Back when I was a kid, television was in its infancy, actor Andy Devine hosted a TV show called “Andy’s Gang.” If I close my eyes, I can still picture the sponsor breaks, where the host would pause to present products that children like myself would later beg their parents to buy. (As a boy I, like most kids, made for easy targets of manipulation by this kind of direct PR outreach).
Here in Westfield, we have been the audience for a different “Andy’s Gang” for the last 12 years.The current mayor (now seeking a 4th term) is a PR guru. His smile is bright, and his slap on the back is firm. He will nod and promise to get back to you, but all the while ignoring critical issues that our community needs to face and resolve. The current mayor and his closed club of appointees and fellow council persons are living on the “past glory of Westfield.” They keep telling us how great we are (and therefore how great they are). But, past success is no guarantee of future success. Andy’s Gang is selling, but I'm not buying! They produce a lot of smoke and mirrors (for example the Downtown Task Force didn’t have one person with “skin in the game” appointed to the committee), a bit of political theater, great acting, their own version of three card monte that they want to continue.
I have lived in Westfield for 66 years. I owned and operated The Leader Store (est. in Westfield 1947). My family and I employed over 1,500 local young people over those many years. I worked there from my early youth for more than 50 years, managing and expanding it from 1972, till we closed the brick and mortar store end of 2010. I have experienced the 12 years of failed leadership by this administration. I have watched our community slide backwards in a negative free fall.
Downtown, you can clearly see the empty storefronts, but you might not be aware that even though taxes and expenses have drastically increased over the years, store rents have plummeted — the result of a lack of retailers willing to consider our once very desirable Downtown. This is largely due to the failure of Andy’s Gang to even talk about parking and proper access for shoppers, employees or commuters.
Instead, our elected officials spend their time crafting PR blurbs blaming Amazon, the economy and greedy landlords for demise of our shopping district. Yes, the internet and shopping habits have changed, but when the public has easy access and adequate parking, both mercantile and service retail prospers. Cranford, Summit, Clark and other surrounding towns took our Westfield Plan from 20 years ago and acted on it. Andy’s Gang has implemented a rather unique plan to “solve” the parking problem — chase away the customers and tenants! Unfortunately, this plan has done its job.
Draconian parking enforcement has made our situation worse, not better. The current system slaps visitors that receive overtime parking tickets with hefty fines. When you get one, you are angry, and after the second one, you DON’T come back. Our mayor and council persons often refer to people that complain, or have received parking citations as “criminals.” In other communities these shoppers, commuters and visitors are honored guests that are offered comps on parking, or at least the opportunity to park with ease.
I have served personally on multiple Parking Task Forces, producing reports and recommendations for Westfield dating back to the early 1960’s. The management and proper allocation of parking spots is essential to a commercially vibrant and user-friendly downtown. Our current mechanized parking control regime was designed to accompany parking decks that never happened in Westfield. It’s time for us to make something happen.
I endorse Shelley Brindle for mayor. She and her team will bring top flight management and help the community establish long-needed and updated goals in a new master plan. She will open involvement in the process to our citizens, allow our hard working and excellent town employees do better for us all by instituting new accountability, timelines and budgets for our community needs, along with listening to their and our citizens' constructive and insightful suggestions.
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