One year ago, the Council Chambers were packed to an overflow level to welcome in the new City Council and hear Mayor Carlo DeMaria give his annual State of the City Address.
It seems like a time and place from another world – a world without masks, distancing requirements or fear of sickness, job loss and hunger.
It was, though, just one short year ago, and on Thursday, Feb. 4, Mayor DeMaria hearkened back to those fine days as he delivered an online State of the City that detailed what was done to help COVID-19 in 2020 and looking forward to what 2021 could bring.
“There were over 200 people gathered in the Chambers – hugging, smiling, laughing,” he said. “We celebrated and I had the privilege of informing our residents about the City’s bold and innovative plans for 2020. Little did we know, two months later, that our City, our State, and our Country would be facing challenges unlike any others in our lifetime. The COVID-19 pandemic was unexpected, and unwelcomed.”
In an online address that lasted 33 minutes, the mayor first detailed all that had been done by the City and by the community to help out with COVID-19 and the effects that followed the sickness – such as job loss, food insecurity and housing insecurity.
“The people of Everett have displayed their strength and resiliency,” he said. “On behalf of Stacy and myself, from the bottom of our hearts, we would like to personally thank each and every one of you for every sacrifice you have made for the betterment of our City. I have never been more proud to be your Mayor.”
That was followed with a moment of silence for the 67 lives that were officially lost to COVID-19 in the City of Everett.
He highlighted the decision to close schools on March 12, long before any other community. He lifted up the first responders, such as the police, fire, EMS and 9-1-1 dispatchers. He also noted medical workers, front-line workers, educators and volunteers that staffed the food pantries such as the Connolly Center and Grace Food Pantry.
Providing food and services was also a major part of 2020, and the mayor said the City and local organizations distributed more than 1.2 million pounds of food in 2020. As well, those that were homebound received approximately 120,000 meals delivered to their doors.
Then, after talking about all the ways that Zoom filled in the gaps for regular, in-person meetings, he said it was time to move forward in 2021.
“Needless to say – most of us are ready to ZOOM into 2021,” he said.
The first and longest part of his platform for 2021 revolved around equity and the new Diversity and Equity Advisory Board – which has been in place since the mayor declared racism a public health crisis last summer.
Right now, he said the Board is in the process of reviewing the Everett Police Department’s use-of-force policy – and listening candidly and confidentially to the experiences of people of color with the Everett Police.
“Once they share their findings and recommendations with the Administration, I promise to work diligently to address any issue that that will help our residents feel safe and included,” he said.
He added that members of his Administration have been meeting every other week with the Everett Safe and Welcoming Coalition, and the City has also expanded its language access at City Hall with a contracted interpretation service called Lionbridge – which is also being used in the Everett Public Schools.
“As Mayor, I will continue to embrace the diversity that exists in our great community,” he said. “There is no tolerance for racism in our City, and you have my word that my Administration will constantly strive toward ensuring equity and equality for people of all backgrounds, heritages, sexual orientations, genders, creeds and economic statuses. Our City must be one in which every resident is able to peacefully share and exchange ideas, one where we can respect and celebrate our differences, and one where we are united in making sure that Everett is a place that we are all proud to call our home.”
Finance was also a big subject in the address, and while many municipalities suffered financially during the pandemic, the mayor said Everett has done well. New construction projects continue to roll in, and revenues aren’t down as much as many feared. He said Everett continues to be a community that many in the region and nation look to for innovative ideas.
He touched on the affordable housing project now emerging at the former St. Therese’s Church site on upper Broadway.
He said one of the things that will need to be considered moving forward is looking at familiar places differently than in the past – such as the Commercial Triangle and other areas that are attractive to developers right now but historically have been considered inferior properties by residents.
“Moving forward in Everett means looking differently at areas of the City and having the ability to see the places we all know in a new way – in a different way,” he said. “We have made significant progress in the revitalization of the Commercial Triangle Area, the area encompassing Revere Beach Parkway and Second Street in Everett.”
That led to the unveiling of a new initiative to increase the footprint of the Urban Renewal Plan in Everett. He said the current plan will add the Lower Broadway Master Plan, the Commercial Triangle, the GE Parcel and Everett Stadium. That was a new and interesting initiative.
“We have big goals, aggressive goals, but I’m confident they can be accomplished,” he said – calling on the City Council to work together with him to move forward in 2021 on such things.
Development talk quickly morphed into amenities and protecting the environment, and he said developing the City can also mean improving the environment.
He highlighted the new kayak ramp at RiverGreen, the restoration of North/South Creek, and the expansion of the Northern Strand Community Path. He highlighted 20 new BlueBike Stations, and the advancement of the Mystic River Pedestrian Bridge that would unlock an uninterrupted path from Nahant to downtown Boston and Cambridge. At the same time, he highlighted the continued progress on public transportation, including the new Silver Line expansion study that kicked off this week.
He said strong public transit is a must to grow the city.
“Mobility remains the key to sustained economic development and enhanced quality of life for our residents,” he said.
Finally, he said that 2021 will be about – more than anything – making sure the vaccine for COVID-19 arrives in Everett and is distributed to anyone that wants it.
“I am proud that the vaccine has arrived in Everett and that our first responders have been vaccinated,” he said. “Over the next year, I will work to ensure that our entire community has the opportunity to be vaccinated.”
Winding down his Address, he referred to some silver linings that have come out of COVID-19. For his family, that has meant being under the same roof again and spending more quality time together. For the mayor’s family, he said that has meant gathering nightly around the dining room table to play the Uno card game.
Now, however, he said it’s time to move into 2021 and continue the progress that the City left off with in March 2020 when all things normal came to a halt.
“It’s now time to focus on 2021,” he said. “We will continue to make strides towards bettering our community in all aspects – with transportation, capital improvements, and our infrastructure. The pandemic required the City to shift gears and adapt to a global crisis however, we are ready to pick up where we left off and continue to move Everett forward.”
The full online State of the City Address is available on the City’s Facebook page and on its website.