A proposal by former heavyweight boxing champ, and Chelsea native, John ‘The Quietman’ Ruiz has sparked major controversy over the past week in the follow-up to a preliminary meeting on the issue Feb. 6.
The meeting on Feb. 6 was a preliminary presentation to the City Council by Quietman Sports, which included Ruiz and his Business Manager Mark Giblin, in a Committee on Conference.
During the meeting, the presentation included a preliminary written proposal that called for using the CCC Club in Bellingham Square to create a new youth athletic and education center. The CCC Club folded last year and was sold to Chelsea’s Jim D’Amico – who is refurbishing apartments above the old club. The City had bid on the building as well to establish a youth center in the downtown, but did not win the bid. In the aftermath, the City and D’Amico agreed that they could possibly partner with a non-profit to establish the center in the D’Amico building.
Since that verbal agreement, no one had really come along, until Ruiz floated the initial idea of putting a center there using his name. He has opened similar boxing clubs in Medford in the past. The effort, he indicated, was a move to give back to the City he grew up in and to help many youth who are straying from the right path.
“Mr. Ruiz and his team…know what it takes to overcome the same obstacles Chelsea youth face,” read the proposal. “Maybe by sharing their personal success stories, providing scientific and historic educational programs, and athletic programs, it can make a difference. In the least, Quietman Sports hopes their influence can prevent tragedies such as the March 2016 incident in Chelsea where a 19-year old was gunned down and several other teenagers injured by another 16 year old at an empty apartment. Stories such as this are unnecessary and preventable. The community must act soon or by failing to do so will affect Chelsea for generations to come.”
One of the other stipulations was that the City would provide a $475,000 grant to Quietman Sports over three years to help launch the programming. Quietman Sports would put up $195,171 and would fundraise $75,000.
City Councilors were lukewarm to the idea, though, asking many questions about the expenditure and if the venture had coordinated with existing programs like the Explorers Post 109 and other activities.
Council President Damali Vidot, Judith Garcia and others asked a lot of questions.
In all, the welcome wasn’t as warm as Ruiz seemed to expect.
After the meeting, he attacked Vidot in a post on Instagram, and she said she was highly offended by it.
“In my thoughts I assumed they would welcome my intension to give back to my hometown that I love, but it became a backlash from Council President Damali Vidot,” Ruiz posted. “Council President Damali Vidot comments ‘why do we need your help; you don’t liver here’ and her resistance threw me back. It’s a sad moment when a City representative especially the Council President who should lead by example is taking a stance against anyone trying to extend a hand and who has it slapped away…Call Council President Damali Vidot to leave her power hungry attitude at home and embrace anyone who is willing to help my city that I love.”
Vidot, in an op-ed in today’s paper, said the matter needed clarity. She said Ruiz misrepresented what she said.
“Let’s be clear that the City Council does not decide whether we grant Mr. Ruiz funds for his proposal,” she wrote. “That decision-making process rests solely with the City Manager. The City Council as a body then votes on the appropriation of requested funds in which I am 1/11th of the vote. Unfortunately, following the meeting, Mr. Ruiz chose to turn to social media and misrepresent my comments. At that moment it became clear to me that residents deserved more clarity around the facts as to how things transpired.”
She said anyone who is proposing to work with children should be a better example – not taking to social media to complain when they don’t get their way.
“As a longtime boxing fan of Puerto Rican roots, I was ecstatic to meet the first Latino heavyweight boxer of the world,” she wrote. “However, my fandom doesn’t equate to disregarding my role as a public servant…As a longtime youth worker, I am appalled that someone who is proposing to manage a youth center would not look for better ways to demonstrate leadership. I cannot take responsibility for the ill-advice given to Mr. Ruiz prior to the meeting; I did however encourage dialogue and identified ways in which Mr. Ruiz could seek out community input.”
Giblin did not return an e-mail immediately to the Record asking for comment.
Councillor Leo Robinson, who helped Ruiz in bringing the proposal by filing an order to have the meeting, said he wasn’t happy with the champ’s reception.
“It wasn’t professional,” he said of his fellow councillors. “You don’t treat people like that.”
Councillor Giovanni Recupero said he isn’t opposed to the center, but he would like to see it be for everyone, not just the youth.
