A Cambridge walking tour with Mayor Vickie

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Dorchester Banner/Paul Clipper
Mayor Victoria Jackson-Stanley (right) poses with Historic High Street docent Marge Hull and a tour group, during a “walking tour” of Cambridge for The Banner. One thing we learned is that “Mayor Vickie” definitely loves this town.

“I’m a hometown girl,” admits the Mayor. “I see Cambridge as a beautiful, positive, diverse community, and we’re moving forward.  You can’t beat Cambridge. I haven’t been everywhere, but I’ve been to various cities in New York, Louisiana, Florida and Texas. I’m going to Minnesota very soon. I’ve been different places other than Cambridge. But when I cross that bridge, Paul, wherever I’ve been, I’ll get right onto the Frederick Malkus Bridge, nighttime let’s say, and I look to my right and I see Long Wharf, and then I look to my left and I see the Hyatt, and I go, ‘Whew, I’m home.”

“That’s what I want everyone to feel like, whether you’re from here or you come here, I want Cambridge to be that, ‘Whew, I’m home.’ But I also want it to move forward in the 21st century. We’ve got to have diversity. We’ve got to have an appreciation for our history and for our environment as well.”

So said Mayor Victoria Jackson-Stanley as we started out from Long Wharf on a walking tour of Cambridge. I wanted to know more about “Mayor Vickie” and her relationship to the city she serves, and what better way than to suggest a nice walk through town, wherever she wanted to go. It was plain from the first that Mayor Stanley loves this city, from the West Side to Egypt Road.

We decided to walk up High Street, the signature historic street of yellow bricks leading into the city downtown.

“I just love this town. How can you not love Cambridge? Since I was elected, the Town Council and I, we have been able to secure over $20 million in grant money — not loans, but grant money — for various projects in this community, from revitalization of Pine Street, to water/sewer upgrades to Christ Rock, to working on sidewalks on Cedar Street and Maryland Avenue and Route 50, making the city safe as well as beautiful.

“When they (taxpayers) tell me, ‘It’s my tax dollars that you’re spending with this grant money,’ that’s true. But I believe if the grant money’s there, why should Montgomery County, Baltimore City, or other areas around the state get it, and Cambridge has a chance? We have to be competitive too, but we should get grant money just like anybody else — and it’s my tax dollars, too — this time it is used for our town.”

We stop in front of Liv Again, a new-last-year attractive business on High Street, and the Mayor points out the road surface. The yellow bricks that make up the bulk of High Street, from Poplar to Long Wharf, are the last remnants of the brick road surface that once replaced the mud of long-ago years. Pulling up those bricks, repairing the road foundation then putting the bricks back down, will be expensive but it has to be done; and most agree that the bricks are the backbone of historic High Street. The mayor believes we should do it right and restore High Street to its former brick glory.

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Dorchester Banner/Paul Clipper
The Mayor pointing out the necessity to do something soon about High Street. “We don’t want to disrupt business, but we really have to do something to protect the street and to preserve the historic nature.”

“The challenge of this particular block is to replace the bricks, replace the infrastructure under the street itself, and then make it more aesthetically pleasant to look at, as well as safe,” she says, pointing out the variety of bricks and patches applied over the years.

“We are concerned about the infrastructure underneath, it’s very old. It’s got 100, maybe even 200 years. I don’t know how old it is underneath, and we won’t know until we start digging up. We don’t want to disrupt business, but we really have to do something to protect the street and to preserve the historic nature (of High Street). We want to preserve as many of these bricks as we can, but we won’t know exactly how extensive the work will be until we start. We have to, as I like to quote Larry the Cable Guy, ‘get’er done.’”

We continue walking up to Poplar Street, where we can’t help but see one of Cambridge’s homeless residents. I can tell that this is a subject that cuts close to the Mayor’s heart, not surprisingly, since in her “day job” she works as Assistant Director for Dorchester County Department of Social Services. With a Bachelor of Social Work degree from Salisbury State College, and a Masters of Social Work degree from Howard University School of Social Work, she has spent her career working with various Departments of Social Services on the Eastern Shore.

“This shows the influx of people from various places who fall in love with our community and stay,” she comments. “We will never turn anyone away who’s going to bring a productive lifestyle to Cambridge, and it’s a challenge for us to help them maintain a lifestyle here.

“We’re like any other community. We have the very, very rich and the very, very poor, and then the middle class like me. I’m a working woman who is just trying to keep my family fed and clothed and a place to stay. My challenge is, how can I offer a community to all where their needs as well and their wants are met. We are all one Cambridge. You know? That’s my challenge. Some things I can and I can’t control.”

We walk on, up to the 400 block of Race Street. We stop in front of the old Western Auto store, where its faded sign still hints at the treasures of Cambridge’s “Main Street” when it was full of stores and businesses.

“When I was a young girl, there was a Western Auto in town, on Race Street,” she said, gesturing across at the old store front. “Then there was Sears. We had the first five-and-dime, McCrory’s, and a second five-and-dime, Woolworth’s, and Endicott Johnson and Johnny’s Shoe Shop and Edgehill Pharmacy, which was on the corner.

“I was a dishwasher at the snack bar of Edgehill Pharmarcy. I was so embarrassed. All my friends would see me washing dishes. I was 14. How embarrassing, but it was my first full-time job, and kids at that age could work. That’s the challenge also. Jobs for our community — young and not so young is another of my challenges. When will we start filling up these buildings with jobs such as small businesses again? That’s going to be the revitalization that I know is possible for us.

“I believe we are the future. We are moving forward right now. It’s just now a matter of others seeing the vision that we have. I get asked all the time, what is your vision Mayor? “My vision is that we live well in Cambridge, and we continually move forward, not back.’ My vision is very simple: a comfortable place to live for everyone, and something (recreation) for our children. My ‘children’ need things to do. I’m told, ‘Mayor, we want a skateboard park, we want skating, roller skating.’ We need cultural activities, museums, concerts for all ages and ethnicities. I don’t roller skate, but I’ll support anything that is positive that my children love.

“We’ve got wonderful people, but we don’t have enough cultural activities. Cultural activities for our children and the senior citizens like me, to stimulate our interest and to keep us in town. Shopping, cultural activities, museums, and recreation for the children. If not here on Race Street, then on High Street. We’ve got Pine Street. We’ve got places all over town.”

We continued down to the end of the block.

“Look at the top of the buildings, you’ll see the etchings of what they used to be. This is Phillips Hardware (447 Race). We’ve got Edgehill Pharmacy (the old Arcade Building), McCrory’s building, all kinds of things right here on the corner, and right now they are in a state of transition. Everyone’s starting things; we need to finish it and move forward.”

When you talk to Mayor Vickie, you can see where her air of impatience comes from. She sees a vision of a happy, vibrant, active Cambridge — and she actually wants to see it now.

“We’ve got churches, we’ve got houses, we’ve got bars, we’ve got all kinds of things, but we now need to hook them together to make it one community. ‘One voice, one Cambridge.’ I’m just one little person, but we are still one community, and I want us to stay that way. Let’s keep walking.”
We stroll the blighted 500 block of Race Street, and talk about the buildings in transition there. There are rumors of housing going in, eventually, perhaps an art community. They now look a wreck, but those old brick buildings are poised for a renaissance — though it’s too soon to even talk about concrete plans.

To be continued — look for the next section of our tour with “Mayor Vickie” next week in The Dorchester Banner.

Paul Clipper is the editor of the Dorchester Banner. He can be reached at pclipper@newszap.com.

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