“He has definitely left his mark on Salem,” she said.
An official at The Salem Partnership, a government/business lobby, applauded Keenan for a number of efforts to help revitalize the city and downtown.
Keenan also formerly chaired a House tourism committee, another key role for the city.
“It will be a great loss,” said George Atkins, chairman of the Partnership. “John has been a terrific public servant.”
Atkins praised Keenan for taking sometimes unpopular stands, such as his current support of a National Grid transmission upgrade through downtown streets against the wishes of some residents and business leaders, who were pushing for a more costly, but less disruptive, route under Salem Harbor. Several years ago, he also backed the homeless shelter’s move to the former St. Mary’s church property despite strong neighborhood opposition.
“There’s no question he was candid in his public positions,” Atkins said. “And that’s the way I think the job should be done. He took some slings and arrows with that approach, but I think it was the right one.”
Last March, Keenan issued a press release announcing he was weighing a number of options, including running for attorney general or Essex County district attorney.
Although he said he has a campaign war chest of about $150,000, Keenan said a statewide campaign for attorney general would have been difficult, and he abandoned any thought of running for district attorney when DA Jonathan Blodgett indicated he is running for re-election.
“Had he not run, I would have run,” Keenan said.
Keenan ran unsuccessfully for state Senate in 1994 against incumbent Sen. Fred Berry and defeated then-City Councilor Joan Lovely (now the state senator) a decade later in a primary fight to succeed longtime state Rep. Mike Ruane. He breezed to victory in the final election against Republican and Green-Rainbow challengers.