New high school, taxes and water rates take center stage
By Barbara Taormina
Four candidates running to be Revere’s next mayor, Acting Mayor Patrick Keefe, Jr. and Councillors-at Large Dan Rizzo, Steven Morabito and Gerry Visconti, fielded questions about the city’s challenges and future for 90 minutes during the mayoral debate at Revere High School Tuesday night. Sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, the debate was not actually a debate, but an extended Q&A with the candidates. There was little interaction among the group, and candidates mostly stuck to touting their resumes and repeating talking points from their campaigns.
Although predictable, there were some surprises during the event. Development was a central issue throughout the night, and early on Morabito announced he was the only candidate to sign a pledge to reject campaign donations from real estate developers. Morabito repeated his pledge several times and challenged his opponents to also sign on. Although no one took up Morabito’s challenge, all four candidates spoke about encouraging commercial development and controlled growth.
“We’ve overpopulated this community and residents have taken a back seat,” said Visconti in what must have seemed like a breath of fresh air to the audience.
Candidates also hit on a couple of issues that haven’t received much attention during the past year. Morabito called for a universal pre-K program for Revere children. “We can afford to pay for this; we must pay for this or else our children are going to fall behind,” he said. Rizzo followed by saying pre-K education in the city needs to be expanded.
Another rarely discussed topic, Wheelabrator (now WIN Waste Innovations), was raised through a question submitted by a member of the audience and pulled randomly from a bingo spinner. “Wheelabrator should not be operating,” said Rizzo. “Their permit expired long ago. It shouldn’t be in an urban community; it needs to be out where it won’t harm people’s health. We need to relocate it, get it out of the area.”
Morabito and Rizzo provided the only light moment in the debate. Morabito responded to a question from the audience about high taxes and water rates by mentioning the Dept. of Justice consent decree the city is under to correct longtime failing infrastructure, sewer outfalls and illegal work done years ago, “a long time ago before even this guy was in politics,” he said gesturing towards Rizzo.
But Rizzo responded to Morabito à la Ronald Reagan and said, “I won’t hold your youth and inexperience against you.”
Both Keefe and Rizzo spoke about their experience and accomplishments in the Mayor’s Office. However, according to the online chat box, the viewing audience at home wasn’t impressed. They wanted to hear what the candidates would do, not what they’ve done in the past.
Not surprisingly, the new high school was a topic the candidates all touched on. And there were no big surprises in their statements.
Keefe said the former Wonderland dog track site was the best site and plan. He spoke about distracted learning and the loss students suffered during the pandemic. He said building a new school around students at the existing site would be putting them in a distracted learning environment for five more years. “We’re going to kill those kids and that’s what you want to do,” said Keefe.
Morabito said that, unlike others in the race, he would not play politics with the future of the city’s children. He said he voted for the school in both locations. He then moved onto calling for investing more money in classrooms and expanding social/emotional learning and services.
For Visconti, the high school is the biggest issue the city faces and Revere cannot afford to make a mistake. “The previous administration was not transparent; they lied about the high school,” he said. “The $120 million increase in construction costs coupled with the $100 million lawsuit will bankrupt the city,” said Visconti, adding that he isn’t going to put his name on that and put resident’s financing at risk.
Rizzo also stressed a fiscally responsible solution to the city’s need for a new school building. He referred to scare tactics used by other elected officials and said many communities have expanded or renovated school buildings with students inside.
All four candidates responded to the need to improve public safety.
“People are not happy with the level of service they are receiving from the police,” said Rizzo, who called for more walking patrols, bike patrols, police substations and traffic enforcement.
The candidates agree on increasing manpower and adding new officers to the force and finding ways to boost morale within the department.
Morabito called for establishing a mental health crisis line to respond to calls for service. Although he did not offer specifics, Morabito was the only candidate to propose more attention be paid to climate change and adopting new green infrastructure for the city.
Throughout the debate, the candidates called the upcoming vote the most consequential election in a lifetime and described Revere as at a crossroads. The community now has more information and more of a sense of the candidates and how they will lead the city they all clearly care about deeply and the community they all promise to support.