MALDEN – “When you’re in high school, you start thinking about what it is that want to do. Even then, I thought about being here some day. Twenty-seven years later, low and behold.”
An appropriate anecdote for my introduction to Malden’s new Mayor Gary Christenson who welcomed me into his corner office that overlooks downtown.
The former ward one city councilor was elected last November to succeed Mayor Richard Howard, not only bringing an end to a sixteen-year era, but also beginning the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.
“What we’re doing here really is something deep within my heart. It’s a desire to do what our forefathers wanted us to do with the opportunities they afforded us.
When I asked if he ever thought of leaving his hometown, Christenson responded with an emphatic no
“I never gave it one thought. I have everything I’ve ever wanted right here in Malden. The orange line, the Commuter Rail, bike paths, the River, four separate school systems, and the second most diverse population in the state.
“It takes the diversity of the region and even the world and puts it all in one five square mile area.”
A graduate of Suffolk University’s Masters Degree program in Public Administration and Suffolk University Law School, Christenson had been serving as the budget director for the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office where he oversaw a $60 million budget before taking office.
He is also a former member of the Malden School Committee and a ward one City Councilor
When asked about his overwhelming victory, Christenson credits his success to his campaign’s preparedness.
“When you really look at what it takes, it’s all about hard work and dedication. They are still the keys to success.”
The Mayor also commended his “tremendous campaign team” and his group of “the most dedicated volunteers” for getting others involved and ultimately to the polls. To them, the campaign was about reaching beyond, extending exposure out to populations that had never been actively sought in local, Malden elections.
Christenson’s diverse tactics included the establishment of a Chinese language telephone bank, advertisements in local Asian papers, and weekly appearances on a Haitian cable access talk-show.
Malden has long been known for its growing Asian population, but a growing number of residents now identify as Haitian or Muslim as well.
When asked to describe his first month in office, Christenson quickly responded with one word.
“Overwhelming,” the Mayor said as he sat behind the desk.
“But as overwhelming as it is, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It’s so great to be able to serve the city that I love.”
In fact, Christenson has been quite busy.
Since taking office, the Mayor has held two press conferences, surveyed residents and businesses, issued a detailed transition report, hosted a public forum regarding a major business development, and completely revamped the city’s technological integration and constituent communications.
“My theory in life is that what you put in is what you get out.”
“I want to create a community that can be enjoyed by its residents, that they are proud to call home. I want a community that provides real opportunities for its residents, no matter what their age, race, or religion.”
When asked which issues in his transition team’s report will top his list of to-do’s, the Mayor continued to discuss his office’s “aggressive strategy of reaching out in every which way possible”
“I want to give residents the chance to participate in what it is the we do up here.”
The Mayor also noted the importance of continuing to develop the city to its fullest potential, noting that the days of relying on the state and federal government are long gone. Christenson has appointed a member of his team to act as a liaison for all business development issues.
When asked about the potential addition of a minor-league baseball stadium just outside of the city’s downtown area, the Mayor noted the immense importance of this development, but also remained cautious as details continue to be worked out.
“No pun intended, but I really do see this as a game-changer for the city of Malden.”
“The construction of this baseball park would put us into another stratosphere, especially where we’ve been eclipsed by Medford’s Station Landing or Somerville’s new Assembly Square expansion.”
Like many, the Mayor believes additional businesses will build and flourish in this already emerging district. The developers have the go-ahead to negotiate with National Grid for the site, but must also negotiate with three other businesses located on Canal Street that are included in the proposed stadium parcel.
“No matter how you feel about the potential benefits of the stadium, theses businesses have been there for quite some time and must be given their due respect in the process.
“It’s certainly something that is exciting, and will help create more pride in the city.”
Christenson went on to discuss his excitement for the continued development of the Northern Strand Community Bike Trail (Bike to Sea), which will see the completion of the Malden component this spring. He noted a recent change ordered by his office to use recycled asphalt rather than stone dust in order to coordinate with the portion of the trail completed in Everett.
“Now if we could ever link the trail to Boston, the sky’s the limit for increased and continued promotion of cycling in the NoBo communities.”
The Mayor then motioned me to the window overlooking Pleasant Street. He went on to describe the beautiful view, and how the district has changed greatly over the last decade. He then asked me to imagine the intrigue of visitors if the very office where we had been meeting did not exist.
“The downtown area is literally choked off by the towering Malden Government Center building. Furthermore, the building is in disrepair, is outdated, and simply too big for our needs. Something has to be done about it.”
As we prepared to end our interview, I asked the Mayor to figuratively look back upon the completion of his first administration. He was quick in his response.
“I just hope people say that the Mayor really gave it his all. He worked overtime to give the people what they deserve, and that is a great city.
“It was my dream to get here. Now, I just hope I live up to their expectations.”