A proposal by former heavyweight boxing champ, and Chelsea native, John ‘The Quietman’ Ruiz has sparked major controversy over the past week in the follow-up to a preliminary meeting on the issue Feb. 6.
The meeting on Feb. 6 was a preliminary presentation to the City Council by Quietman Sports, which included Ruiz and his Business Manager Mark Giblin, in a Committee on Conference.
During the meeting, the presentation included a preliminary written proposal that called for using the CCC Club in Bellingham Square to create a new youth athletic and education center. The CCC Club folded last year and was sold to Chelsea’s Jim D’Amico – who is refurbishing apartments above the old club. The City had bid on the building as well to establish a youth center in the downtown, but did not win the bid. In the aftermath, the City and D’Amico agreed that they could possibly partner with a non-profit to establish the center in the D’Amico building.
Since that verbal agreement, no one had really come along, until Ruiz floated the initial idea of putting a center there using his name. He has opened similar boxing clubs in Medford in the past. The effort, he indicated, was a move to give back to the City he grew up in and to help many youth who are straying from the right path.
“Mr. Ruiz and his team…know what it takes to overcome the same obstacles Chelsea youth face,” read the proposal. “Maybe by sharing their personal success stories, providing scientific and historic educational programs, and athletic programs, it can make a difference. In the least, Quietman Sports hopes their influence can prevent tragedies such as the March 2016 incident in Chelsea where a 19-year old was gunned down and several other teenagers injured by another 16 year old at an empty apartment. Stories such as this are unnecessary and preventable. The community must act soon or by failing to do so will affect Chelsea for generations to come.”
One of the other stipulations was that the City would provide a $475,000 grant to Quietman Sports over three years to help launch the programming. Quietman Sports would put up $195,171 and would fundraise $75,000.
City Councilors were lukewarm to the idea, though, asking many questions about the expenditure and if the venture had coordinated with existing programs like the Explorers Post 109 and other activities.
Council President Damali Vidot, Judith Garcia and others asked a lot of questions.
In all, the welcome wasn’t as warm as Ruiz seemed to expect.
After the meeting, he attacked Vidot in a post on Instagram, and she said she was highly offended by it.
“In my thoughts I assumed they would welcome my intension to give back to my hometown that I love, but it became a backlash from Council President Damali Vidot,” Ruiz posted. “Council President Damali Vidot comments ‘why do we need your help; you don’t liver here’ and her resistance threw me back. It’s a sad moment when a City representative especially the Council President who should lead by example is taking a stance against anyone trying to extend a hand and who has it slapped away…Call Council President Damali Vidot to leave her power hungry attitude at home and embrace anyone who is willing to help my city that I love.”
Vidot, in an op-ed in today’s paper, said the matter needed clarity. She said Ruiz misrepresented what she said.
“Let’s be clear that the City Council does not decide whether we grant Mr. Ruiz funds for his proposal,” she wrote. “That decision-making process rests solely with the City Manager. The City Council as a body then votes on the appropriation of requested funds in which I am 1/11th of the vote. Unfortunately, following the meeting, Mr. Ruiz chose to turn to social media and misrepresent my comments. At that moment it became clear to me that residents deserved more clarity around the facts as to how things transpired.”
She said anyone who is proposing to work with children should be a better example – not taking to social media to complain when they don’t get their way.
“As a longtime boxing fan of Puerto Rican roots, I was ecstatic to meet the first Latino heavyweight boxer of the world,” she wrote. “However, my fandom doesn’t equate to disregarding my role as a public servant…As a longtime youth worker, I am appalled that someone who is proposing to manage a youth center would not look for better ways to demonstrate leadership. I cannot take responsibility for the ill-advice given to Mr. Ruiz prior to the meeting; I did however encourage dialogue and identified ways in which Mr. Ruiz could seek out community input.”
Giblin did not return an e-mail immediately to the Record asking for comment.
Councillor Leo Robinson, who helped Ruiz in bringing the proposal by filing an order to have the meeting, said he wasn’t happy with the champ’s reception.
“It wasn’t professional,” he said of his fellow councillors. “You don’t treat people like that.”
Councillor Giovanni Recupero said he isn’t opposed to the center, but he would like to see it be for everyone, not just the youth.
Meanwhile, City Manager Tom Ambrosino said the proposal was extremely preliminary. He said the City would have to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) before anyone could even begin talking seriously. Any proposal would have to officially apply to an RFP.
“We’re a long way from anything being there yet,” he said. “I actually have an interest in having youth programming in the downtown and the CCC is a great facility for that. I’m interested in the idea. I would first need direction from the Council for putting out an RFP. I don’t have that. I would say we’re very early in the process.”