By Steven Bonini
Throughout his life, Charlie Sisitsky has worked on many projects as a planning director. Now, as the new mayor, Sisitsky is working on his biggest project yet – the city of Framingham.
In a decisive victory, Sisitsky, former assistant chairman of the Framingham City Council, defeated the city of Framingham’s first mayor, Yvonne Spicer, on election day Nov. 2, 2021.
Sisitsky, 76, received 67.9% of the vote, and Spicer, 59, received 32.1%, according to The MetroWest Daily News.
A graduate of both Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and the University of Rhode Island, Sisitsky holds his Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering and his master’s degree in Community Planning and Area Development.
He worked as the assistant planning director for the city of Medford and was eventually promoted to planning director and then to community development director – a position he held for approximately 10 years.
He then became the planning director for the town of Natick, until he said he was “begged” by the town administrator to take over the Public Works Department.
Sisitsky held the position for over 20 years, but having lived in Framingham since 1971, he said he always tried to stay involved with the city’s activities – starting by taking part in his children’s Parent Teacher Organization (PTO).
He also ran for Town Meeting when Framingham was still a town, which is where he said he started his political career.
Sisitsky was appointed to the Finance Committee and chaired the Finance Committee.
He was then elected to the Board of Selectmen and served as chairman.
When the town of Framingham transitioned to be a city, Sisitsky ran for the first city council and became assistant chairman of the city council.
Running for mayor was not something he said was in the cards following a two-year retirement period, but he said his phone was ringing with people “begging” him to run.
“People were very unhappy” with the Spicer administration, said Sisitsky, adding he felt he “could do a better job.”
Sisitsky said he believes the city community “has always had a very good relationship” with Framingham State University and he appreciates the University’s generosity in giving scholarships to Framingham’s local students.
He said he is also pleased with the results of the Danforth Art Museum merger, adding the city and the University worked closely together to find a space for the museum as well as getting people to support the merger after the museum ran into some inspection issues.
“We’re very thankful for that,” said Sisitsky.
Getting more students involved in the downtown Framingham area is something Sisitsky said he’s been trying to do since he was on the Board of Selectmen.
With a variety of restaurants to choose from, he said he’d like to find a way to get more students to visit the downtown area, which would make it “more attractive” for everyone.
Sisitsky said a project his administration is working on that would benefit the University student body is creating a commuter rail service connecting the campus with the train station downtown, or creating a rail trail that would run alongside the tracks.
“We’re looking at ways to either make a walking trail alongside the tracks or even provide some kind of a commuter rail type situation where the kids can jump on a train at the campus – come downtown and either go out to eat out downtown or jump on the train and go into Boston,” he said.
“We’re looking at different ways to involve the school in the daily life of the community,” he added.
Dale Hamel, executive vice president for Framingham State, said the University is “very interested in working with the new Mayor and his Administration on various initiatives.”
Hamel said he has had the opportunity of working with Sisitsky on a number of occasions, including during his time as former president of Framingham Downtown Renaissance, as well as in his capacity on the Town’s Select Board, and as a member of the Town of Framingham Capital Facilities Review Blue Ribbon Task Force.
Regarding the trails and rails proposal, Hamel said “these are concepts that have been considered previously and we hope that the new City of Framingham administration’s interest in them can move them along.”
In 2005, Hamel said the concept was heavily considered and a study was undertaken by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) for a “Proposed Framingham State College Rail Station Feasibility Analysis.”
Due to a “lack of available public parking at the FSU” as well as the use of that line by CSX Transportation, and “some neighborhood opposition,” no progress was made on the proposal, said Hamel.
Approximately a decade later, Hamel said a revised proposal was brought to the table that would utilize Diesel Multiple Units (DMUs), which are self-propelled trains that do not require a separate locomotive.
He said this proposal focused on providing a service from FSU to downtown Framingham.
“With the construction of the new Mass Bay Community College facility off of Union Avenue – on former FSU property – that also abuts this same rail spur, with potential for additional parking, there is an opportunity to revisit these concepts,” said Hamel.
