DANVERS — The usually sedate North Shore Chamber of Commerce annual dinner received a jolt last night in the form of a protest outside the CoCo Key Hotel, where U.S. Sen. Scott Brown spoke last night.
About 40 teachers, firefighters, activists and unemployed people staged a small protest across the road from the hotel's grounds, rallying in the cold against the Republican junior senator's vote last week to block the $35 billion Teachers and First Responders Back to Work bill in the U.S. Senate.
Police from Danvers and Middleton kept the half-hour, boisterous but peaceful protest away from the hotel, containing it off the former Sheraton Ferncroft's grounds on the opposite side of Village Drive from the hotel's main entrance. There was also a heavy police presence inside the hotel during the gathering.
At least two women in the protest were identified as Peabody teachers, but they declined to speak with a Salem News reporter.
"Scott Brown, green jobs now," they chanted. They held signs that said "Scott Brown: Stop Voting Against Jobs!"
"Scott Brown went to Washington, D.C., promising to represent ordinary people," said Ted Chambers, a teacher at Edwards Middle School in Charlestown, "and he has been straight down the line on Republican votes on the side of big bankers, hedge fund managers and multi-, multi-billionaires."
"Just because he drives a pickup truck, doesn't mean he understands people like us," Lynn firefighter Matthew Reddy said.
Reddy was referring to the signature ad of Brown's campaign last year that featured him driving a pickup truck across the state, racking up miles and stumping for votes.
Inside the ballroom where the dinner was held, the former state senator from Wrentham worked the room for more than an hour, greeting many of the 525 attendees of the chamber's 93rd annual dinner who turned out to see him.
"People said, 'Scott, we'll get you right out of here," Brown said during his remarks. "I said, 'Why, I only have the cat at home.'"
In a brief interview before his remarks, Brown said he was unaware of the protest forming outside, as he was busy greeting those inside. When asked why he voted against the "Back to Work" bill, Brown said he wasn't going to vote for a measure that would raise taxes in the middle of a three-year recession, something he called "a job killer."
The bill, part of President Obama's jobs plan that has stalled on Capitol Hill, called for $30 billion to create or save 400,000 education jobs, $5 billion for first-responder jobs and a tax hike in the form of a 0.5 percent surtax for those making $1 million or more.
The Senate blocked the measure with a 50-50 vote, short of the 60 needed to break a filibuster, according to news reports. Opposition came from all Senate Republicans and three Senate Democrats.
"That bill was defeated in a bipartisan manner," Brown said. "There were Democrats who voted against it."
Brown added that Washington can do better and that both sides of the aisle need to work together.
"We should take the things we agree on and get them out the door and stop with the political theater," Brown said.
In his remarks, Brown said he was a former chamber member in other communities and spoke about the challenge of doing business in a tough climate. He told the crowd he appreciated coming to chamber meetings and greeting those whom he called the job creators in Massachusetts.
He also emphasized his North Shore roots, having grown up in Wakefield, with a father who lives on Plum Island and a sister who lived in Peabody.
"I know this area very, very well. If you read my book, I had some pretty good experiences up at the Liberty Tree Mall when I was younger," Brown said to laughs, referring to a shoplifting incident when he was young that brought him before the late Judge and former Salem Mayor Sam Zoll.
"Thank you, Judge Zoll," Brown said, saying Zoll set him on the right track.
Brown then took a dig at those who have blamed big business for the country's woes.
"I promise you this, I will never demonize you as business leaders or business owners, for the work you do or the opportunities that you create, because I think we should not be blaming you, we should be thanking you for everything you try to do to get us out of this economic mess," Brown said to a round of applause.
In contrast to the message of the protest outside, Brown said: "Job creation has been and will remain my No. 1 priority; it always has been."
Last night's dinner also marked the first time the North Shore Chamber gave out its Distinguished Leadership Awards. Members honored inventor, engineer and philanthropist Bernard Gordon, the founder of Analogic Corp. of Peabody and the founder and chairman of Neurologica in Danvers; Diane Stringer, the president and CEO of Hospice of the North Shore and Greater Boston of Danvers; Brian Cranney, president of Cranney Companies of Danvers; Fran Dichner, owner and president of R&L Associates of Beverly; and Paul Lanzikos, executive director of North Shore Elder Services in Danvers.
"These are some truly amazing philanthropic endeavors and also business endeavors," said Brown, who handed the awards to the honorees in a brief ceremony before his speech.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @DanverSalemNews.