Meanwhile, City Manager Tom Ambrosino said the proposal was extremely preliminary. He said the City would have to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) before anyone could even begin talking seriously. Any proposal would have to officially apply to an RFP.
“We’re a long way from anything being there yet,” he said. “I actually have an interest in having youth programming in the downtown and the CCC is a great facility for that. I’m interested in the idea. I would first need direction from the Council for putting out an RFP. I don’t have that. I would say we’re very early in the process.”
On Jan. 22, 2018, City Council unanimously adopted an order introduced by Councilor Leo Robinson requesting a Sub-Committee meeting. The meeting was to discuss a proposal by John Ruiz requesting a grant of $475,000 from the city to establish a youth center at the CCC (Old YMCA building). The three-year pilot proposal suggested project activities included boxing, basketball, volleyball, dance/aerobics, STEM-Focused Lewis Latimer Society Exhibitions, and drop-in programs as necessary.
The process of selecting non-profit recipients for grants is a function of the City Manager’s office. When a need in the community arises that the City is unable to meet, the City Manager’s office solicits proposals from non-profits and makes a final decision. Once a grantee is chosen, the City Manager requests funds from the City Council to cover the cost. This is otherwise known as the RFP process (Request for Proposal).
During the Sub-Committee meeting last week, I referenced the process of soliciting proposals, as the involvement of City Council so early was uncommon. If there was a pool of money available to grant for a potential teen center, then all non-profits should be allowed the opportunity to apply. Procedurally, the only time the Council has a say is when it is time to appropriate the funds for the chosen non-profit, after the City Manager has concluded his decision. With the understanding that the burden of decision-making rested with the City Manager, I saw no point as to why this was before us.
However, for the sake of open and honest debate around investments in our youth, I welcomed the dialogue.
Mr. John Ruiz gave an impassioned speech about wanting to give back to the community and councilors did their due diligence in asking questions to gain clarity around this proposed project. Balancing the needs of our youth and where to invest taxpayer dollars is a delicate situation. Yet, as representatives of the community, it is our duty to ask the proper questions to settle concerns.
My personal comments commended the former heavyweight-boxing champ in wanting to give back to the city. I made clear that all proposals were subject to a formal RFP process and encouraged Mr. Ruiz to have conversations with stakeholders (youth, youth organizations) to familiarize himself with the community again and better assess the popularity of boxing. I also suggested that if the champ wanted to give back to the community, he should consider investing in the Explorer Post 109 (which is currently housed in the CCC building). Ruiz’s contribution as a former member of the Post 109 could go a long way for the struggling, 62-year-old youth organization.
Let’s be clear that the City Council does not decide whether we grant Mr. Ruiz funds for his proposal.
That decision-making process rests solely with the City Manager.
The City Council as a body then votes on the appropriation of requested funds in which I am one out of 11 votes. Unfortunately, following the meeting, Mr. Ruiz allegedly chose to turn to social media and misrepresent my comments. At that moment it became clear to me that residents deserved more clarity around the facts as to how things transpired.
As a longtime boxing fan of Puerto Rican roots, I was ecstatic to meet the first Latino heavyweight boxer of the world. However, my fandom doesn’t equate to disregarding my role as a public servant. It is imperative that we continue to secure a fair and transparent process in the allocation of taxpayer dollars. As a longtime youth worker, I am appalled that someone who is proposing to manage a youth center would not look for better ways to demonstrate leadership. I cannot take responsibility for the advice given to Mr. Ruiz prior to the meeting; I did however encourage dialogue and identified ways in which Mr. Ruiz could seek out community input.
Moving forward, I have made it clear to the City Manager that future efforts must remain in his office as it is outside of the scope of Council’s responsibilities. As representatives of our community, we are always available to provide input. However, before anything comes before the City Council a system of checks and balances must be well outlined (budget, zoning, permitting and/or compliancy).
As I look back at where we are, I am proud to see the amazing work we’ve accomplished in the past couple of years. Reestablishing the Youth Commission, reviving our Recreational Dept., increase in youth programming across the city, and creating mentorship for our youth is a testament of our commitment to our future leaders.
This is what’s right about Chelsea.
