By Barbara Taormina
Five months ago, when former Mayor Brian Arrigo stepped down to become the new commissioner of the Department of Conservation & Recreation (DCR) in Gov. Maura Healey’s Administration, City Council President Patrick Keefe, who represents Ward 4, stepped up to the Mayor’s Office. Keefe is now seeking his own full term as mayor – running in the preliminary election on Sept. 19 against fellow city councilors, opponents Dan Rizzo, Gerry Visconti and Steven Morabito.
Keefe said he feels there’s more to do and wants to keep the job. “It’s about the ability to impact the day-to-day lives of residents,” he said of the mayor’s role
Keefe, for better or worse, has been described as Arrigo’s protégé. But while he respected and appreciated what Arrigo did for the city during his seven years as mayor, there are significant differences between the former and acting mayors.
“Mayor Arrigo, as mayor for seven years, embraced development,” said Keefe. “I think we need to continue to welcome growth but with a steady hand. We need to look at each project on its own merit. It’s more about being able to see how a development project adds to and enhances a neighborhood,” said Keefe, adding that simply opposing any and all new development is unrealistic and not in Revere’s best interest. “You can’t stop change and progress,” he said.
Keefe, who grew up on the border of Revere and Everett, brings decades of experience in the hospitality industry to the job. He has years of management experience, a business degree and plenty of people skills. He’s committed to holding regular meetings in the city’s wards to keep in touch with residents’ interests and concerns.
On what he feels is one of the city’s biggest and most immediate concerns, the new high school, Keefe is absolutely clear. He believes Wonderland was the best option for a site for the new school. “My opponents made a big, big mistake opposing the Wonderland site,” he said.
“A six-story high school is almost unmanageable,” he said, referring to the new designs for a school on the existing site. “And the neighbors won’t be happy with that,” he added.
Keefe regrets that the city is passing up the opportunity to build a “beautiful new building and campus” at Wonderland, and he warns that the former race track, which has been dormant for years, will only be developed as more housing. Keefe said the new high school at Wonderland could have been built without raising taxes. And he feels the argument that the city couldn’t afford the Wonderland option was shortsighted. He points to the soft costs, such as busing athletic teams to out-of-district practice fields, rebuilding fields and other costs associated with the existing site.
“Those are things that will make the project at the existing site more expensive than Wonderland,” he said and added that his opponents were swayed by a small but vocal group who felt the Wonderland option would be a financial burden for the city. “They pandered to that crowd, I pandered to the families in Revere,” he said.
Keefe does agree with his fellow candidates that public safety is a priority and the city needs to provide the Revere Police with the resources and manpower needed to protect the community. He acknowledged it’s a difficult time for law enforcement, a difficult job fewer and fewer people are pursuing.
In meetings with the state police, DCR, the MBTA and Revere Police, in the wake of the Memorial Day weekend shooting on Revere Beach, Keefe said, he learned from the State Police colonel there was hesitation to move in and disperse the crowd because of the public’s attitude towards police. “I told him I would always have his back and he should make his best judgment,” said Keefe, who feels the collaboration among law enforcement agencies is a step forward in keeping the beach safe.
Keefe also hopes to bolster traffic enforcement and he wants it to go beyond speeding vehicles. He wants more attention on drivers operating unregistered and uninsured vehicles. “They should be pulled over and impounded,” he said. “It sends a huge message that it’s not safe and not allowed in Revere. It’s a public safety issue,” he said.
Keefe acknowledged there’s an old adage that it’s tough for a ward councillor to be elected to the Mayor’s Office because you’re not as well known. But Keefe said as the ward 4 councillor, he’s gotten the calls from residents about the potholes and broken street lights. “It’s ground level city government and it helps you understand what residents need and value,” said Keefe, saying that he’s voted on issues that affect the entire city and has the entire city in mind while making decisions.
“For me, we talk about the needs of the whole. I want to bring eye-level leadership to City Hall, to be welcoming to all. I want to create a more private sector experience; we need to get things done within a reasonable time.”