QUINCY — Incumbent Mayor Jim Hemberry says a key factor in battling area gang activity is the city’s youth recreation program, which is now in place and, he says, ready for expansion.
His challenger Patricia “Patty” Naigle-Martin, mayor of the city nearly 20 ago, said Hemberry’s had six years in office to establish a strong rec program, but hasn’t. “If it was important to him, he’d have done it by now,” she said.
Rec opportunities for Quincy’s kids — and the adult supervision and direction that comes with them — has become a top issue among candidates here for mayor and city council seats in the Nov. 5 general election. It’s one element in derailing gang activity to make Quincy a safer, more appealing place to live, candidates said.
One other top campaign issue, said both Hemberry and Naigle-Martin, is completion of an industrial wastewater system to handle millions of gallons of discharge from local food processing plants. A first-phase of the system has been completed, and the push is on to finish the rest by 2015.
But candidates agreed that finding ways to curtail gang activity tops all other issues in this city of 6,750 residents — 74 percent of them Hispanic. And that effort should begin, said both hopefuls, with youth.
“If we want to tackle this problem at its roots, then we need to supervise and mentor kids to show them there’s a wide world of options to joining a gang,” said Hemberry. “But we need to introduce these options at an early age.”
The city already has parks and a pool, said the mayor, but sports and activity programs need to be expanded and new facilities considered — maybe a rec center, a new gym, or added pool amenities.
“So where are these programs and improvements?” asked Naigle-Martin. “For two years, the mayor has had a rec program in place with two employees but hardly anything to show for it. This has to change.”
Naigle-Martin wants to organize adult slow-pitch leagues, open available gyms in winter months for volleyball and basketball, establish intermural soccer teams and leagues, make improvements to the city’s swimming pool and offer after-school programs — both fun and educational — that poverty-level families can afford. A new rec center should also be considered, she said.
Both candidates also stressed that a strengthened, community-engaged police force remains the frontline in confronting gang problems.
“We know we can’t arrest our way out of a gang problem,” said Hemberry. “But it’s important to have enough officers trained in prevention techniques — to build trust and relationships that will help break the link between our kids and gang activities.”
Naigle-Martin said the mayor’s office also needs to lead the community in awareness of issues beyond gang membership that drive crime and violence — poverty, poor living conditions and the lack of interaction with responsible adults. “We need to see the bigger picture.”
Both the incumbent and challenger said monitoring the timing and phased-in construction of the city’s Industrial Wastewater Reuse System also remains a top priority. The $15 million project would handle wastewater — millions of gallons per day — from area food processing plants. The city will assume handling of the treated discharge in 2015 when an outdated treatment plant closes.