The mere fact that we are discussing the empowerment of our youth and their need for services speaks volumes as to how far we’ve come. There will be minor setbacks as we strive toward a government that is transparent and inclusive of all. The true test is in how we learn from these experiences and rise above it all. I have the utmost faith in this community and feel confident that we will stand stronger as a result of these conversations.
When the Chelsea Youth Baseball League, more widely known as the Pony League, was at its height of popularity from the late 1960s through the 1980s, when large crowds made their way to Merritt and Voke Parks for nightly games, James “Bear” Burke was one of the true coaching legends.
Mr. Burke, a Chelsea baseball coaching force and former employee of the Chelsea DPW, died on Jan. 24, 2018. He was 75.
The managers in the Pony League were giants in the eyes of their players. Pony League was huge in those days and you had to tryout and be selected in a player draft.
You begin with manager Larry Notkin, whose eye for talent was second to none and whose Red Sox, Cubs, and Royals teams were always a title contender. Al Palladino was the knowledgeable and nervous manager of the Twins (and then the Yankees), perpetually dispensing words of baseball wisdom to his players.
Paul Casino, clerk to the Chelsea City Council, was so popular and respected as the manager of the Angels. He was elected easily to the Chelsea School Committee and Board of Aldermen and served this city well. Casino coached some of the league’s all-time greats including Bobby Spinney, Paul Spracklin, and Eric Shuman.
Richie Pezzuto was the highly energetic manager of the Astros, taking Dennis “Hawk” Murray as the No. 1 pick in one of the drafts and building a powerhouse.
George Triant managed the Orioles, who with a lineup of Mike Lush, Jerry Dion, Bobby Ham, Larry Skara, Wayne Morris, Paul Halas, and other big-time players, became the only team in league history to go undefeated.
Steve Socha took over the Red Sox and had all-time Little League All-Star southpaw Paul Wheeler, a terrific hockey and baseball player, on his roster.
And then there was Jimmy “Bear” Burke, the beloved manager of the Pirates who exuded his enthusiasm for the game of baseball every time he stepped on the field. The “Bear,” as he was affectionately known, knew his baseball well. His in-game exchanges with the other managers, especially Notkin, were of a competitive nature. All the managers were friendly rivals trying hard and devoting countless hours of practice time to their teams with the hope of claiming the coveted playoff championship.
Al Palladino remembers tangling with “Bear” as an opposing coach and then having him as his assistant coach. He has fond memories of his longtime friend.
“I feel so bad that Bear has passed away,” said Palladino. “He was such a good guy. He had a kind heart. I coached against him when he had the Pirates and he came back and coached with me when I had Paul Nowicki on my team.”
Palladino recalled a humorous interaction that the Bear had with another local sports legend, the late Arnold Goodman, during a league meeting. “They were on opposites of an issue but the Bear stood up and said, ‘I make a motion because Arnie Goodman says so,’ “and everyone in the room just broke out in laughter because Jimmy and Arnie had finally agreed to agree on the matter.”
Bucky Cole, one of the Pony League’s greatest ballplayers, was a member of Bear’s Pirates team in the mid-1960s. Cole joined the Pirates after a sensational career in the Chelsea Little League where he was that era’s Mike Lush.
“I was a proud member of his Pirates team and we played Larry Notkin’s Red Sox team in the finals and we lost to them,” recalled Cole. “The Bear put his heart and soul in to coaching. He really loved coaching. He and Larry were good friends but they were always rivals to the final game. It was like the Yankees and the Red Sox going at it. He was a great guy.”
Cole said he also worked with James “Bear” Burke in the Chelsea Park Department.
“What’s interesting is that my son, Tommy, also had the Bear as a coach when he was 16 years old,” said Cole. “That’s how long he coached.”
And that’s how long the Bear was a positive influence on Chelsea youths – for a lifetime.
The city of Chelsea has lost another widely revered personality in its sports history.
Chelsea City Councilor Judith Garcia announced that she has been selected as a political surrogate on Senator Elizabeth Warren’s reelection campaign, chosen from a sprawling list of notable political figures in the state.
Councilor Judith Garcia.
