By Alan Burke
---- — PEABODY — Mayor Ted Bettencourt gave a crowded Wiggin Auditorium an update on his ambitious agenda last night. It was all part of the ceremony that saw him sworn in for his second term. The City Council, School Committee, Library Trustees and the Municipal Light Plant also took their oaths.
“Peabody is on the rise,” the mayor told the gathering, which filled most of the floor and some of the balcony seats. Among those attending were U.S. Rep. John Tierney (D-Salem), District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett, state Sen. Joan Lovely (D-Salem) and state Rep. Ted Speliotis, the democrat who represents Danvers and parts of Peabody.
“Great progress has been made,” said Bettencourt, “but there is much more work to be done.”
He set two goals for the future, spurring economic development and “renewing pride in Peabody.”
Bettencourt, who had no opposition in getting re-elected last November, took the oath from Tierney. He cited a number of initiatives launched during his first two-year term, including the approval of the new $92 million Higgins Middle School, “A priority of mine since I first announced I would run for mayor.” Ground will soon be broken on the project, he said, and more than half of the cost will be paid by the state.
In addition, he pointed to the realignment of traffic in the downtown.
“The early reviews are in, and they are overwhelming positive,” he said, while conceding that traffic has slowed. “We will continue to make adjustments.”
Also, he cited efforts to attract a boutique hotel at 9 Main St. in Peabody Square and, at the same time, populate the now-vacant upper floors of the adjacent building.
“These two projects alone hold the promise of injecting millions of dollars into the heart of Peabody Square,” he said.
A change in zoning is geared to bringing new life to Centennial Park. Bettencourt noted that he attended a groundbreaking for a new building there and was given a ceremonial shovel. That led him to depart from his text and recall the dozens of gleaming stainless-steel shovels that former Mayor Peter Torigian once had decorating his office.
“Peter Torigian set the all-time record in man’s history for shovels,” he joked. “I’ll never reach his record. But I’m happy to get my first shovel.”
Meanwhile, Bettencourt has set in motion plans to restore West Peabody’s Crystal Lake and Elginwood Pond, while installing a new artificial turf field at the high school. The former Holy Cross basketball star added, “Having been raised in a family that stressed the importance of playing sports, being active and staying out of trouble, I want Peabody to continue to be a place where kids have many great opportunities to play and have fun every day.”
Flood control will continue to be a priority, he said, with a retention basin recently completed between the middle school and Centennial Park.
“This project will not solve our flooding problem,” he said, though it “represents a significant step in the right direction.”
The city continues to have an AA1 bond rating, he said, and while taxes have gone up for some, “Peabody residents continue to pay among the lowest tax rates, not in Essex County, but in all of Massachusetts.”
Projects like the restoration of the 19th century City Hall’s roof contributes to instilling pride in Peabody citizens, he said. “We will embrace the values and traditions that all Peabody citizens hold dear.”
The mayor saluted his family, including his parents, his wife and three young daughters. Declaring that he was blessed to have such a wonderful family, he departed from his text here, too, asking, “Aren’t I a lucky man?”
The City Council, sworn in by City Clerk Tim Spanos, named veteran councilor Bob Driscoll its new president with colleague Anne Manning Martin making the nomination, praising “the calm, reasoned and seasoned voice he has afforded the city over the past decades.” The selection of president is done on a rotating basis.
Similarly, the School Committee named member Jarrod Hochman as its vice-chairman. He will lead meetings should the chairman, Mayor Bettencourt, be absent.
The Rev. Joel Anderle of Community Covenant Church offered the invocation, asking that the work of all the city’s workers be blessed. Numerous veterans groups attended. Music was provided by the high school concert band, led by Jason Jones, and the high school chorale, which earned a standing ovation after director Jon Simmons led it in “God Bless America.”