By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — Mayor James Fiorentini told more than 300 residents and officials packed into the City Hall auditorium yesterday morning that the city is poised to achieve great things during his record sixth term.
“When I addressed you a decade ago, we faced the largest municipal debt in the history of Massachusetts,” Fiorentini told the crowd, referring to the city’s then-$85 million debt on its former municipal hospital. “Our goal back then was simple: To survive. ...But today our quality of life has improved, old factory buildings are revived, our MCAS scores are up, our unemployment rate is down, and our city has the highest bond rating in our history. Today, Haverhill is back.”
Voters swept Fiorentini to victory in the Nov. 5 election over challenger Tyler Kimball, a city firefighter and local farm owner who mounted a late-entry, write-in/sticker campaign. The final results of the mayoral contest were 6,488 votes for Fiorentini and 2,191 for Kimball.
Fiorentini, a lawyer and former city councilor who grew up in Haverhill, said his sixth term will be about moving forward and transforming Haverhill into a modern 21st Century city.
Congresswoman Niki Tsongas gave the oath of office to Fiorentini, just as she did Saturday to Methuen Mayor Steven Zanni.
“As the longest serving mayor in the city’s history, Mayor Fiorentini has been a strong and dedicated leader for Haverhill. The residents hold him in high regard due to his accessibility and commitment to the community, and have continuously placed their trust in him to expand opportunities and grow their city,” Tsongas said in a statement.
“Mayor Fiorentini’s efforts have resulted in progress for Haverhill’s schools, businesses and infrastructure, and have laid the foundation for continued economic development in the years to come. He is a dedicated public servant and I was honored today to be a part of his inauguration ceremony today,” she said.
Fiorentini said his most important initiative for the coming year is replacing the deteriorated Hunking School with a new building in city’s Bradford section. Officials have said they will hold an election this summer to ask voters to temporarily increase their property taxes to raise $24 million toward the $60 million new school, with the state paying the balance.
“We must not fail the children who will be attending the new Hunking or their parents,” the mayor said. “We must not fail because a new Hunking will benefit all of us, those with children in the school, those with children in other schools and those without children or grandchildren in any school. A new school will improve all of our property values, prevent other schools from being overcrowded and improve our image as an up and coming city.”
Fiorentini said his economic development strategy will focus on the Merrimack River and property along it.
He said his new zoning proposal, which he will ask City Council to pass tonight, is aimed at spurring mixed-use redevelopment of prominent but under-used buildings on the downtown side of the river and housing on what is currently industrial land on the Bradford side of the waterway.
Fiorentini said a similar rezoning of the Washington Street end of downtown several years ago sparked the creation of hundreds of new apartments and condominiums in vacant factories.
“Now we need to build on that success,” the mayor said. “We need to rezone along the river and reduce red tape and regulatory barriers, eliminate special permit zoning requirements, and send a message to business that if you allow public access to the waterfront, then your investment is welcome. That we will not put arbitrary roadblocks or politics in the way.”
Fiorentini also touted the city’s new website and promised to continue his efforts to improve city parks and playgrounds, and to build a recreational pathway that he hopes to see one day stretch from the Bradford train station to the Groveland line.
In addition to the mayor, nine councilors and three School Committee members were also sworn in yesterday — all incumbents except Councilor Melinda Barrett and School Committee member Maura Ryan-Ciardiello. City Clerk Linda Koutoulas, who began her new job last week, swore in councilors and the school board members.
Barrett, who placed third in the election, replaces longtime councilor Michael Hart, who decided not to seek re-election. Ryan-Ciardiello finished second in the school race behind Joseph Bevilacqua’s 4,757 votes. She replaces retired school principal Raymond Sierpina on the School Committee.
Ryan-Ciardiello joined her father, longtime city councilor and former Haverhill mayor William Ryan, on stage yesterday. She will also be joining her brother-in-law Shaun Toohey on the School Committee.
During the inauguration, councilors elected John Michitson as their president and Robert Scatamacchia as vice president. Michitson tallied 5,212 votes in the election — just five more than Scatamacchia, who has presided over the council for the past 14 months.
The Haverhill High School band played “The Gallant Men” as Fiorentini, councilors and School Committee members entered the auditorium.
Speakers include the Rev. Suzy Goodspeed, chaplain at Merrimack Valley Hospital; the Rev. Robert Murray of St. John and St. James Parish; and Rabbi Ira Korinow of Temple Emanu-el.
The mayor said he “broke with tradition” to have his wife, Martha Fiorentini, join him and the other elected officials on stage during the ceremony.
“Without you, I would not be standing here,” Fiorentini told his wife.
The high school chorus performed the National Anthem and Cristino and Josefina Ynfante of the St. James Latin Choir performed during the ceremony. Benjamin Goldbaum played guitar while Alicia DeLa Guardia sang “Happy Days Are Again” to end the ceremony.