How to restore the city's fiscal health is a key issue as Gloucester voters prepare to winnow the field in the city's crowded mayor's race.
Seven candidates, many of them prominent figures in the city, are contending in a preliminary election that will be held Tuesday. The two top vote-getters will vie in the Nov. 6 city election to succeed retiring three-term Mayor John Bell.
Helping focus attention on the race is the succession of woes that have buffeted Gloucester in recent years, including steep budget constraints, major infrastructure costs, and federal fishing rules that have devastated its fishing industry.
"There is a whole lot of concern in the community that once again Gloucester is almost on its back and that we've got to make a good choice as we make this transition of mayors," said Councilor at Large Bruce H. Tobey, a former mayor who believes those worries are causing people to tune in to the race.
"It's been a good race with excellent public involvement," Tobey said, noting that that is not usually the case during the preliminary phase of Gloucester mayoral races. "This time, there will have been half a dozen well-attended public forums."
Also encouraging, Tobey said, is the quality of the lineup of candidates. "It's a strong field. The major candidates bring robust resumes, and the quality of dialogue and the focus on real issues, rather than side-show issues, has been very impressive."
Contestants are City Councilors Michael M. McLeod Sr. and James Destino; School Committee member Carolyn A. Kirk; former councilor Jeff Worthley, the runner-up to Bell in the 2005 mayoral race; Historical Commission chairwoman Margaret "Maggie" Rosa; Dan Ruberti, who has run for mayor 16 times; and Francisco A. Sclafani, who lost mayoral bids in 1995, 1999, and 2001.
A common theme among the contenders is the need to shore up the city's finances, including by attracting new businesses to Gloucester. Several mentioned the need to allow for a more diverse mix of businesses along the harbor.
"We have a problem financially in the city that has been going on for years," said McLeod, 59, a Housing Authority member and retired Gloucester police chief. "There are two ways out of it. One is to tax our way out, which I'm totally against. The other is building out way out, getting industry to come in," the approach he supports. "We can develop with a conscience, and keep our heritage."
McLeod believes part of the economic growth needs to occur along the harbor front, which he believes should remain mostly, but not solely, marine-related.
"Our roads are terrible, we are closing fire stations, we are closing schools. We need to turn that around," McLeod said.
"I have the most applicable experience of any of the candidates both in business and government and life experience here in Gloucester," said Destino, 48, who owns a sandwich shop on Prospect Street and once worked as a commercial fisherman.
"The biggest issue facing Gloucester right now is government accountability and getting our financial house in order."
Among his prescriptions are getting the city's new accounting software to work properly so that the city can reconcile its financial books in a more timely fashion. He also favors "more flexible uses on the waterfront" and "bringing a customer-service culture to city government."
Kirk, 45, spent 20 years in professional management, including with
"The city needs a comprehensive plan that the community can get behind in order to move forward," said Kirk, who believes her background makes her the best suited of the candidates to offer that.
Listing the components of that plan, she said, "We have to face facts about where we are as a city. We have to have a balanced budget - the next mayor is going to inherit a multimillion-dollar budget deficit. We need to have a diverse economic plan that drives revenue into the city. And we have to restore faith in City Hall."
Worthley, 30, has been economic development manager for the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce, and Salem Chamber of Commerce director, and has done sales work for construction firms.
He said he is the candidate for those who "want accountability, services delivered, and . . . to see the city move forward."
He supports rezoning the harbor to permit mixed uses, which he said would allow people to invest in their properties, provide jobs, make the downtown more vibrant, and expand the tax base.
He also said he would hire a grants writer, and would seek to convert private roads to public ones, which he said would bring in more state highway funds.
Rosa, 63, who also chairs the City Hall Restoration Commission, is a molecular biologist who worked for 25 years in the biotechnology industry as a scientist and as a patent portfolio manager.
She wants to bring "innovative commercial opportunities, including biotechnology opportunities," to Gloucester, drawing on her background in that field.
To help get the city's "financial house in order," she would hire "somebody with city-manager skills" to serve as her chief administrative assistant, and establish departmental review committees.
"I think my demonstrated management and team-building skills are paramount to the future success of Gloucester."
Sclafani, 49, is a part-time, heavy-equipment operator who in 2004 published a book, "Breach of Faith," a memoir about growing up in Gloucester.
He strongly opposes any effort to rezone the inner harbor to allow nonmarine uses.
"The essential marine infrastructure must remain in place if Gloucester's 400-year-old fishing industry is going to have a chance to recover from devastating fishing regulations."
Sclafani has proposed the city build a desalinization facility to "permanently solve our problem of inadequate freshwater levels. Right now, we have a water ban and we're surrounded by water."
Ruberti could not be reached.