BY TOM DALTON STAFF WRITER
The Salem News
---- — SALEM — Former City Councilor Lucy Corchado has emerged as a possible candidate to succeed City Council President Joan Lovely, who announced that she will step down in January after her landslide election this week to the Massachusetts Senate.
Corchado, a former Ward 1 councilor and Point neighborhood activist, said yesterday that she would be willing to fill out the remaining year of Lovely’s two-year term as a councilor-at-large.
“I have been approached by some folks,” she said. “... I would be interested, yes.”
The unexpected emergence of Corchado, who served from 2004 to 2007, throws one more name into a mad scramble to fill Lovely’s seat.
So far, most of the talk has focused on former Councilor-at-large Steve Pinto, who was knocked out of office a year ago after serving four years, and restaurant owner Darek Barcikowski, who is active in local and national politics but has never held public office in Salem. He was the runner-up in last year’s councilor-at-large election.
In that race, Lovely topped the ticket and was one of four councilors elected to at-large seats. Barcikowski came in just out of the running in fifth place, with Pinto close behind in sixth.
Both Pinto and Barcikowski said yesterday that they are eyeing the seat.
“Yes, I’m interested, absolutely,” said Pinto, who reportedly has strong support from several current councilors.
Barcikowski, who was Lovely’s campaign manager in the recent state Senate campaign, said, “I have made my intentions known to councilors that if the opportunity were to arise, I would be honored to fill Joan’s seat.”
Behind the scenes, there is a lot of maneuvering and lobbying under way, and also a search for precedents or traditions that might guide the vote.
Should it go to the runner-up in the last election, the precedent used in filling a recent School Committee vacancy? Should it go to a veteran councilor who will not seek re-election? Should it go to the best-qualified person, whether he or she has held office or not?
“The way I read the (city) charter, there is no precedent,” Ward 3 Councilor Todd Siegel said. “The charter makes it perfectly clear I can vote for whomever I want.”
A city ordinance says a councilor-at-large vacancy is filled by a majority vote of the remaining members of the City Council. In this case, 10 councilors will be eligible to vote, meaning the winner will need six votes.
In at least two past instances, the City Council has chosen a former councilor.
That happened in 2006, when former Councilor Mark Blair replaced Ward 6 Councilor Mike Bencal, who resigned in the wake of an ethics violation. In that case, Blair pledged not to run for re-election, a fact that several councilors said influenced their decision to support him.
In 1985, former Councilor John Butler was picked to fill in for Jean-Marie Rochna, who left to head the Salem Council on Aging. Although Butler said the vote was not contingent on his not running again, he did not seek re-election.
The current Ward 4 Councilor, Jerry Ryan, said he remembers that vote well. Butler is his uncle.
Ryan said he “most likely” will follow the precedent of selecting a former councilor.
Ward 7 Councilor Joe O’Keefe, the council dean, said he expects to support Barcikowski — at least in the first round of voting — because he was the runner-up in last year’s election and the next qualified candidate in line.
“If he cannot secure the necessary six votes, I would offer in nomination Lucy Corchado as an interim,” O’Keefe said. “I believe it would be wise and prudent for us to think about Lucy if we were at loggerheads. She assures me she would not run for re-election” in the next city election.
Barcikowski said he has spoken to several councilors about the decision and has been led to believe that the 2011 election results will be a key factor.
“Most of the city councilors I have spoken to are looking at last year’s election ... whether it’s myself or Steve Pinto,” he said. “... That’s again based on my conversations with them. That’s my understanding — they’re looking at last year’s election.”
Of course, between now and January, other candidates and issues are likely to emerge.
One factor, for example, brought up by several people yesterday is that when Lovely departs, there will be no women on the 11-member body. That could force councilors to take a hard look at any of several former female councilors.
Tom Dalton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.