17 candidates offer varying ideas on issues facing city; LWV forum draws hopefuls.


Byline: Lee Hammel

WORCESTER - There was a lively discussion Wednesday night at the City Council candidates' forum held by the League of Women Voters of the Worcester Area at the public library - or as lively as a discussion among 17 candidates over 3-1/4 hours can be.

The candidates differed over everything from raising taxes to whether the city should continue a dual tax rate to CitySquare - one candidate even opposed the city's years-long slog to get colleges and other nonprofits to make payments to the city in lieu of taxes.

One of the few areas of agreement - at least among the four candidates who addressed it (Emmanuel Tsitsilianos, Stephen S. Buchalter, Frank A. Beshai and Paul P. Clancy Jr.) - is that Worcester would not be a good place for casino gambling.

Under the debate format, different candidates were given different questions, so not all commented on each issue.

One of the most contentious issues was "Section 19," which would allow retired city employees to bargain with the city over their health care benefits. To the unhappiness of retirees who have haunted City Council meetings for more than a year, Mayor Konstantina B. Lukes and District 4 Councilor Barbara G. Haller said they favor the city manager's request to wait until municipal unions finish their contract negotiations before addressing whether retirees should be allowed to join in.

"The question is, how much more can we afford?" Mrs. Lukes said, adding that retirees cannot negotiate Social Security payments.

Mary S. Keefe, at-large candidate, and Grace C. Ross, District 4 challenger, favor Section 19, saying that allowing retirees in on the bargaining has saved money in other cities. Ms. Ross disagrees with the city manager's stance that unions should bargain health care along with their wages; she says they should not have to trade wage increases for the health care that is their right.

District 1 Councilor Joffrey A. Smith, District 3 Councilor Clancy, and Ms. Keefe argued to keep the city's current dual tax rate, under which residential property owners pay the lowest possible rate. Mr. Clancy said a single tax rate would raise residential tax bills by an average of $700 next year.

At-large candidates William J. McCarthy, Kola A. Akindele, Mr. Buchalter, District 3 candidate Mr. Beshai and Ms. Ross favor a single tax rate to take the burden off commercial and industrial property. They argued that the dual tax rate is driving business out of the city and forcing an...

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