EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 16, 2011

Reopening fire station, rising crime are clear issues in District A

By Yadira Betances
ybetances@eagletribune.com

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of pre-Nov. 8 election stories looking at the issues and candidates in each of Lawrence's six voting districts. The next installment will be on Wednesday, Oct. 19 on District B.

LAWRENCE — Ask residents of the Prospect Hill section of the city what they want most in their neighborhood and they are likely to answer: reopen the Engine 6 Fire House on Howard Street.

"If the fire house had been opened, that house would not have burned," said Ray Benedix, referring to a blaze in February of last year that destroyed a three-family home at 359 Howard St., just six houses away from the station, built in 1896 and closed the summer before due to budget cuts.

Benedix has lived on Prospect Hill since 1935.

"We hear the (fire) trucks coming up East Haverhill Street and cross our fingers ...," said Harold Magoon, director of the Lawrence/Methuen Community Coalition, a neighborhood organization on East Haverhill Street focused on the prevention of child abuse, substance abuse and domestic violence through the establishment of neighborhood associations and community networks.

Prospect Hill is tucked into the northeast corner of the city near the Methuen line bordered by Routes 110 and 495. It is rich in history containing the mansions of former mill owners and was where many of the city's politicians lived. The city's first reservoir was built there to fight fires in the mills.

Its residents are currently represented by District A City Councilor Sandy E. Almonte and longtime District A School Committee member James S. Vittorioso.

Residents say they remember when Prospect Hill was the best place to live in the city, but now say they find used syringes on their lawns, witness drug deals from their home's windows, the streets are strewn with garbage, and many homes are foreclosed and dilapidated.

"Our district has been abandoned and you can see the difference when you cross the line to Methuen," said resident Domingo Melendez, who moved to the city in 1969.

When District A voters go to the polls Nov. 8, they will either re-elect Almonte or political newcomer Merrill Perkins Jr. to the City Council.

Vittorioso is being challenged by Kemal Bozkurt, who ran unsuccessfully for School Committee two years. Vittorioso said if he is re-elected to a fifth term, it will be his last.

Candidates for City Council from District A

Choose 1, for two-year term

*Denotes incumbent

Name: Sandy E. Almonte*

Age: 39

Address: 33 Woodland St.

Personal: Single, three children

Education: Methuen High School graduate

Political Experience: Seeks second term on the City Council.

Top issues in district?

Reopen the fire station and continue being involved with the Lawrence/Methuen Community Coalition and working with teenagers in cleaning up the graffiti so our neighborhoods don't look dirty. Beautifying the neighborhood is important which is why we're in the process of eliminating eyesores and demolishing burned buildings. Four streets in my district have been paved — Knox, Howard, Vine and Kendall streets. We're proud to have a community garden which we can use to teach children.

Why are you running? I believe a city councilor is not just a political position, but also community oriented because I live here as well.

Merrill M. Perkins Jr.

Age: 54

Address: 63 Rollins St.

Personal: Married, two daughters

Education: Studied at Greater Lawrence Technical School and Central Catholic High School. Graduated from ITT Tech.

Occupation: Employed by Metalcrafters in Methuen for six years.

Political Experience: first president of the Prospect Hill/Back Bay Association; member of the Planning Board for two years; co-founder of Rollins Leroy and Young Association, representing 30-40 residents to talk about issues on their streets.

Top issues in district?

I want Engine 6 open. There's a lot of crime for the hill. Even in quiet neighborhoods with nice homes, we've seen a lot of drug activity. Residents want more police presence and want the drug dealers gone. They're finding used syringes on their lawns. Cleaning up the district is another priority as I walked around, I saw abandoned buildings, cars and trash.

Why are you running?

As a homeowner for 24 years, raising my two girls here, I've seen many changes in the past two years. Crime has gone up. We're not being represented on the hill as we'd like. I want to bring a balance on the council. I have the ability of bringing people together so they feel they have a voice and get people to get involved.

Candidates for School Committee, District A

Choose one, for two-year terms

*Denotes incumbent

Name: James S. Vittorioso*

Age: 71

Address: 274 E. Haverhill St.

Personal: Single.

Education: Bachelor of Science in business administration from Husson University (1967), Bangor, Maine; master's degree in political science teaching from New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas, N.M.; master's degree in guidance counseling from Boston State College, 1982; master's degree in special education from Lesley University, 1998. Lawrence High School graduate, 1958.

Occupation: Retired, 37 years teaching in Lawrence Public Schools.

Political experience: Seeking fifth consecutive, two-year-term. He also served a term from 1984-85. Served on the City Charter Commission from 1979-82, and Bellevue Cemetery Board, 1984-93.

Top issues in district?

Improve test scores for Lawrence's children who are not doing too well in math and science. Get more parent involvement and teach Spanish-speaking residents English. We have to do something to help our newest residents.

Why are you running?

This is going to be my last term. I wasn't planning to run again, but I wanted to be involved in the superintendent search. Mary Lou Bergeron is doing a good job, but we need the emphasis of new thinking. The teachers are doing the best they can and I don't know what's missing.

Kemal Bozkurt

Age: 43

Address: 11 Woodland Court

Personal: Born in Turkey and moved to the United States 13 years ago. Married, three children.

Education: Master's degree in Arabic language and literature from Marmara University, Istanbul; pursuing second master's degree in information science at Southern Connecticut State University (online). Speaks English, Arabic, Turkish and Spanish.

Work experience: Reference librarian at the Lawrence Public Library for more than 10 years.

Political Experience: Zoning board member for eight years; Democratic Party State Delegate for two years.

Top issues in district

There is no difference in District A, B, C or D. Whatever happens in one, affects the whole city. We need a new superintendent to lead the school system, but I don't want to change the captain in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. The number one problem for Lawrence is that many children under 18 don't go to school.

Why are you running?

Working at the library and dealing with students every single day, I'm not happy with their behavior. I see kids come to the library during school hours and it makes me upset because every student should attend school. We need to educate parents who must understand every child under 18 has to go to school. In some schools if there's a gang and the students are not happy and want to leave because of that, we must solve this problem.