By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL - It’s official. As if there were any doubt.
Mayor James Fiorentini is running to keep his job. Fiorentini, 66, who last month passed Albert Glynn as the city’s all-time longest serving mayor, took office in 2004.
He will seek a Haverhill record sixth consecutive term in the fall election.
His toughest election challenges came in 2007 against former multi-term mayor James Rurak and then four years ago against City Councilor John Michitson. Last election, Fiorentini’s only opponent was Debra Campanile, a political neophyte who campaigned on weekends and barely spent any money on her campaign.
So far this time, Michael Young, a former city councilor and teacher at Whittier Regional High School, and Raul Diaz, have joined Fiorentini in taking out nomination papers. To get on the ballot, candidates must return the papers, with signatures from at least 50 registered voters, to the city clerk’s office by July 30. The last day to take out nomination papers is July 26.
“I do not intend to rest on my accomplishments,” Fiorentini, a lawyer and former city councilor who grew up in Haverhill, said in release about his announcement. “I intend to run a full campaign and to be in every neighborhood as I have been every term. I am honored to have had the confidence of the electorate in the past, but confidence is something that can never be taken for granted and must always be earned. I intend to work hard this summer and fall and hope to keep the confidence of voters for a new term.”
The preliminary election, if one is needed, is Sept. 17. The finals are Nov. 5. Preliminary elections are held if there are more than double the number of candidates for available seats or positions. For instance, a mayoral preliminary will be held if there are three or more people vying for the job.
In his recent budget address to City Council, Fiorentini proclaimed that city finances are better than at any time during his tenure. He has been credited with revitalizing downtown by promoting the growing restaurant district and pushing the redevelopment of several old and empty factory buildings into large, upscale housing complexes. His budget priorities for next year include making improvements to city parks and playgrounds and adding more police officers.
“Today, there is over $150 million in new development in the downtown area, with new docks, a new parking garage, new boardwalk and over 800 new residents,” the mayor said in his release. “The redevelopment of downtown and the taxes it has generated has been a major factor in the turnaround of Haverhill’s finances.”
Fiorentini said he has also “held the line on spending.” During his tenure, Wall Street bond-rating agencies have twice raised the city’s bond rating, which has resulted in lower borrowing costs, he said.
The mayor’s critics say he has done a poor job maintaining city buildings and property. Concerns have been raised recently about the condition of Trinity Stadium, Veteran’s Memorial Ice Rink, Winnekenni Park, various school buildings and other public assets. Some say he hasn’t done enough to attract and retain industry and high-tech companies here.
His greatest challenge next year, should he win re-election, will almost certainly be winning support from voters to replace the troubled Hunking Middle School with new building in Bradford. The mayor has said there will likely be an election in February or March to ask voters to temporarily increase their property taxes to raise the city’s share of the project.
If he remains in the corner office, Fiorentini is also likely to be judged by the success or failure of two major downtown endeavors — the potential sale and redevelopment of the long-vacant Woolworth Building at the entrance to Merrimack Street and UMass Lowell’s search for a suitable downtown location for a satellite campus.
Fiorentini has raised property taxes by the legal limit every year he has held office, but he also has fought attempts by business advocates to shift more of the tax burden from commercial property owners to home owners. Three years ago Fiorentini pushed through a local meal tax increase and he has said he will propose a hike in the local hotel tax later this year.
The mayor has waged bitter feuds with unions — most notably the firefighters union — over his tenure, but not recently. A firefighter and union officer once called him a murderer after an elderly woman died in a fire a few days after the mayor temporarily sidelined the department’s rescue truck due to a budget shortfall. The firefighter was disciplined and eventually apologized for the remark.
After years of negotiations, Fiorentini eventually got most city unions to accept health care and sick-leave changes that he has said saved taxpayers millions.
If re-elected, Fiorentini said education will continue to be a top priority.
“When I took office, our flagship school, Haverhill High School, was on the verge of losing accreditation,” he said. “But our renovation project, completed in my administration, restored our high school at a fraction of what other communities paid.”
The mayor said MCAS scores are up and the student drop-out rate is down.
“Elections are about tomorrow, not about yesterday,” Fiorentini said. “While I am proud of my record, I intend to run on what I intend to do to make Haverhill better in the future.”
In addition to the job of mayor, all nine City Council seats and three of Haverhill’s six School Committee spots are up for election in the fall.
The mayor and councilors serve for two years. The School Committee seats are for four years, but they rotate, with three of the six seats available every two years.
School Committee members get $5,000 per year and councilors get $8,000. The mayor’s annually salary is $90,000.