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Woburn finances top mayor's agenda

By John Laidler, Globe Correspondent, 11/25/2001

WOBURN - When John C. Curran first ran for mayor as a 29-year-old alderman in 1995, he was following closely in his grandfather's footsteps. In 1925, Michael J. Curran had tried for the corner office as a 28-year-old alderman.

Curran lost, just as his grandfather did 70 years before. But this fall, Curran added a successful chapter to his family's political history. In his second try for mayor, Curran defeated John M. Cashell to claim the seat being vacated by Robert M. Dever, who is retiring.

While he does not remember his grandfather, who died in 1967, Curran said in an interview last week that Michael Curran indirectly spurred his entry into politics.

His grandfather never gained the corner office, but was a well-known public figure in Woburn, serving on the School Committee, the Board of Aldermen, as city treasurer, and as a longtime editor and columnist for the Woburn Daily Times.

Curran's father, Richard P., is a longtime Democratic activist, and his late mother, Joan, also lent a hand in campaigns.

Extending the family's political activism to a third generation, Curran is chairman of the Ward 3 Democratic Committee and a three-term alderman.

But it is governing and not politics that seems foremost on Curran's mind as the 35-year-old Woburn native, who works as a grant administrator in the Middlesex sheriff's office, prepares to take over the $73,000-a-year mayor's job next month.

While looking forward to his new duties, Curran, who is single and lives with his father, admits he was not entirely prepared for the attention his new status is bringing him.

''It's a little overwhelming,'' he confessed of being noticed and approached everywhere he goes in the city. ''Even though I've been involved in politics ... I've always considered myself somewhat reserved. It will take a little getting used to.''

With cuts in state aid looming, Curran said addressing the city's finances will be his first order of business. He also wants to initiate a revision of the city's master plan, with particular emphasis on affordable housing.

''A lot of the problems some of the suburbs outside of Boston have had with developers, who are exploiting affordable housing laws, is that the communities haven't planned for their own housing needs,'' he said.

Another front-burner issue is the need for a new or renovated high school, Curran said.

''It's no secret that I'm leaning toward a new high school,'' he said. ''The biggest question is how we're going to pay for it.''

Although he backed another candidate in the preliminary election, City Council president Anthony Imperioso said Curran has the skills to be an able mayor.

''He's very knowledgable,'' Imperioso said, noting that Curran's grasp of planning and zoning issues will be a plus at a time of concern about overdevelopment. Curran previously spent four years on the Planning Board.

''I've always been impressed with him,'' Imperioso said. ''He looks at both sides of every issue and doesn't formulate his opinion right away.''

Middlesex Sheriff James V. DiPaola also believes Woburn will be well served by Curran. He said a trip the two took to Washington shortly after Curran was hired showed Curran's abilities as a grant writer. Dropping Curran off in front of the Justice Department at 8 a.m., DiPaola said he told him to go inside and ''don't ask me to come back and get you till you have found me some [grant] money.''

''He called me at 4 in the afternoon and said, `I think I have something,''' DiPaola recalled. Curran later secured an $823,000 grant for the sheriff's office.

''He's a very honest and straight-shooting kid,'' said Michael O. Mills, a longtime friend of Curran's. ''He's somebody you are very comfortable talking with.''

Many say Curran brings an inner strength from having had to deal with a physical challenge. He was born with hemifacial microsoma, a condition in which half of his face was underdeveloped. Over the years, he has undergone about 20 operations to address the birth defect, which has left him with limited vision in one eye and limited hearing in one ear.

Calling Curran a ''profile in courage,'' DiPaola said he has ''overcome the ... obstacle with great commitment, desire, and compassion.''

Curran admitted it wasn't easy having the condition, ''but I'm not going to complain. Like my mother always said, `Everyone has their own cross to bear.' I have it worse than some people, and better than a lot.''

''It [was] a social barrier for me as I grew up,'' Curran recalled. ''In a strange way, getting into politics was for me a way to prove that you don't have to hold yourself back from something, that you don't have to let that kind of thing be an obstacle.''

Curran is one of four children in his family. His father was a retired salesman for direct mail and marketing firms, and his mother was an account clerk for many years at the Woburn post office.

A 1984 graduate of Woburn High School, Curran received a bachelor of art degree in psychology from Boston College in 1988. After graduation, he was hired as a mutual funds analyst for Bank of New England. After his division was sold to Investors Bank and Trust in 1990, he worked for that company, first as a mutual funds analyst and later as a senior funds analyst and a systems analyst. In 1998, he left to take the job with DiPaola.

In 1991, a friend whom he had helped in a legislative race the previous year persuaded Curran to run for alderman at large. Though a 24-year-old political newcomer, Curran campaigned doggedly and topped the ticket.

In his second term, in 1995, Curran ran for an open mayoral seat, but lost in the preliminary. Dever, who claimed the open seat, named Curran to the Planning Board the following year. Curran regained his aldermanic seat in 1999.

Curran said he expects his style as mayor will be similar to his approach as an alderman, which is to ''roll up your sleeves and do the hard work people elected you to do. I don't have a problem with hard work. And I like to see things get done. Some feathers might get ruffled along the way, but it's important we do the right thing for the city.''

This story ran on page 1 of the Boston Globe's NorthWest Weekly section on 11/25/2001.
Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.

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