidlaw’s court. The big issue before the council is keeping taxes down, which, quite frankly, every councilor seems committed to do. There are differences on how infrastructure spending will proceed, but in some ways the $4.5 million will already be spent by January. Capital improvements are going to move forward. If the $7 million TIGER grant comes through it will be even more sweeping improvements than residents imagine.
The election was a wake up call to progressively minded people. Berlin cannot afford to leave the laid-off mill worker behind. It can’t even afford to give the impression it is leaving the mill worker behind. “Vote Jobs” may be a hard promise to deliver, but over a two week campaign season it’s enticing rhetoric that finds support among people without jobs.
Mr. Grenier is in favor of both biomass projects, though he is more enthusiastic about Laidlaw than CPD. But neither plant will be operational before November 2011, when he will be up for reelection. The federal prison will open next fall and do good things for the economy, but many of the jobs won’t be for Berlin residents.
There is no easy answer. The long range view or the short range view—neither helps an unemployed worker tomorrow. But people and organizations within the city are taking steps to do something about the challenges Berlin faces, and they aren’t affected by council.
The Roger Brooks initiative, the Neighborhood Revitalization Program, the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, the RSA 155-B process, the new role BIDPA is developing for itself, the district heating plans, the 21/21 project—all of these are moving forward regardless of the electorate’s choices. Many of these have been supported by several councils, and they will continue to be supported in the future.
It is important for people who feel under-represented on the council to have a voice. Paul Grenier connected with people who are looking for short term gain. If he is able to deliver a substantial number of jobs by 2011 he will deserve reelection. If he can’t he will leave out-of-work voters feeling alienated, but that’s better than disregarding their votes today. Mr. Grenier clings to the city’s heritage, and he used it to rally support. And no one can deny on some topics he is right: the city can’t afford any more laid-off high school educated 50 year olds. What would they do for work next?
The current council didn’t disregard these voters, but they were unable to make them understand how the council’s long range plans benefited them.
David Bertrand had a hard time connecting with those voters, with his Ivy League education and his good job. I don’t know the demographics of Berlin, but it is likely there are more people who share Mr. Grenier’s background than Mr. Bertrand’s. Mr. Bertrand has great ideas for the city, but he needed to make better connections with the people he is trying to help to win. In the meantime, Mr. Grenier’s experience and rhetoric may have propelled him through this election, but his ability to deliver will likely make it a challenge to replicate his success in 2011.
Or, if things change fast enough in Berlin, he may be fine. The economy was bad in 2007, when Mr. Bertrand defeated Mr. Danderson resoundingly. It was still bad in 2009 when Mr. Grenier defeated Mr. Bertrand with similar numbers. If the economy rebounds before the next election Mr. Grenier will likely keep the seat. If not, the urge to toss the bastards out will probably sweep him aside, assuming someone decides to run against him. Regardless, however, Berlin’s fortune is changing.
Councilor Ron Goudreau said at Monday’s council meeting he’d like the city to have authority to fine property owners who don’t clean up after a fire. It would give them added incentive to get to work sooner, he said, and stop the problem so clearly illustrated on lower Main Street.
But fines don’t work, City Manager Pat MacQueen and Councilor McCue said, because all to often they are levied upon people who can’t pay. The city, in effect, is powerless in this case.
But at the same time it isn’t. When that $4.3 million makes its way through the city in the next two years it will change the face of Berlin. It will remove many of the buildings that stain city streets. It will push up the property values and make the city more inviting.
All the sudden, when a building burns down, the plot of land it used to sit on will be worth more than the cleanup. Land owners will have incentive to clean the property up, even if just to sell it. It won’t be worth it to walk away anymore, and the cleanups will take weeks or months instead of years.
And all this is because of the city, regardless of the council. Berlin is changing, no matter who wins office. Don’t worry about the direction of city because it’s already moving, and there is nothing that can get in its way.