2022 Inaugural Address
2022 Inaugural Address by The Honorable Mayor Greg Verga
Reverend Tyndall, members of the School Committee and City Council, honored guests and those joining us from home… Welcome! Thank you, one and all, for taking some time out of your first day of 2022 to join us. I’d like to extend a special thanks to Melissa Cox and Donna Crocker for organizing this ceremony and the now postponed after party. Thank you also to Eileen Duff, our master of ceremonies, and Lindsay Crouse, who will offer our benediction shortly. And how about a round of applause for the Island Cowboy himself, John Jerome?
I may have mentioned a few times during the campaign that I myself am a musician. Somewhat predictably, I couldn’t resist leaning on a musician to help me frame these brief remarks.
Given my age and my musical tastes, I should probably be evoking someone like John Lennon or R.E.M. Be that as it may, I’m drawn to the words of composer and Massachusetts native, Leonard Bernstein, one of the most influential American artists of the 20th century. Bernstein once said: “To achieve great things, two components are needed: a plan…and not quite enough time.”
More than ever, I understand what he was talking about. A few minutes ago, I took the oath of office to be Gloucester’s 60th mayor in our city’s 399th year. The next mayoral election is in 22 months, and that is precious little time in which to help this City achieve a reset, effect the changes it so desperately needs and summon its powerful potential to be an even better place to live, to work and to visit.
The good news is: my administration does have a plan. In fact, we have a great many, and we plan to see them through. For the next 729 days I will wake up with just one mandate: To make Gloucester a better place tomorrow than it is today. I see this city through the eyes of my parents, my children and my grandchildren, and we need action now to meet the challenges the next generation will face.
All of us know well - the challenges preceding generations of Gloucester folk have faced, and we draw upon that intergenerational connective tissue as a source of strength and pride. My grandfather, Dominic Ambrose Verga, came here from Sicily in 1912 to fish. I grew up on Portuguese Hill and graduated from Gloucester High in 1986. Kellie and I, who were high school sweethearts, were married and became parents shortly thereafter.
Thirty-five years later, having just sworn to faithfully and impartially perform all the duties incumbent upon me, I believe this City—with careful stewardship, public engagement, civil discourse and transparency—is positioned to begin a dramatic evolution that will improve the lives of every resident, modernize our infrastructure and public services and rejuvenate our pride in community—all while preserving Gloucester’s heritage as an island and peninsular enclave that cherishes our special way of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness along the shores of the sea.
As I made clear throughout the campaign, a hallmark of my administration will be to establish a tone of respect, professionalism and civility inside City Hall, and throughout its occupants’ touchpoints with the council, committees, boards, commissions, city workers, front-line civil servants, educators and the community at large. Make no mistake, setting this expectation and maintaining this tone is a very serious matter for me.
We are turning the page, wiping the slate clean and starting fresh. Collaboration will drive the narrative inside and outside City Hall. We’re going to forge new relationships and fortify existing ones. We will build trust, launch partnerships and establish a sense of team.
The Verga administration will function as a place where people feel inspired by and closer to their colleagues. We will do this, and it all starts today. There’s an old Sicilian saying that—roughly translated—means: “We learn by standing on the shoulders of the wise.” If you want to boil my philosophy of governance down to a dozen syllables, that’s about as close as you can get. I ran for Mayor because I believed that with a lot of work and even more support from others, I could help move this city forward.
Starting today, I will formally begin the work of delivering on my campaign promises. In pursuit of these goals, I have a keen understanding that on many issues, I won’t be the expert in the room. The only way to turn that reality into a positive for the people of Gloucester is to solicit all points of view, heed good counsel, set a tone of respect, govern in the best interest of all residents—not just those who support me, and, above all, speak directly and do what I say with full transparency.
Teamwork starts by building trust. I will never give you a reason not to trust me. Fortunately, Gloucester already has a great team in place. Gloucester’s own and honorable Bruce Tarr is the Minority Leader in our State Senate. His colleague at the State House, our own Ann-Margret Ferrante, is Vice Chair of the House Committee on Ways and Means. Gloucester City Hall houses a skilled and motivated team of civil servants and professionals who would be the envy of any municipality.
While a Mayor’s time in City Hall is ultimately limited, what we accomplish here in the next few years can be the foundation for how we live the next 50. Doing that right will require all hands on deck. To quote Mother Teresa, “We can all do small things, with great care, and together, we can do something wonderful.” The next time I speak to you in this context and setting, I will deliver the 2023 State of the City address in Gloucester’s 400th anniversary year. There is so much work to be done between now and then and we all know it will not be easy.
There is a new City Council and School Committee in place. There will be turnover on public boards and commissions. We will have winter storms to contend with as well as the ongoing challenge of COVID-19 and its variants. Almost immediately, we need to start planning and delivering a Fiscal Year ’23 budget that must be passed by the end of June. A top strategic priority for us in 2022 is to create a blueprint for investing our share of the resources available to Gloucester under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, as well as sketch plans for any disbursements that come from the Build Back Better Act if that bill or a portion of it becomes law.
I will work with our department heads and staff members, directing them to identify existing programs and explore new initiatives in order for us to invest ARPA and other funding in a manner that brings about long-term, positive impacts on the City of Gloucester and its residents. To achieve the best results, my administration has to be dynamic about community engagement and integrate the City Council into every discussion. Not because it’s politically expedient, but because it’s the right thing to do.
A little more than two weeks ago, Governor Baker signed the state’s ARPA relief and tax-revenue-surplus bill. It will distribute $4 billion dollars throughout the Commonwealth, making available, among other line-items, $1 billion for health care, a $624 million investment in housing and home-ownership opportunities, $414 million in infrastructure spending, $389 million on education and $267 million for economic development. This will leave about $2.3 billion in ARPA funds still to be spent by the state. ARPA money must be committed by the end of 2024 and spent by the end of 2026. These resources are an unparalleled and one-time-only opportunity for this City. We can’t afford to miss the mark. Getting pandemic relief right is arguably the most crucial imperative this City has embarked upon since we first became a permanent fishing outpost in 1623.
