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Howard won't run for reelection as Malden mayor

Posted by Marcia Dick  November 2, 2010 10:02 AM

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howa.jpgMalden Mayor Richard C. Howard, embattled by a violent crime wave in the city, bitter negotiations with police and fire unions, and embezzlement charges against his top assistant, will not seek reelection in 2011, he said Tuesday in a phone interview.

‘‘Having made the decision [to run] last time four years ago, I knew that it was probably the last time I would seek reelection,’’ Howard said.
 
The four-term mayor said he made the final decision this summer. ‘‘My age [58] and length of time in the office, it all kind of added up to this being a pretty good breaking point,’’ he said.

Howard has come under fire from public safety personnel after a contract dispute this summer led to the layoff of 10 firefighters and dismissal of four police trainees, in addition to demotions in both departments and the closing of one of the fire stations, Engine 4 on Overlook Drive.

In support of the Fire Department, a Facebook group has formed called "Impeach Malden Mayor Richard Howard for laying off Malden firemen."

Several neighborhood crime meetings have been held recently in response to a rash of shootings in the city that began with two incidents that left three men dead over Labor Day weekend. Two armed robberies of residents walking on Malden streets followed in early October.

On Oct. 21, Howard’s special assistant, Charles Toomajian, was indicted along with 30 other men allegedly involved in an organized crime ring accused of extortion, loansharking, gambling, marijuana smuggling, and violent home invasions. Then last week, Howard met with the City Council in a closed-door session and decided to allow Toomajian, a former city solicitor, to remain in his job as the mayor’s assistant.

As a political newcomer, Howard first became mayor in 1996, knocking incumbent Mayor Edwin C. Lucey out of office by a vote of 6,334 to 5,518 on Nov. 7, 1995. Lucey was seeking his third term. Howard served one two-year team before Malden voted to elect mayors to four-year terms in 1999, and will have served three four-year terms when he steps down. He was unopposed when he won his last four-year term in November 2007.

Howard said his decision to not seek another term should not be construed as a reaction to contract disputes with the cities’ public safety unions over proposed changes in health care benefits sought to offset cuts in state aid. During his nearly 15 years in office, he said, the city has dealt with tough economic times before.

‘‘There are always ups and downs, although this is the first year that we’ve had to cut personnel,’’ he said. ‘‘But that’s all part of governing.

‘‘I feel as though the core people who support me over time here believe I’ve always made decisions in the interest of what’s best for the community.’’

Howard said he will look back on his time in City Hall and count the rebuilding of Malden schools as a major success. ‘‘The fact that since 1996, 1997, we’ve put in place a plan that has rebuilt the [school] system, from the early learning center, up to the Malden High School facility being renovated’’ relatively on time and on budget, he said. Among his disappointments, Howard counted the lagging redevelopment of the downtown and the unrealized efforts to demolish the government center building and reconnect the bisected Pleasant Street.

‘‘If I were to go back and do it all again, I probably would have, early on, put more time and effort into the revitalization of Malden Square and I think there will be things done there in the near future that will change the perception of that as an active vibrant square,’’ he said.

For his eventual successor, Howard urged creativity and resilience during the budgetary process, which has been forecast to become even more difficult as the state struggles to level-fund aid to cities and towns during the next state budget cycle.

‘‘You’ve got to be able to ride that out,’’ he said. ‘‘But it does change. Things will come back. You just have to be able to withstand whatever slumps the state economy is in.’’

Two members of the Malden City Council praised Howard’s terms in office.

City Council President Paul DiPietro, reached by phone Tuesday, said he was hoping to get one more term from Howard. ‘‘Just being a regular city councilor is kind of a grueling job but the mayor would be 10 times that,’’ DiPietro said. ‘‘So I’m surprised people can last that long ... it takes a toll on you.''

 DiPietro pointed to Howard’s efforts to rebuild schools, construct a new senior center, and renovate the high school as major achievements. When asked about the recent controversies involving the police and fire unions, public safety concerns, and the indictment of Howard’s top aide, DiPietro said that he believes Howard will not be leaving under a dark cloud.

‘‘I don’t think Mayor Howard is being hounded out of office or run out of office, I think he’s just tired. It’s a grueling job,’’ he said.

DiPietro said there is a crop of young, talented people in the city who will be interested in filling the office, and named fellow City Councilor Gary Christenson, who is 42, as a potential contender. Christenson did not return a call for comment Tuesday afternoon.

‘‘I think [Christenson] has his hand on the pulse of the city,’’ DiPietro said.

Ward 7 City Councilor Neal Anderson said he thinks Howard has done an outstanding job leading the city.

 ‘‘I think that Mayor Howard has set the stage for the direction that the city needs to go, going forward,’’ Anderson said, complimenting Howard’s tough stance on controlling escalating health care costs with city unions.

‘‘The one thing that saddens me is that those are issues he has set in motion, and I wish he was around to be around to see them through," Anderson said.

Anderson said he thinks the mayor also made the right choice by Toomajian’s employment status unchanged after Toomajian was indicted last month on accessory embezzlement charges.

Anderson described Howard’s approach as appropriate, and said if new information about Toomajian’s alleged role in the criminal ring comes to light, he trusts Howard would make the right decision at that time.

Robert Miller, founder of the Malden Taxpayers for Accountability, a group founded to oppose a controversial initiative that requires city residents to pay $2 for trash bags, has been a persistent critic of Howard in recent months.
 
"I only have one issue with him ...  toward the end he really didn't listen to the people," Miller said in a phone interview, urging Howard's successor to improve city communications to get the word out to citizens who want to have a say in civic matters.

But Miller credited Howard's school-building initiative and his ability to navigate a difficult economic time during the early years of his administration.

"When he came into office, he was like a breath of fresh air," Miller said. "He changed a lot of little things. He took an interest in the city, and the interest he created, the monies [to fund projects] caught up with that."

But Miller said the mayor's timing was appropriate.

"Do I think he's brought us forward? I think he's taken us as far as he can bring us," Miller said.




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