Former Revere Mayor Tom Ambrosino has crossed the Chelsea line and become the new Chelsea City Manager – winning out Monday night in an 8-3 vote of the City Council during the first round of voting.
He faced former Portland (ME) City Manager Mark Rees, who garnered quite a bit of respect from the Council and managed three votes.
Ambrosino will be the third City Manager since Chelsea came out of receivership and accepted a new City Charter in the 1990s.
“I’m very excited,” said Ambrosino. “Since leaving Revere, I have come to miss the daily interactions with the public. I got a lot of satisfaction from that. I miss the feeling you go when you can make a difference in people’s lives. You got that chance as a mayor, and you get it as a city manager…I’m really looking forward to the challenge and will do my very best to show the people that I was a good choice.”
Ambrosino, who is now the executive director of the state Supreme Judicial Court, said he never would have guessed that he would one day lead the City next door to where he was mayor.
“I never would have guessed that and never gave it a whole lot of thought until I was approached and asked to think about it,” he said. “I thought about it and felt it would be a good opportunity. It had all the things I loved about being a mayor and it is missing many of the things that drove me crazy as a mayor – the fundraising and worrying about re-elections. I can immerse myself in urban policy, serve people and leave the politics aside. I’d have a contract and work under that contract.”
Ambrosino, however, won’t be moving to Chelsea – saying his circumstances don’t allow it right now.
“My personal circumstances are such that I’m not in a position where I can move, but I’m not far away,” he said, noting that he lives nearby in Revere. “People should expect to see me in Chelsea day and night. I don’t think anyone has to worry that I’m going to be a 9 to 5-er and then leave the city. That’s not the history of how I work in my jobs.”
Ambrosino served as mayor of Revere from 2000 to 2011, and previously served as a School Committee and City Council member in Revere. He is an attorney who graduated from Harvard Law School, and his father was a police officer in Revere.
One of his policies as mayor of Revere was to have an ultra-open door policy in which he would see anyone who walked through the door on nearly any issue. In Chelsea, despite not having to get elected, he said that would continue.
“I don’t plan on changing that,” he said. “I’ve had that approach at every job I’ve had, whether in the mayor’s office or at the Supreme Judicial Court.”
Ambrosino said he does not speak Spanish, and wishes he did, but didn’t believe any language barrier would prevent him from being able to address issues, big or small, that come his way.
“I’ve always had success working with individuals and people regardless of any language barriers,” he said. “I certainly wish I spoke another language, but I don’t. However, it will not prevent me in the least from providing the services that people need.”
Right off the bat, former City Manager Jay Ash – now the state Secretary of Housing and Economic Development – said he was glad to see his former municipal colleague become his successor.
“He is among a handful of the best public sector managers I know,” said Ash. “He is admired by many both for his work in Revere, where he distinguished himself as a great mayor, and then his work around the region, both for the Metropolitan Area Planning Council and the Metropolitan Mayor’s Coalition. He has the great combination of outstanding public policy credentials while being able to also be effective operations guy. During his time in Revere, I would often seek advice from him. I appreciated the way he thinks through issues and I admired him for his vision about how government should be responsive to its residents.. I believe he is going to fit into Chelsea well, as he is a champion of urban communities and a great people person as well.”
Current Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo also said he was happy to see that his former city government colleague would be next door working as a municipal official.
“I’m thrilled for Tom and the city of Chelsea,” said Rizzo. “His experience and leadership is just what the city of Chelsea needs to fill the void left by Secretary Jay Ash who had literally transformed the city of Chelsea during his tenure as manager. I look forward to working with him as I had with Jay in the past on initiatives and toward solutions regarding issues that face our respective cities and our region.”
Councilors arrived at City Hall on Monday with a decision imminently on their minds. That only came after a whirlwind of activity last Saturday where interviews, public comment sessions and other discussion were had from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Last Saturday, both men went through a grueling interview process at Chelsea City Hall, where Ambrosino came out the most impressive to the majority of the Council.
The winning candidate needed seven votes as spelled out in the City Charter to secure the position, and upon arrival at City Hall on Monday, it was said that there were seven secure votes in place for Ambrosino. By the time the first ballot was called, he had picked up another vote to finish with eight.