I am so excited to express my great anticipation for the year-long celebration commemorating Gloucester’s founding. Throughout next year, this exciting observance will highlight our rich history, culture and heritage, showcasing Gloucester’s diverse community, extraordinary contributions to art and culture, remarkable industrial achievements, and its abundant wealth of natural resources. These experiences will be presented in city-wide educational programs, activities and events brought to life by a diverse cross section of our community to capture the true meaning of our city.
As I said, there is much to be done. And much of what we start now won’t be fully realized until long after I leave office as mayor. But start, we must. You can be certain that the FY ’23 budget I mentioned a moment ago will include a designated line-time item to fund the hire of a full-time Sustainability Coordinator. This position will enhance Gloucester’s resilience in dealing with the impacts that climate change has on health, safety and property. The new Sustainability Coordinator will work with City departments, committees, residents and businesses as well as state and regional agencies to develop and direct actions that protect our beaches, coastal wetlands, harbor infrastructure, roads, homes, industries, open spaces and our citizens, who face a variety of climate-related health and safety risks. Gloucester deserves a full-time expert in energy efficiency and sustainability issues with an understanding of state and federal climate initiatives.
Meanwhile, our Harbor Plan is ongoing and should be wrapping by the end of this year. It’s important to move forward with the understanding that our harbor’s future is directly connected to the future of downtown. Planning for our downtown’s revitalization has to include investing in incentives for activating vacant spaces, performing improvements to sidewalks and streetscapes, making better connections between the harbor and Main Street, expanding fiber networks within the city, and creating a safety net for the most vulnerable, like tenant-based rental assistance.
Now is also the time to begin leveraging our assets in the context of a Blue Economy revolution, which can deliver on opportunities both in traditional maritime and tech-based industries we don’t typically associate with the ocean. We can capitalize on opportunities in marine biotech along with vocational and Blue Economy workforce training throughout the exploding marine sciences and biotechnology sectors. We’re talking about life-changing laboratory and manufacturing jobs that pull families out of poverty or underemployment to competitive first-year salaries and a clear career path in what is now the most thriving aspect of this state’s economy. Know this: It is within Gloucester’s reach to build and implement a resilient, sustainable, equitable Blue Economy network in the next decade.
With regard to education, I think we can all agree that schools must remain at the heart of everything we do. From my eight years on the School Committee, I know that schools are the lifeblood of our community and our teachers are the backbone of education here. We need to continue supporting our school system like the critical resource that it is.
We all know that we face a housing crisis and it’s essential that we begin pursuing a practical approach to housing development, including stabilizing available rental stock and delivering creative solutions in the affordable housing sector. We need to look at zoning reforms as well as look beyond them by reaching out to other North Shore communities and state partners to learn more about innovative solutions and best practices for creating housing opportunities. We have to accept that we can’t build our way out of the City’s housing crisis. We need a clear vision for any given neighborhood and/or individual project, so outcomes secure what’s best for Gloucester and reflect the values of our unique community. Housing here is not a one-size-fits-all proposition, and it’s full of difficult conversations that development-friendly and development-averse entities, alike, need to be a part of.
I deeply respect our place as America’s oldest fishing port and I will work every day to protect our commercial fishermen and lobstermen, because it’s in our blood. It is vital that we pair our hard-earned seafood industry expertise with life sciences, blue science and marine genomics. Economically, the North Shore is a net workforce exporter and we can change that by leaning into coastal and cultural tourism, recreation and hospitality, performing and visual arts, boat building and repair, plus marine-related construction and transportation. We also have an opportunity to advance our seafood research and fishing industry as we face a changing climate.
What is required to start doing ALL that I’ve touched on this afternoon? Fully transparent dialogue and deliberation, bold and thoughtful approaches, broad community engagement, a synthesis of many of the best ideas and strong leadership.
In closing, I would be remiss if I didn’t take one last opportunity to thank—from the bottom of my heart—everyone who took the time last summer and fall to listen to my vision for Gloucester. I also owe a debt that I cannot repay to the many, many donors, volunteers, advisors, organizers, activists, families and friends who are the real reason I’m standing.. before you… today. Thanks also to my transition team for working so hard over the past two months setting this new administration up to walk into City Hall firing on all cylinders. And, of course, thanks to the outgoing mayor for graciously helping to facilitate that transition. Lastly, to my wife, Kellie, and my entire extended family for not just putting up with, but also putting forth everything it takes to survive and thrive within a campaign for public office.
Gloucester has a celebrated history, a promising future and—right now—we have an opportunity to make it even brighter. We are a world-class cultural destination with tours and sightseeing, sportfishing and whale watching, first-rate dining and extraordinary features like the Cape Ann Museum, Rocky Neck, Gloucester Stage, the North Shore Arts Association, the Maritime Museum and so much more. We have woods and reservoirs, parks and urban greenspace, celebrations and festivals, lighthouses, a castle and Dogtown Common.
In his 1897 book, “Captains Courageous,” which focused on a fishing boat from our own harbor, Rudyard Kipling called Gloucester “a new town in a new land.” I’m not one to question a Nobel Prize winner, but we weren’t new when he wrote that. Mind you, with some courage and by working together, Gloucester CAN begin anew. Powered by partnerships and operating as a team, we can begin a journey toward a more perfect Gloucester. My goal is to reset Gloucester in a form and fashion that we’ll all recognize. A City … reborn … in its own image. An even better place to live, to work and to visit. A place I’ll always be immensely proud to call my home.