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Q&A: At-Large City Council Candidate Sam Mercurio

(Editor’s note: Since there is no primary for District 2 City Council or School Committee, I sent District-focused questionnaires to candidates for Mayor and At-Large City Council. Mercurio will be listed as Samuel J. Mercurio on the primary ballot.)

Why are you running for a City Council seat?

I have both lived and owned on both the south and north sides of town, almost equally for the 63 years I’ve lived in Framingham. I feel that gives me a perspective of the entire community that few candidates can draw upon. I have been in favor of the change to a City for the past 2 Charters (though, I feel the most recent one was much better written). Like most people, the word “City” immediately conjures up a vision of downtown Boston or Manhattan, but I remember owning a business next door to City Hall in Marlborough, so I’m lucky enough to quickly push that vision out of my mind.

I have long been concerned about the inequitable representation of residents from different neighborhoods throughout the town. The City Council will far more equally distribute representation by giving each new District a single elected voice on the Council. The 2 At Large Councilors will have their finger on the pulse of the entire community, and will offer an additional opinion and voice at this table.

What would you like to tell voters about your qualifications?

I have lived here, as previously stated, for more than six decades and seen the enormous growth Framingham has undergone. I’ve walked, biked and driven thousands of miles on its streets, and spoken to thousands of citizens from all corners of our community. I have been asked to run for Town Meeting several times over the years, but because I’ve done some contract work for different departments, I’ve avoided an elected position to prevent any appearance of impropriety. I am in contact with many people each week through the summer, as I am the “host” of the Concerts on the Green. I don’t come to the decision to run with a sack full of “political experience” but, instead hope to be the old “Townie” voice of reason. I don’t believe in Change for the sake of Change. We’ve done pretty good for well over 200 years, so if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. My number one qualification is that I’ll listen to you before I make a decision.

What if any are your plans to keep in touch with residents – to seek their input and communicate your votes and other activities?

If elected, I plan to hold “Office Hours” once a month at various locations throughout the city to enjoy a dialog with our citizens and bring this information back to the Council.

District 2 has two long-vacant or near-vacant commercial areas: Nobscot Plaza and the old Saxonville Lumber. What do you think should be done about these properties?

Both of these properties are difficult situations. As a child, I shopped at most of the stores in the Nobscot Shopping Center. As a matter of fact, my late mother worked at the Wonder Market there for over 20 years. That said, both of these landlords are current on their property taxes, and maintain the properties to the best of their abilities. Nobscot’s primary tenant location lease is held by the parent company of Shaw’s, for the sole purpose of keeping another supermarket from opening there. As the primary leaseholder, they are responsible for maintaining the property, not the landlord. This is a difficult impasse for the local government, either town or city, but I have a couple of ideas that might offer solutions in the long term. The future opening of the Whole Foods in Sudbury may make holding this lease a moot point, so I look forward to that change in the economic landscape. Traffic at that intersection is a more immediate concern, and addressing that problem may offer other options. Sadly, I see no short term solution. As for Saxonville, Albie has mentioned a couple of things he might be willing to do, though the property is well maintained. It’s empty, but not an eyesore. Remember, it could look like Franklin Street!

Town officials have rightly complained about vacant properties in town. However, the town itself has left the old McAuliffe branch library building sitting vacant for almost a year and a half. What should be done with this building?

The logical use for the building would be to become executive offices for the library, and maybe use it for the maintenance of library stocks. I feel this building was put on the back burner with the major problems raied by the main branch electrical fire and the associated repairs. Now that those issues have been addressed, perhaps the library will address that building in a timely manner.

There have been a number of complaints about the traffic lights installed to support expected development at the old Saxonville Lumber. Do you have any comments about this?

Until traffic patterns are studied with the new lights, I fear it will be hard to make the timing changes necessary to fix this problem. I don’t see this as a huge or long term problem. It’s just about re-timing the lights. The traffic problems there are exacerbated by the lengthy buildup at the Central Street lights, especially at rush hour.

What are your opinions regarding Friends of Saxonville’s proposals to redesign McGrath Square? Renovate the Athenaeum?

McGrath Square, as many of Framingham’s more complicated intersections, need to be considered as part of the whole neighborhood. By this I mean no square is a stand-alone concern. A change in one place often changes traffic patterns in other places. A large view is the best way to address any of these issues.

The Athenaeum could be a valuable asset to the new City, but cannot be considered without the structure meeting all present building and safety codes. That is the first and most important consideration.

Do you have any thoughts to share about how to balance desire for more development with strains on transit infrastructure? The competing needs of vehicular traffic, bicyclists, and pedestrians?

Pedestrian needs are the first priority, as these will also affect the safety of our children walking to and from schools. Though bicyclists are an enviromentaly sound option, the need to keep traffic moving through the neighborhood is paramount. Actually, if the traffic is stopped, the cyclists can make their way through much easier. That, though, is NOT a solution. When people are shopping for a new neighborhood to move to, traffic is always a concern, and we need to make sure people don’t perceive the area as a traffic nightmare.

How can Framingham best balance the need to serve less fortunate members of our community with the need for a viable tax base?

Keeping the dual tax rate structure does much to control the costs to the residential community. We can also consider tax breaks to owners who offer reduced market rents to the less fortunate, as a means to further keep rental rates down. Unfortunately, we live in one of the most geographically desirable communities in the country, and demand for housing has always been at a premium. This demand keeps rates high.

If elected, how do you plan to help Framingham transition from a town to a city?

The Charter gives us a great blueprint. That said, I’m running to keep a “Townie” sensibility on the board. As I said earlier, we’ve done pretty good for well over 200 years, so if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

What’s the best way for voters to find out more about your candidacy? (Web site, Facebook page, etc.)

I’m still forming an Election Committee, so I have virtually no virtual presence at this time. That will happen soon. Watch for my signs!

Is there anything else you’d like to tell the voters of District 2?

I’d like to see Framingham once again become an Entertainment Destination. I remember seeing many local, regional, national, and international entertainers appear in venues in Framingham. Our community should not have to travel to Boston, Worcester, or Foxborough to enjoy quality entertainment. Plus, as a destination, visitors bring with them spending needs. They look for places to eat, lodge, and shop while here. Spending decades in the entertainment industry has made me aware of what is available in other communities, and I hope to emulate that environment. That’s just one of many things I’d like to pursue to make our new City a better place.

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