Winfield one of a kind

To the editor:

The death of George Winfield Jr. at the age of 93 ended the life of a man who personified the city's richness in every way.

In a community where rules are manifested each day, George was the exception. He was a man of simple means who represented his African-American heritage effectively and without bombast as a politician, physical fitness enthusiast and supreme Rotarian.

He was the first black president of the City Council, which was an inspiration to minorities, and gave others hope and aspiration. City born and bred, he looked for every opportunity to reach out to others.

I heard about his fine basketball exploits and his erudite manner as a 1932 graduate of Haverhill High School, along with his military record as a U.S. Army sergeant of World War II. He was also the first black to serve as commander of the Lorraine Post VFW.

I knew him best as a fellow fitness buff. Despite his advanced age, he made it a point to visit the gym most every day in the week.

I recall the day I got to photograph him and two other 90-year-olds (Andy Rampulla and Sil Fassio). They were like the Three Musketeers. All three were given gold memberships at the age of 80, and they still kept coming.

George would take to the exercise machines with mobility and enthusiasm. He often maintained that a healthy body was conducive to a healthy mind.

He trusted everyone and always met you with a kind word and a soft smile. The glass was always half full with George.

George had more stories to tell than the Brothers Grimm. Only they were the happy sort.

Shortly before he took ill, a calamity occurred. Thieves broke into his locker and stole his money. Not that they got a lot, but the idea of being violated would have impacted a lesser man. Not George.

He would have preferred keeping it a secret for humility's sake, but word eventually got out and members were mortified that some sneak would steal from a 93-year-old.

George chalked it up to merely one of life's many experiences and made no more of it.

Deeds, not tombstones, are the true monuments of the great. George Winfield was monumental in his own way. He will always be remembered for the legacy he left behind.



Mayor's vision destructive for city

To the editor:

I am writing to publicly disassociate myself from the mayor's Downtown Master Plan Committee and Task Force and to offer a vote of "no confidence" in the mayor's rampant and careless development of Haverhill. I do not believe the mayor's policies are advancing the best interests of Haverhill, and I strongly believe his policies will be destructive for Haverhill in the long term.

Our former mayor James Waldron is remembered as the one who demolished much of what was good in downtown Haverhill with urban renewal. Mayor James Fiorentini will probably be remembered as the one who encouraged much of what is wrong in Haverhill: His "planning" philosophy seems to simply be to green light every project, regardless of the consequences. The mayor entitles his newsletter "Haverhill on the Move." It certainly is on the move | in the wrong direction.

Towns do not recover when their downtown is blighted. Haverhill's fortunes | and the real estate values of residents | are tied to what happens on Washington and Merrimack streets. Revival isn't happening there. Robberies and stabbings are. When downtowns are desirable places to spend time, then the value of houses within walking distance goes up in value. When downtowns are dangerous, the professionals and working families move into safer neighborhoods, leaving downtown to those who cannot afford to move elsewhere. Downtown Haverhill is also home to a large senior citizen population. Mixing this vulnerable population with growing crime and drug addicts, will sadly make conflict and injury inevitable. Haverhill needs to boost the size of its police force and to put foot patrols downtown on the weekends to deal with crime.

Downtowns do not recover when they are filled with homeless shelters, clinics and low-income housing. There are discarded hypodermic needles in G.A.R. Park and around the library. Every town has a responsibility to take care of its own, but these people are not from Haverhill; the concentration of services and shelters here is drawing them from other cities. What impression does this make on people considering moving to town?

Downtowns do not recover by encouraging big-box retailers at the edge of town. Mayor Fiorentini has repeatedly touted his "success" in bringing Target and Best Buy to Haverhill. He has said that he created more retail than at any other time in recent memory. Encouraging big-box stores to locate at the edge of town when downtown businesses are suffering is like trying to treat diabetes with chocolate cake. When Haverhill downtown merchants are already facing the challenge to remain in business, should we be surprised when their businesses decline further after these big-box retailers open? Attracting these stores to Haverhill and calling it progress is, at best, ignorant.

Downtowns do not recover by erasing their history. People go to places like Newburyport or Cambridge to shop and eat in a historic setting; the mayor seems to want to turn our Victorian downtown into a "modern urban village" like Methuen's Loop. Haverhill is one of the oldest towns in America and has a rich history that can be leveraged to make it a brand and a destination. Instead, our mayor seems hell-bent on erasing Haverhill's history in order to leave his mark on the city. And Fiorentini's legacy is nothing more than strip malls, the Franchi Building, stucco CVS buildings, and low-income apartments.

Downtowns do not recover without an Architectural Review Board. Residents want the assurance that the qualities which drew them there in the first place are protected and not disrupted by stucco CVS palaces. The mayor regards architectural review boards as barriers to development, and he has repeatedly stated that he wants to make Haverhill friendlier to developers. A better plan would be to make Haverhill friendlier for its residents.

The mayor and the planning department have repeatedly stalled the City Council's attempts to institute an Architectural Review Board. The mayor has recently proposed selling and demolishing Haverhill's historic Armory building for another strip mall. The mayor is encouraging the conversion of the Hayes Building downtown into low-income rental housing by the Archdiocese.

Mayor Fiorentini presented the ultimate insult to the people of Haverhill when he was quoted by Eagle-Tribune reporter Jason Tait as saying that his ultimate goal "is to replace the city's early-20th-century industrial downtown" with "a modern people-center(ed) urban village." The mayor's words highlight how he sees Haverhill. There is a significant difference between an "early-20th-century industrial downtown" and the "largest Queen Anne industrial Victorian downtown historic district."

The term "urban village" was coined by planners and developers to dress up downtown strip malls. Urban villages are what towns aspire to when they don't have a historic downtown that can be restored. No urban village can match the potential of what we already have in downtown Haverhill.

For the mayor to even hint at replacing our historic downtown with an urban village demonstrates a lack of understanding of how Haverhill can truly revive.



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