Christenson Will Run for Mayor
The Ward One city councilor said communication would be a hallmark of his administration if elected.
The worst-kept secret in Malden is no longer a secret: Ward One City Councilor Gary Christenson will run for mayor.
Christenson, who also served on the School Committee, admitted that he's long wanted to run for the top elected position in the city. The four-term councilor said he has wanted to be mayor "since my junior year in high school."
Christenson said he had about a week's notice that Mayor Richard Howard would not seek re-election.
"Last week, he had indicated to me he would make an announcement pretty soon," said Christenson. "He's known about my interest in the position for some time. We spent some time talking about what his plans were and what the future holds for the community."
Christenson said he would use technology to reach out to residents and address their concerns. Part of that would involve working from sites across the city so people would know the mayor was in their neighborhood.
"To me, it all starts and ends with communication," said Christenson. "We're really going to try and use every tool possible to reach out to people."
Christenson said using tools like e-mail, texting, Skype and the Web can keep busy parents and residents with two jobs informed about their city.
Other areas, like virtual crime watches, would be possible using the Web, he said. The city could take the feed from a surveillance camera and stream the image on its Web site. Vigilant residents could then watch the stream and call the police if they see any suspicious activity.
Malden's Financial Trouble Will Greet Any New Mayor
Christenson acknowledged that the budget shortfalls plaguing the city are not likely to be solved before the new mayor is inaugurated after next year's election.
"What I would do January 2012 is take a fresh look at how we do things and why we do things the way we do," said Christenson. "That is no disrespect to the current administration, but in 16 years, people develop routines and ways of doing things, and a fresh look is needed."
Part of that fresh look will be opening the city's books to the public and soliciting ideas about priorities and areas to save, said Christenson.
"The mayor does a budget presentation to the Chamber of Commerce every year. I would do one for the people," he said. "My experience has been that some of the best ideas come from the people."
Christenson said he'd support creating a grant writer position to help all departments secure more available state, federal and private funding for projects and positions.
Christenson, who works as budget director, internal auditor and chief of staff for Middlesex County Sherriff James DiPaola, said he is a law and order politician and will work to find ways to properly fund cops and firefighters in Malden.
"When we give people the opportunity to tell us what their priorities are for the city, we'll see public safety at the top of the list," said Christenson. "We do need to be creative on law and order."
He conceded that maintaining public safety funding while navigating through a budgetary minefield is difficult. He said making those choices must involve explaining why the decisions were made to the public in order to garner support moving forward.
"We want to try to protect who we have now and maintain the services we have," said Christenson. "We have to let the people know, here is our position and here are the options we have. Let them know what decision was made and why."
Pressing Issues for the City
Openness would have been a positive in the Roosevelt Park deal, which was not made pubic until a contract was signed, leading to charges of backroom dealing and consternation about the 20-year term for prime park use by Mystic Valley Regional Charter School, said Christenson.
"Without a doubt, that should have been a proposal that went before the people or at least the parties directly involved," said Christenson.
Christenson said he's also open to tweaking the city's Pay As You Throw program by folding in incentives like retail discounts and gift cards for increased recycling by families. Similar incentive programs are in place in Everett and Revere.
"I would certainly take a look at what advancements have been made in the program as a whole," said Christenson. "The biggest complaint I get two years into the program is about the bags themselves, which are flimsy."
Christenson also discussed changing the City charter to allow for a chief financial officer, rather than co-equal treasurer, controller and assessor positions.