Newport mayor candidate profile: Steven GallagherNewport needs to think bigger if it wants to grow, mayoral candidate Steven Gallagher says. And, the first-term City Council member said, he’s the one to help lead the way.
Newport needs to think bigger if it wants to grow, mayoral candidate Steven Gallagher says. And, the first-term City Council member said, he’s the one to help lead the way.
“If you’re satisfied with how the city has been run in the last 29 years,” he said, referencing incumbent Mayor Tim Geraghty’s nearly three decades on the council, “you’re not going to vote for me.”
It is a theme Gallagher, first elected to the council in 2010, has repeated in his run to unseat Geraghty, the city’s longest currently-serving elected official and multi-term mayor: New Newport vs. Old Newport; change vs. continuation; a politically-divided city or a more inclusive one.
Gallagher asserts he offers a contrast, “a whole different perspective.”
“We need to be held to a higher standard,” he said. “That won’t change if the election doesn’t have a different outcome.”
Chief among the 37-year-old community organizer’s goals is what he calls a “proffesionalization” of the council — a desire, he says, to put aside the small city’s sometimes discordant politics that have been highlighted by the occasional council chamber blow-ups and tit-for-tat disputes.
The divisiveness that reared its head in the thick of campaign season earlier this month during a tense council meeting needs to cease, Gallagher said, asserting that the infighting hurts not only Newport’s image but its ability to lure tax base-boosting redevelopment.
“If we have a developer who wants to do business in Newport and they watch a council meeting and it’s a debacle up there,” he said in a recent interview, “why are they going to want to do business with us?
“It’s bad for business,” he added.
Cleaning up perceptions of the city — both visually along its main commercial corridors and otherwise — are key to better marketing the city to developers, Gallagher said, something that isn’t being adequately done. Newport, he said, needs to draw up a more specific plan for what he calls “smart and common sense growth” similar to Cottage Grove’s economic development efforts, targeting certain businesses for certain areas of the city and more aggressively using its growing economic development fund to lure them.
That fund isn’t being fully utilized, he said, with small grants being handed out as part of a façade improvement program funded, in part, by a sizable budget surplus in 2012 and another $600,000 cushion that is budgeted for in 2013.
Another priority, he said, is to reevaluate the city’s budget process and future financial management plan. Newport has built its fund reserves and economic development fund with little plan for what to do with them, he said.
Staff cuts slashed spending, he said, but may have also reduced the effectiveness of city services. And, despite flat property tax levies, Gallagher said, taxes for many homeowners have continued to rise.
To do all that, Gallagher said, the city needs a better spokesperson to clearly articulate City Hall’s plan and act as a salesperson for Newport. Those are things he says Geraghty has not done.
“I have the experience — I’ve had success doing it” in his role as director of the Stevens Square Community Organization in Minneapolis, he said. “Our mayor’s had the chance. He’s never done it.”