Ex-councilman Pecoraro to run again

He says the city has lost focus, needs `next steps'


February 04, 2005|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

A former Westminster councilman who helped to revitalize a troubled neighborhood, resurrect a movie theater by turning it into a cultural center and build the city's two largest parking garages wants his old seat back.

"If you're going to live in a community, you should work to improve it," said L. Gregory Pecoraro, 45, who filed yesterday as a candidate for one of two city Common Council positions. Elections will be held May 9.

"I did a good job before, and I think I'll do a good job again," he said.

Pecoraro served on the council for eight years before resigning in January 2003. Pecoraro had just accepted a job as chief of staff for Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr., an endeavor that he said would not leave him enough time for his council duties.

He left Baltimore County's economic development office earlier this month and accepted a job in the private sector as a vice president with National Strategies Inc., a Washington, D.C.,-based firm that provides public affairs assistance to companies that want to do business with state and local governments.

Before going to Baltimore County, Pecoraro was assistant secretary for the Maryland Department of Transportation.

"It was probably good to take a little break, but at the same time I'm concerned in some ways the city lost a little of its focus," Pecoraro said. "I think I was making a contribution to help keep the city on track. If I'm back on the council, we could start thinking about these things again and what the next steps are."

The other two candidates who have filed for the council race are Westminster fire chief Kevin R. Utz and community activist Josephine Velazquez. The municipal elections are nonpartisan. The two seats are now held by council President Damian L. Halstad and Councilman Roy L. Chiavacci.

History on the council

As the former chairman of the Westminster Common Council's parking and finance committees, Pecoraro helped balance the city's budget and secure $2.85 million to build the 300-space Longwell parking deck in the downtown area. Pecoraro also helped bring another garage to the other side of town at the Westminster Square building.

As a member of the task force organized in 2002 to make recommendations to revitalize the Pennsylvania Avenue neighborhood, Pecoraro helped the city win $510,000 in state grants to build a community center and install streetlights.

The task force - which included local residents and representatives from city and state agencies, clergy and nonprofit organizations - focused on that neighborhood for improvement because of its struggles with crime, declining property values and a high number of municipal code violations.

"We really hit a home run," Pecoraro said. "We brought everyone together. We met over six months, had great attendance and got the community involved. All the important stakeholders were at the table."

Three years later, he said the neighborhood had shown signs of improvement.

"I think people feel safer up there. Property values improved. We've seen better cooperation among all the agencies involved," Pecoraro said. "People up there feel a responsiveness to their concerns. It's a good model for solving other problems the city may have."

Carroll Theatre

Pecoraro also helped push the renovation of the old Carroll Theatre, which has become the new home for the nonprofit Carroll County Arts Council. The art-deco movie theater underwent a massive transformation to become a multipurpose arts center that features performances, exhibitions and classes.

The city bought the theater using $310,000 in Open Space program money and began looking for renovation funds. Several large state, county and municipal grants paid for the $1.4 million project. The new center opened in April 2003.

"It's really helped preserve Westminster's role as a cultural center for the county," Pecoraro said.

Pecoraro takes pride in the role he had in making each of these initiatives a reality.

Local background

A lifelong Carroll County resident, Pecoraro grew up in Eldersburg, the son of an elementary school principal and a teacher.

After graduating from South Carroll High School, Pecoraro earned a bachelor's degree in political science at the Johns Hopkins University.

He and his wife, Cyd, a third-grade teacher at Hampstead Elementary School, have a 12-year-old daughter. They've lived in Westminster since 1989.

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