Hard Line: Councilors, Mayor Clash Over Pope John High Site Purchase

At the last Council meeting of 2019, Mayor Carlo DeMaria asked Council to vote on the purchase of the former Pope John Paul XXII High School property.

When councilors pushed back, the mayor dug in his heels.

The result has been a furthering rift between the two bodies, in particular the mayor and three councilors.

Council was asked on Dec. 23 to vote on two measures regarding the property purchase: approve the City’s request to borrow $10.5 million for the property, and approve its request to acquire it through a friendly eminent domain taking from the Archdiocese of Boston.

Mayor DeMaria had appeared before council in October to lay out his plan to transform the 2.5-acre site at 888 Broadway into an affordable housing development for seniors and veterans, with 75 percent of units dedicated to Everett residents. Councilors expressed strong support for the mayor’s vision at the time.

However, Councilor Fred Capone asked that the vote be postponed until the first meeting of the new year, saying that he wanted more time to explore potentially using the site as a new school.

“We have a serious need for schools,” he said. “Our school system is busting at the seams.”

Councilor Michael Marchese agreed, citing overcrowding at the Webster School.

“We should have more time on this,” he stated.

Councilor Capone also expressed that the new council should be involved in a purchase of such magnitude, especially as the site is located in the ward of incoming Councilor-elect Jimmy Tri Le.

“This is going to commit this community for a very long time,” he said. “Those new [council] members who have been elected by the people should have an opportunity to weigh in on it.”

Councilor Michael McLaughlin added that he wanted written proof that the acquisition was actually a friendly eminent domain taking as the mayor claimed. Friendly eminent domain applies to situations where the property owners are ready to sell at a negotiated price and can expedite the negotiation of the sale terms.

“I will not be bullied [into a vote],” said the councilor. “I’m not afraid to take a hard line.”

Mayor DeMaria attempted to address the councilors’ concerns, saying that some schools actually have surplus space for expansion and adding more classrooms.

“We are spending plenty of money educating children,” he said. “It’s time we spend tax dollars on the people who built this community – our veterans and our seniors.”

Regarding the friendly acquisition, Mayor DeMaria said that there was no written agreement and that negotiations had taken place in person between himself and the head of real estate for the archdiocese.

The mayor engaged in a brief, heated argument with Councilor McLaughlin at that point.

“What do we lose by holding this over for another two weeks?” the councilor asked.

“Progress,” the mayor responded. “Two weeks, four weeks, six weeks; it’s the same thing you did to my administration over the Food Policy Council.”

Mayor DeMaria added that if the Council moved to postpone the vote, he would not bring the matter before them again.

“If you want to push this down the road to the next council, all you’re doing is wasting people’s time,” he said. “I want the vote tonight.”

Ultimately, the mayor compelled Council to vote on the measures, both of which passed by 8 to 3, with Councilors Capone, Marchese and McLaughlin voting in opposition.

Following the meeting, Mayor DeMaria wrote a Facebook post where he celebrated his victory, adding that Councilors Capone, Marchese and McLaughlin had “turned their backs on veterans” by voting against the acquisition.

The new council will convene in 2020 when incoming councilors stand to inherit what observers believe will be a contentious and controversial community landmark.

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