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Mayor seeks new dialogue with ’Deis

Published: December 2, 2011
Section: Featured, Front Page


As Brandeis emerges from the economic recession onto stable financial foundations, Waltham Mayor Jeannette A. McCarthy said she hopes to begin a conversation with President Fred Lawrence, opening new lines of communication about renewing the university’s commitment to the Waltham community through investments in its economy and students in its schools.

“I’d like to outline what exactly do you do for Waltham. I want to put it on a piece of paper,” McCarthy said in an hour-long interview from her City Hall office Thursday morning. “I think they should do more.”

McCarthy, who has served as mayor since 2004 and just won re-election for a third term, met with former President Jehuda Reinharz several times during his tenure and plans to meet with both Lawrence and Bentley President Gloria Cordes Larson together. She spoke of the optimism and spirit she sensed about Lawrence at his inauguration in March and spoke with high regard for Reinharz, pausing during the interview to pick up a photograph of his wife, Shulamit and singer Barbara Streisand from her visit to campus.

The mayor said the conversation should start with a two-way line of communication, where the two chief executives, one of a city and the other of a university, each share what they believe Brandeis contributes to Waltham.

“Let’s quantify what you do,” McCarthy said about Brandeis. “I agree that they are primary employers in the city—both Bentley and Brandeis but I also agree that there are other things they can do.”

McCarthy cautioned that quantifying community involvement is not only about counting donations and economic investments. She explained that Bentley brings a useful expertise in business but added later that Brandeis students share high-levels of social awareness.

“I have a lot of kids that might never get to go to college … those are the type of things that I can’t quantify with a financial value but I would quantify those with a social value,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy, who grew up in Waltham and graduated from the city’s public schools before attending Boston College, Suffolk University Law school and earning a graduate degree in criminal justice from Northeastern University, said that Brandeis has helped over the years by participating in a mentoring program with Waltham students. She hopes to expand mentoring programs, explaining that many young kids in Waltham view college students as role models.

McCarthy made clear that at Brandeis, “the Waltham Group—I have not one complaint. They do a wonderful job.”

Overall, however, McCarthy asserted that Bentley is more involved in the community its students live in.

“Now, in fairness, Bentley does more than Brandeis,” McCarthy said. “I’m just being honest.”

Bentley students provide more in cash donations and helped create 19 apartments for the elderly by the Harding School, she said.

The mayor said that most complaints from residents about Brandeis come when students move in a the beginning of the year all at once or throw parties on streets where residents live, an issue that used to be a major problem of community and university relations.

She also voiced safety concerns about students who run across South Street by the Village and Ziv, rather than crossing on the Squire Bridge by Gosman.

“You’re not really driving fast, but you come over the hill either way and there they are, zoom … There are near misses all the time and someone is going to get hurt. That’s the reason why the city allowed the bridge, but maybe the bridge is in the wrong location,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy contacts Brandeis through its senior vice president for administration, Mark Collins and she recently met with officials to discuss college scholarships for select Waltham students.

Each year, Brandeis selects four graduating seniors from Waltham High School and awards the Stroum Family Waltham Scholarship, providing four years of full tuition.

Even as Waltham faces challenges to its economy and education system, McCarthy insisted that the school district is improving, providing motivated students with quality resources and added new investments on Moody Street will continue to spur economic growth and enhance social life.

McCarthy said that restaurants are a major attraction in the city for students from both Bentley and Brandeis.

Referencing a business study run by Bentley, McCarthy said that students often go to Cambridge and Boston, “so I said what would keep them in here, you know what I mean, things to do? They said definitely, they like the food but as far as other activities they’re going to get back to me about that.”

Discussing two new construction projects at opposite ends of Moody Street, one project to turn the old watch factory into office space, retail stories and residences and the other to build about 200 apartments at One Moody Street, the Mayor said “the overall Moody Street is going to be hopping again.”

When asked to discuss the city’s efforts to reduce crime after a sudden increase in bank robberies during the recession, McCarthy said that the FBI began investigating and the number of incidents has decreased because of the federal involvement.

The mayor called drug-related murderers troubling and said police have doubled their efforts with regard to drug-enforcement.

On Sept. 12, three men were murdered in a Harding Avenue apartment. Authorities, including the District Attorney’s Office are still investigating the killings of Brendan Mess, 25, of Waltham; Erik Weissman, 31, of Cambridge; and Raphael Teken, 37, of Cambridge, who graduated from Brandeis in 1998.

“For the most part Waltham is pretty safe but when you start having random murders like that and they’re not random so to speak … everybody should be on top of that,” McCarthy said.

“I believe that if you can keep kids busy, you keep them out of trouble,” McCarthy said, explaining a new program called Chill Zone on Friday and Saturday nights that is free for people to participate in recreation and cultural activities.

Inside the mayor’s office, behind a desk scattered with holiday cards and piles of documents, was a pad of sticky notes where she wrote down the ideas of students about their school’s community involvement and what they want it to become.

“Brandeis—because of their money problems—they’re not as involved,” McCarthy said. “So I would like to open up those lines of communication again to see what we’re doing.

Now McCarthy wants to add to ideas of students and jotting down Lawrence’s thoughts on her pad of sticky notes.