It was somewhere between struggling to find parking in front of her Highland Street home, getting fed up with what she believed to be growing crime, property tax increases and a less-than-welcoming desire at City Hall to help her, that Dimali Vidot decided that maybe it was time to bring back a mayor to the City.
Such talk is tantamount to treason in Chelsea, but Vidot said she is pushing forward with the idea after hearing a groundswell of support, and hopes to gather enough signatures to get the measure on the November ballot.
She affectionately calls the momentum, and the accompanying pushback by those who disagree, the Chelsea Revolution.
“I know the residents are frustrated and they’re upset,” she said. “There seems to be a disconnect with what is happening in Chelsea and what is happening at City Hall. What’s a way maybe to get control again? Why not have a mayor where the people can elect a person who is accountable and responsive. At least with a mayor, the person has to show his or her face. If you want another term, you have to show face. He or she has to come out and show their face to the people and live in the city with the people. I don’t know if it’s the right thing or the magic bullet, but I think the people should have an opportunity to decide for themselves.”
The idea of bringing back a mayoral form of government sends many long-time residents into a tizzy – most of whom can remember the massive corruption brought about by a group of mayors in the 1980s that were indicted in succession for municipal corruption misdeeds and widely believed to be in cahoots with organized crime.
And that’s just part of the story.
So it goes that the word “mayor” in Chelsea brings about a sense of anxiety in more than a few people.
Vidot absolutely gets that, she said.
Vidot grew up in Chelsea and saw the bad years, was educated in low-quality schools and then in schools run by Boston University where she said she “was just an educational experiment.” So, she said she is certainly no a newcomer who doesn’t understand the recent history of Chelsea and its aversion to that dirty word “mayor.”
However, she said that she and her husband – and a growing number of folks who have stuck it out in Chelsea over the decades and invested here – see a new kind of Chelsea forming where the government could possibly be turned back more to the voters, and where there could possibly be a more human leader and less of a professional manager.
Councillor Brian Hatleberg said he has talked with Vidot and appreciates her energy, but is dead set against the idea of having a mayor.
“If you look at cities around the Commonwealth, you’re seeing more of them moving towards the idea that professional management is a good thing for them,” he said. “Cities are complex and require professional management. We have a city manager and it’s good and we’ve seen the rewards. What we have here is a desire for more engagement that is legitimate, valuable and important. It’s very easy to take something to the extreme and not look at the consequences of those decisions.”
Meanwhile, former Councillor Roy Avellaneda said he neither supports nor refutes the idea of having a mayor, but he has encouraged Vidot’s activism for the sake of drumming up more interest in the political system. He said there has been a groundswell of talk lately about the idea of going back to a mayoral form of government, especially once the city manager selection process started and voters realized they had no say in the matter.
“I guess there is a sense of more responsiveness if there was a mayor,” he said. “I’ve heard it before and it’s been discussed a lot. I guess the whole city manager search has re-invigorated the whole city manager versus mayor discussion. I understand how some people in the community feel as they look at Revere, Everett and Boston and see that they get to choose a mayor…Whether I agree with having a city manager or not is irrelevant. I’m happy to see this new energy and I’ve never been one to discourage having a discussion. Maybe it’s time to have a discussion again. We haven’t talked about it in 16 years. Maybe it could be a good litmus test. If there’s support, maybe when the City reviews the Charter in 2020, that should be seriously considered.”
Meanwhile, on the streets and sidewalks and in the social media landscape, Vidot said that her Chelsea Revolution is but one week old, and she’s had several people try to discourage her from continuing, several apathetic friends and relatives tell her she’s wasting her time trying to change Chelsea, and several folks like herself who are embracing the same idea.
“The biggest support I have is my willingness to go door-to-door and my desire not to back down,” she said. “I’ve lived her all my life and I have a lot of friends. I’m bi-lingual in English and Spanish. I’ll go to DeMoulas, Compare, Save-A-Lot and wherever I have to go. There are a lot of people who are just fed up.”
To get her question on the ballot, Vidot said she has been informed by the City Solicitor that she will need to collect signatures from 15 percent of the 14,464 registered voters in Chelsea – which works out to be about 2,270 people. If she does that in time, she would have a chance of getting the measure on the November ballot for the voters to consider.