Regarding Sisitsky’s efforts on these projects, Hamel said “Charlie gets things done and we look forward to working on issues that benefit our home community and the University.
“We are certainly open to supporting these ideas and we look forward to working with the City on potentially moving them forward,” he added.
Sisitsky said the city has always had a good relationship with University President F. Javier Cevallos and looks forward to “developing a good working relationship” with incoming President, Nancy Niemi.
He added the outgoing president will be greatly missed, but he said his administration “looks forward to developing a good working relationship” with Niemi.
Sisitsky said there are many tasks on his agenda for the city, with one of his top priorities being the restoration of “civility in government” – something he says has “been missing.”
A big project Sisitsky said his administration is working on is developing a new city hall and turning the existing city hall into a performing arts center.
He said he’d also like to work with the state to turn the Danforth Museum into a new courthouse.
Many ongoing restoration projects are on the newly elected mayor’s agenda, too, including the cleanup of the general chemical site in Framingham and the redevelopment of the Mary Dennison Playground.
Sisitsky said acquiring an abandoned right of way from CSX to expand the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail is an area of focus, as well as working on the Chris Walsh Rail Trail in downtown Framingham, and cleaning up Cedar Swamp.
He said his administration is also working on the “reorganization” of the Planning and Economic Development Department and he is currently in the process of finding an “economic development planner” who will connect with local businesses and downtown merchants through the Chamber of Commerce.
His administration is also dealing with housing issues, he said, adding, “The Chamber of Commerce and other people are very concerned about the need for housing.”
One of the challenges, he said, has been providing needed housing while not overpowering the existing neighborhoods with “dense development and bringing in a lot of kids that are going to overburden the schools.”
With Framingham’s diverse population, he said it’s important to address the different needs of all his constituents.
On Saturday, March 5, Sisitsky said he attended a “very successful” breakfast at the Waves of Revival Church, which has a large Brazilian following.
He said he met with approximately 40 people, including many Brazilian pastors.
At the breakfast, he said they discussed the challenges the Brazilian community faces when they immigrate to the Framingham area.
“Let’s face it, they have language barriers that they have to overcome, in addition to other issues,” said the mayor.
Sisitsky said in his experience, people who live outside the city of Framingham miss many of the amenities the city has to offer, aside from the Route 9 shopping centers.
“I still run into people who don’t realize the variety of housing we have in Framingham. You can go out to the northwest quadrant of Framingham, and you see these open farms and big spaces and large homes,” he said, adding the city also has a variety of retail establishments, parks, and playgrounds for people to take advantage of.
“Cushing Park is a gem,” he said.
“People don’t realize what we have,” said Sisitsky. “Even relatives say, ‘I’m never going to move to Framingham. I’m going to move to Wayland or Weston or one of those places.’
“They don’t realize the municipal services that the city provides,” he said. “The value you get for your taxes in Framingham is tremendous.”
Looking back on his political career in Framingham, the mayor said he tries to be the type of leader who wants to see progress but doesn’t necessarily take credit for the achievements made.
“I don’t want to be at the front of the line – I want to be in the line helping people and that’s the way I’ve operated ever since I’ve been in municipal government,” he said. “I like to help people.”
Sisitsky said one of the most enjoyable aspects of his job is getting to talk with people, adding, “Every time I talk to somebody, I learn something new and I think that’s so important.”
Something he said he learned from one of his bosses is, “If you’re going to bring me a problem, bring me a solution.
“I’ve taken that to heart, and that’s what I expect people that work for me to do,” he added.
While Sisitsky’s first term has only just begun, he said he does intend to run for a second term.
“Never take that off the table,” he said. “No politician would ever tell you otherwise.”
As mayor, Sisitsky said he has tried to be fairly generous with his time – giving as many people the opportunity to meet with him as possible.
“I always have an open door,” he said. “Anybody that wants to talk to me, ask me any questions, is interested in anything about the city, any programs that they’d like to pursue or develop with me – we’ll listen.”