None of those councillors who voted against him, including Clifford Cunningham, Matt Frank and Chris Cataldo, changed their votes to make it unanimous, but have pledged to work well with Ambrosino and are happy with him as the choice.
Council President Leo Robinson said he felt both men were qualified, but only one had the edge he was looking for.
“We had two good candidates,” said Robinson. “For me, I think I had to weigh the issue of him working in a community that close to Chelsea. He’s been part of the Mayor’s Coalition. He will come in and hit the ground running. We have a lot of momentum here, but we need someone to continue the path we’re going on. The other guy, Rees, was just as qualified, but to me, Tom Ambrosino had the edge.”
Councillor Joe Perlatonda it was a good choice and a solid decision.
“Both men brought different things to the table, but I think Tom Ambrosino had more of what the City was looking for than Rees,” he said. “I was happy we were able to choose him…Now, it’s time to get Tom in here and draft his contract and get things cleaned up.”
Said Councillor Paula Barton, “He’ll be more in tune to the needs of Chelsea because Revere is in such close proximity. It doesn’t have as many Latinos as we do, but Revere does have a Latino population too. He’s more like one of us in Chelsea.”
Councillor Calvin Brown said he was impressed with Ambrosino and noted he was well-respected on the state level.
“One thing that resonated with me is he said he missed the day-to-day work in City Hall,” said Brown. “He’ll be able to concentrate on building relationships. I think we did the right thing. Other councillors had a different opinion and they preferred their candidate.”
Those that preferred their candidate, Rees, said they weren’t disappointed, but just had a different opinion.
“I think the City Council was fortunate in having two exceptionally qualified candidates to choose from,” said Councillor Clifford Cunningham. “While I felt that Mark Rees’ extensive managerial experience and apolitical background were better suited to the position of an apolitical city manager, I am not disappointed because Tom Ambrosino is also exceptionally qualified to be city manager. I look forward to working with Tom Ambrosino as he works to lead Chelsea forward.”
Councillor Chris Cataldo had similar sentiments.
“It was a difficult decision, but in in the end I felt that Mr Rees was more of a professional manager than Mr. Ambrosino, and I felt that was key,” said Cataldo. “That’s not to say Mr. Ambrosino is not capable. I believe he will provide sound management; as I said, this decision was very close.”
Councillor Matt Frank said he was aware that his opinion probably didn’t have majority support, but he respected Rees and the interview he gave impressed him the most.
“I really liked his resume,” said Frank. “I think we’ve been selling the City so much that we now need to focus on building the city – building the community. I think Rees had good ideas. I was hoping Ambrosino could have been more up front about transparency issues…On the positive side, I think Tom Ambrosino will do a very good job and has great qualifications. I just thought ti would have been good to have a different path.”
For the record, those councillors voting for Ambrosino were Barton, Giovanni Recupero, Perlatonda, Robinson, Dan Cortell, Paul Murphy, Brian Hatleberg and Brown. Those voting for Rees were Cataldo, Cunningham and Frank.
The Chelsea City Manager process began last December when Ash announced he was taking a job with Gov. Charlie Baker as the new Secretary of Housing and Economic Development. The Chelsea City Council contracted with the Collins Center from UMass-Boston to run a search process, which started in late January.
By March 31, some 30 applications had been turned in, including one from Ambrosino. Names were whittled down to about 15 candidates, then seven, and a special Screening Committee chose four names to submit to the Chelsea Council for a decision.
However, two people dropped out of the process before the decision could be made, leaving only Ambrosino and Rees.
President Robinson said the next step is to negotiate a successful contract, and he has assigned that task to Councillors Hatleberg, Cortell
, Frank and himself.
It is estimated Ambrosino could begin work in mid-July, and he told the Record he has a lot to learn about Chelsea, and that’s what he would spend his first few months doing.
“I feel like I do know a lot of the stakeholders there, but I have a lot of learning to do,” he said. “My first few months will be spent listening and going around and learning from the constituents, the business community, the organizations and so many others. I have a lot to learn about Chelsea and have no illusions that I know it like I know Revere. Having dealt with a lot of similar issues will give me a leg up, but my learning curve will be great.”