The 26-year-old, now in her second term, kicked off her efforts to reelect Sen. Warren at the Chelsea Public Library during this past Saturday’s caucus, where Garcia served as a spokesperson for the campaign.
“Senator Warren has remained committed to protecting the most vulnerable in our community, rebuilding economic security for our working families, and making a difference in our state,” Garcia said.
“During the last six years, Elizabeth has been a devoted leader who remains connected to our residents and the issues that affect us,” continued Garcia. “She pushed for the permanent extension of Earned Income and Child Tax Credits helping to keep 250,000 Massachusetts residents and more than 100,000 children out of poverty. Her values and morals are where they need to be.”
Councilor Garcia is a native of Chelsea, who grew up in a proud Spanish-speaking household. As the City Councilor of District 5, she is the first Honduran American woman to serve on the Chelsea City Council, as well as the youngest current member. Now, Judith dedicates her time to creating government that truly represents and works for its people.
One of the largest recycling plants in the nation, Casella Waste in Charlestown, is hailing the recent spate of plastic bag bans in the area, including the discussions happening right now in Chelsea about a potential ban.
Casella handles about 200,000 tons of recycling per year and is the number one plant in Greater Boston – and a top five plant in the U.S. They handle all of the recycling for Chelsea, but one thing they hope is that the City might follow Boston in banning plastic bags – known in the industry as Low Density Poly-Ethylene (LDPEs).
“By far, plastic bag getting into the facility are the number one contaminants in single-stream recycling,” said Bob Cappadona of Casella. “By themselves, they are a very recyclable product. However, there just isn’t any market for the product. Second, with everything else, they get caught up in our machinery and cause us a lot of problems. If they come into our facility and get past our pre-sorters, they tend to get wrapped up in our disk screens and they wrap around them and cause stoppages.”
He said when bags get caught up in the disk screen machinery – which separates plastic jugs from paper/fibre products – the only way to remove them is the old fashioned way: with a razor blade.
“There are so many that get in there that at lunch or at break time we have to keep two or three people there to clean the disk screens of plastic bags,” he said. “Every three or four hours we have to go in and clean it up.”
Cappadona said he doesn’t want to malign plastic bags because they are a good recycled product on their own, if people were to take them back to the grocery store as directed.
However, many people throw them in the recycling, many times because they don’t know. On its face, it looks like something that could be recycled in the traditional curbside barrels. However, it is one plastic item that isn’t accepted, but routinely gets in the stream.
In Chelsea, Russell Disposal picks up all the recycling on the curb, and from there, they take it to Casella on Rutherford Avenue, behind Bunker Hill Community College in Charlestown.
Once there, that’s when problems come.
“They are a good recycling product on their own, but when they get here with everything else, they are a contaminant,” he said.
In terms of the ban that will go into effect in Boston, Cappadona said they aren’t really preparing, but they are excited about it. And they hope others might follow suit to make their recycling product purer.
The Chelsea City Council has been exploring the idea of a ban for the last month, with two meetings so far on the issue. While many are calling for a ban to prevent litter and for environmental reasons, businesses in the area are concerned about the increasing cost burden it will put on them to use alternative bags that are more expensive.
After a packed meeting last Wednesday, Jan. 24, project managers for the state Department of Transportation (MassDOT) said they are reconsidering a recommendation to eliminate the 5th Street onramp as part of the overall three-year Chelsea Viaduct Rehabilitation project.
Joseph Pavao, project manager, said a consultant for MassDOT told them it was believed the onramp could be eliminated. It was believed that the Everett Street ramp and Cottage Street ramp could absorb the traffic.
However, Pavao said they have heard loud and clear from the community that it might not be popular.
“As of right now, it’s still under consideration,” he said. “We have certainly heard the concerns of the local community. We certainly heard it loud and clear at the meeting last week…After an internal study, we thought we could handle any traffic from the closure with the ramps at Cottage Street and Everett Avenue. However, based on community feedback and elected officials, we are reconsidering that and seeing if it’s a prudent thing to do on this project.”
He did say they would definitely be closing the 5th Street onramp at least temporarily for about three or four months in 2020 during the repairs to the superstructure of the Viaduct. Beyond that, though, they are reconsidering the original plan to fully discontinue it.
