Yvonne Spicer’s next challenge: Leading a new city
FRAMINGHAM — You can excuse Yvonne Spicer if she seems a little busy these days.
This past Monday, Spicer, a longtime executive with the Museum of Science, was in Boston, meeting with Senator Elizabeth Warren and US Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III at a gathering of newly elected local officials. The following day, Spicer went to Worcester to give the keynote address at a state summit on science, math, and technical education.
Then she headed to Framingham, where she’s overseeing the historic transformation of the state’s largest town into its newest city. A city where Spicer, 55, will be sworn into office as its first mayor Jan. 1.
“The day-to-day has been a whirlwind,” said Spicer, who has also found time to meet residents since her Nov. 7 win. “But it’s also going throughout our community and saying, ‘thank you.’ ”
Spicer won Framingham’s first mayoral election with 9,128 votes against John Stefanini, a former state representative, who had 6,457 votes. Spicer won 16 of Framingham’s 18 precincts, and 58 percent of votes cast for mayor.
A lifelong educator, Spicer holds bachelor and graduate degrees from the State University of New York Oswego, plus a doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts Boston.
She first came to Framingham in 1985, after she was offered a job she originally didn’t want: teaching woodworking to middle schoolers. She credits her late mother, Dorothy, for encouraging her to take the job.
“She said, ‘Yvonne, if that woodworking in that middle school is your Achilles heel, get in there and master it,’ ” Spicer recalled her mother saying. “Once again, it goes back to Dorothy Spicer, the smartest woman I know: Never be afraid of a challenge.”
Spicer grew up in Brooklyn, the third of four children to Dorothy and Willie Spicer. Neither of her parents had attended high school, but both strongly encouraged their children to work toward a good education.
When she was 10, her father died. Spicer remembers her mother taking on two or three jobs at a time — including working in restaurants and cleaning houses — to pay for school and activities, and to be sure her children had every opportunity to excel.
During summers as a girl, Spicer would help her mother clean homes. It also was a chance for the two to spend time together, and gave the young Spicer a look at the lives of others. She recalled one beautiful Upper East Side penthouse they visited in the 1970s.
“I used to say to my mother, ‘How would we ever live in a place like this?’” Spicer recalled. “And she would say, ‘Just get a good education, baby, and your life will be good for you.’ ”
Spicer went to a Catholic middle school and graduated from Brooklyn Tech High School.
After college, Spicer worked for 16 years as a teacher and administrator in the Framingham public schools. She also ran her own real estate business for about a decade, ending it in the mid-1990s to pursue her doctoral degree.
She worked for two years on science, math, and technical education policy at the state’s education department, then five years as Newton’s director for career and technical education. She has spent about a decade at the Museum of Science as vice president of advocacy and educational partnerships at the museum’s National Center for Technological Literacy.
Spicer doesn’t yet know where the new mayor’s office will be located, but she is already diving into the details of turning a town of about 68,000 into a city.
She has begun meeting with department heads and Framingham’s future city councilors, who were also elected this month. Spicer said her top priorities include producing a draft strategic plan for the new city and to hold public meetings so she can speak directly with residents.
She also wants to add a director of neighborhood services to serve as a liaison with residents. Eventually, Spicer will have to make about 160 appointments to new boards and commissions within the new city government.
There will be some holdovers — Robert Halpin, the town manager, will remain as a consultant until June — and some of the new city councilors and School Committee members previously served on town boards.
The future city has long been divided between a more affluent north — complete with Shoppers World and large employers like TJX and Staples — and a more industrial south with a downtown consisting of small shops and local businesses. More than one-quarter of residents were born outside the United States.
Spicer sees her background — a child of working-class parents, an African-American woman with advanced degrees in technology fields who worked as a teacher and administrator, and also who ran her own business — as symbolic of the kind of bridge-building she wants to focus on as mayor.
She’s already begun, by sneaking off between planned events on her schedule.
“I go into a coffee shop just to say thank you to people,” Spicer said. “It’s my way of getting out into the community.”