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- Steve Zanni '68 - Mayor of Methuen, MA
Steve Zanni '68 - Mayor of Methuen, MA
A stately wooden clock hangs on the wall of Mayor Stephen Zanni's top floor office at the Methuen City Hall. Linked to the century-old timepiece, through a break in the clock's panel, is a small transformer sending just enough volts to move the delicate hands through their timeless journey around the face.
"I am determined to get it running," says Mayor Zanni, pointing to the perfectly preserved heirloom he inherited from his predecessor, after winning the city's mayoral election by just thirty-four votes in November of 2011.
On the same day that Mayor Zanni adopted his prized conversation piece, he became the leader of a bustling city of nearly 48,000 residents in Essex County, Massachusetts.
Once a small factory town, the city blossomed into a rich community with thriving small businesses, good schools and a nationally registered historic district. Though he was born in the neighboring city of Lawrence, Mayor Zanni has called Methuen home since moving to town with his wife, Janice, in 1979. He raised two children there, spent ten years on the city council (two as Chairman) and will now lead the city as mayor for a two-year term.
"My main focus is getting into the community," said Mayor Zanni, a former high school science department head who almost chose retirement over politics before opting to give back to his city. "I've received some great feedback from the community, and they appreciate what I am trying to do."
Just as he intends to reset the clock at City Hall, Zanni is determined to bring a new momentum to the city of Methuen, while preserving its treasured history. When he took the oath of office inside the Great Hall at Nevins Memorial Library in January 2012, he vowed to create a strong community bond, to maintain a costeffective government and to bring new business to town. Though at the time of this interview he had only sat in the Mayor's seat for six months, Mayor Zanni was already off and running on a mission to move Methuen forward.
"The economy is slowly changing. There is a little up-tick...but it is not picking up fast enough," said Zanni, who manages the town's $138 million budget.
In an effort to jumpstart the local market, Mayor Zanni went straight to work strengthening the commercial base in town. He is utilizing tax incentives, aiming to streamline permitting processes and collaborating with company leaders to make the city more attractive to new business. Soon enough, large companies like "Century Box" took interest in the Mayor's proposition and it is expanding its current operations- with hundreds of job openings in tow.
"If you can do a little thing that doesn't really upset the apple cart too much...you'd be surprised how appreciative people are," said Mayor Zanni, who only solicits companies that will not tarnish the city's historic legacy.
In lieu of simply raising taxes in Methuen, he proactively reaches out to the state for grants to accommodate large-scale projects that otherwise could not move forward. Recently, the city received $250,000 to build a recreational park on the banks of the Merrimack River.
Mayor Zanni says that he often borrows strategies implemented at the state level that have the potential to work locally. He is currently analyzing the city's health insurance plan to determine if the state's Group Insurance Commission (GIC) model can also accommodate Methuen employees.
"It's roughly going to save the city 1.2 million dollars."
When he is not working to create jobs or save dollars for the working population, Mayor Zanni shifts his focus to the youngest residents of Methuen. He can often be found sitting with students during their lunch break - a tactic he uses to gain critical feedback from the elementary school population. As Chairman of the School Committee and a former teacher and administrator, he keeps his finger on the pulse of educational progress in the city, and recently approved a reading program to promote literacy in the public school system.
He is currently overseeing a $100 million project to renovate Methuen High School, a project he says will help future generations thrive.
"I want to set the tone for great education in our community. If you have a good educational system, professional people and others will come to your community."
When Mayor Zanni reflects on his own education, he is immediately transported back to the football field at Curry College. It was there that he imagined the possibilities for his future, formed lifelong friendships with teammates and developed the leadership skills that ultimately propelled him to his current role as Mayor.
It was also on that playing field where he learned that "there is no I in team." He cannot recall if they were the words of his beloved coach, Dick Lassey, or if they were called out during a pep talk in the huddle. What he does know is that those words stuck with him, and led him to the firm belief that collaboration is the key to success.
"I am trying to get everyone to work together. Working as a team, you get things solved," he says, and adds that just like the Curry Colonels, the residents of Methuen are only strong when they are united.
Every month, the Mayor welcomes residents and community leaders alike to join him on "The Door's Always Open"," a candid interview program on Methuen's public TV station. The show, a platform for open discussion on local issues, is just one of the many methods that the Mayor is utilizing to create a strong and transparent bond between the local government and the people.
According to Mayor Zanni, tax cuts and health care reforms mean nothing without a united community. "I am only holding a seat for the people," he said, adding that he is happy to give back to a community that has been good to him.
When it comes to running the City of Methuen, Stephen Zanni believes that "there is no I in Mayor."
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