That reconsideration came chiefly from Councilor Roy Avellaneda and other elected officials and business leaders that sounded off late last year when it was first reported that the ramp might close.
Concerns about traffic coming down Broadway and further clogging Everett Avenue were chief among the comments.
Pavao said they have met with City Manager Tom Ambrosino recently about a mitigation package that was presented to MassDOT late last year. He also said that he hopes to be on the agenda of the next Chelsea City Council meeting to present an official mitigation plan for the project.
The project is now at 25 percent design, and they are hoping to advance it to a final design very soon. He said they hope to have it advertised to bidders this spring.
“We want to advertise this for bids in late March or early April,” he said.
The project includes fixing about 260,000 sq. ft. of structurally deficient decking and superstructure. It doesn’t mean those portions of the viaduct are unsafe, but they certainly need to be repaired.
The project also includes work on the structure below the bridge, improving lighting, improving drainage and making parking lot improvements under the bridge.
They hope to have a contractor on board soon and potentially start in October 2018. The majority of the work will begin in 2019, and that will be on the underneath of the bridge and won’t impact Rt. 1 traffic.
In 2020, that’s when the superstructure work will begin and that will be very cumbersome for traffic.
“That’s when we’ll have permanent lane reductions to two lanes in both directions,” he said.
He said they will use accelerated bridge repair techniques, and they will work 12 weekends (55 hours each weekend) during the project.
It is slated to end in early 2021 with paving and small items.
Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley intends to seek the Democratic nomination in Massachusetts’ 7th Congressional District, she announced on Tuesday, Jan. 30.
Pressley, who made history in 2009 as the first woman of color elected to the Boston City Council, has drawn local and national acclaim for her work on issues of critical importance to the 7th Congressional District: creating pathways to economic development and employment in historically underserved communities, ensuring students have access to age appropriate and medically accurate health education, and transforming how Boston responds to violence and trauma.
Pressley released the following statement Tuesday:
“Today, I humbly announce my candidacy for the Democratic nomination in the 7th Congressional District,” she said. “I made this decision after much prayer, deliberation, and thoughtful conversation with my family, friends, and those I hope to have the honor to represent in Congress. This district and these times demand more than just an ally, they demand an advocate and a champion.
“My life as an advocate for those most in need is inspired by my mother’s example. She believed in the potential inherent in each of us, and that belief is the foundation of my work. That belief is what drove me to successfully tackle some of society’s most complex issues as a Boston City Councilor, working alongside communities in the policymaking process and never losing sight of who government is meant to serve. It is that belief that will drive me throughout this campaign and beyond.
“Our country is facing a critical moment. While the cruel and dangerous tenor of the national political debate is new, the issues we are struggling to address – income inequality, systemic racism, and lack of economic opportunity – have dogged our nation for years. We have not yet delivered on our nation’s foundational promise of equality. Not everyone is granted the opportunity that each of us deserves: to fulfill our God-given potential. Making progress on longstanding challenges requires a different lens and a new approach. I will be a bold voice in Congress, as an advocate for the entire district and as a champion for opportunity. This moment in time demands nothing less.”
It reads like an off-color joke, but it wasn’t any joke on Monday night when a councillor, a reverend, a Republican and a clerk with a phobia of elevators got trapped for 45-minutes in the City Hall elevator.
“We were cool; no one freaked out,” said Rev. Sandra Whitley, who was stuck with Planning Board member Todd Taylor (the Republican), Councillor Leo Robinson and Council Administrative Assistant Ledia Koco. “These firefighters are amazing and they need all the credit. Stuck for almost 45 minutes, they kept asking if we were alright, plugging away until they had to almost blast the metal doors apart.”
The firefighters involved in the rescue were Capt. Paul Doherty, Mark Chiaradonna, Gary Poulin, Angel Arrieta, Kevin DeJesus and Lt. Andrew Cerratani.
The situation unfolded Monday after the Council let out for the night. Due to the fact that the stairs in City Hall were being replaced, most everyone had to take the elevator to get down. It gave the old lift quite a workout, and apparently, then those four got on and started going down – everything stopped.
It took some time before anyone realized they were trapped, but enough people were still around to hear them calling for help.
Chelsea Fire was alerted and City Manager Tom Ambrosino directed them to where it was believed the four were stuck.
Firefighters tried to pry open the elevator, but it wasn’t budging.
Firefighters then had to deploy other tools, including an inflatable air bag, to open the doors.
Finally, the job was done and the four emerged from the elevator.
“I was just glad those other three were with me, because these days, if it were just me, they might have left me in there,” joked Taylor.
By most accounts, the order put in by Councillor Giovanni Recupero on Monday night to effectively put term limits on members of appointed boards and commissions in the city would have been voted down in year’s past.
But the new Council has a new outlook, and the order was approved and pushed to a Committee on Conference by a vote of 7-4 on Monday night.
The measure calls for the Council to adopt a policy that would require the Council not to be able to re-appoint any member of a Board or Commission if they have served two consecutive terms already. The provision would only take effect if someone else in Chelsea is willing to serve on the Board. If no one else is interested, then the re-appointment could go through.
“I’m not for anyone serving over and over and over,” said Recupero. “They need fresh ideas. Some of these people on the boards have been there 20 years. Nothing changes with that. It’s all just the status quo. I’m even for term limits on the Council. I don’t think anyone should serve more than 10 years. It should be 10 years and then you’re out. Same for the Boards and Commissions.”
Recupero’s order did get some pushback, with opposing votes from Councillors Roy Avellaneda, Leo Robinson, Yamir Rodriguez and Calvin Brown.
However, seven other councillors were behind Recupero’s idea.
It continued a hot debate that began last year when Councillor Roy Avellaneda attempted to not re-appoint License Commission member Ken Umemba. That political skirmish led to Councillors Vidot and Enio Lopez presenting an order last fall that called for an effort to have more diversity on the City’s boards.
That was followed up by Vidot unearthing in the Charter that the City had not been advertising the open positions in the paper due to an oversight. That has now begun on a quarterly basis.
Vidot said the matter is now moved to a Committee on Conference.
A major first jab at banning plastic shopping bags took place at City Hall on Tuesday night, Jan. 23, and many believe that momentum is gathering for the ban.
Council President Damali Vidot and Councillor Enio Lopez are leading the initiative, along with environmental organizations like GreenRoots. The turnout for the Tuesday meeting was very large, and Vidot said she got the sense that public opinion is on the side of a ban.
She said, however, nothing has been decided, but that only they would take the discussion to the next step.
“We will continue the conference to a later date and propose a rough draft of an ordinance to get the ball rolling,” she said.
Councillor Luis Tejada said he also got the sense that the City is moving in the direction of a ban – which Boston has already passed last year, with implementation coming this year.
“At the moment it appears as though we are moving in the direction of banning the plastic bags, but of course there is still a lot of work to be done,” he said.
Tejada said trying to figure out which types of plastic bags to keep and get rid of will be a key part of the conversation that is often overlooked. He said he would really like to understand the impact on businesses.
Already, in a story in last week’s Record, Compare Supermarket owner Al Calvo said he felt it was just another tax on small business – noting it will cost him tens of thousands more to invest in the thicker bags.
Tejada said he wants to hear from more businesses before he makes a decision.
It is important to know what is the impact on our local small businesses that literally have thousands of bags with their logo on them,” he said. “This would impact them significantly if the measure was approved and enacted too swiftly. What I would like to do is put the small and large businesses on notice that it looks as though the city is moving towards a more environmentally conscious lifestyle, and they should begin to look at and enact whatever measure they are considering when this goes into effect. If they do it sooner rather than later, it can minimize any potential burden and or loss when the measure does take effect.”
Councillor Joe Perlatonda said he is very interested in eliminating litter, and plastic bags are just one piece of a bigger problem in Chelsea. He said he doesn’t feel like they should come down hard on plastic bags, while leaving out other litter items like lottery tickets and dog poop.
He also said some residents have told him they don’t like the idea.
“I had one resident tell me this is just another tax being imposed on residents of Chelsea, which many of us can’t afford,” he said. “With everything going on, I’m concerned that the top priority is plastic bags. It was a great turnout, but I wish more people would turn out for other issues. There are other issues that need to be addressed that should take precedent over a plastic bag ban.”
Vidot said the next meeting has not been set, but should be on the docket soon.