SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

October 24, 2013

Mayoral candidates debate for final time

BY PAUL LEIGHTON
STAFF WRITER

---- — BEVERLY — Mike Cahill and Wes Slate debated for the third and final time last night before the Nov. 5 election, making one last pitch to voters about who is the best man to lead the city in a time of major transition.

Cahill promised that he will be an inclusive leader who will get many people involved in shaping the direction of the city, while Slate touted his knowledge of city government and his determination to work hard at the job.

The two candidates are vying to replace Bill Scanlon, who is not seeking re-election after 18 years in office.

Last night’s forum was run by 30 & Main, a committee of Beverly Main Streets whose members are ages 18 to 40. About 200 people attended the event in the high school auditorium.

Slate and Cahill answered seven questions from a panel and did not have any contentious exchanges.

Slate, the Ward 2 city councilor, said his six years on the council should be more significant to voters than Cahill’s “two-year bounce-through with us,” referring to Cahill’s one term as City Council president.

“I understand this job and can do it on day one,” Slate said of the mayor’s position. “I know how this city works, what its strengths and challenges are.”

Cahill, the city’s former state representative, said he wants to be part of the “generational change” in leadership that has taken place in other communities on the North Shore.

“My experience working at all levels of government has given me the knowledge to get us what we need as a city,” he said.

Slate, who is 63, said the 51-year-old Cahill is trying to convince voters that they are from different generations. But Slate said he has a brother who is younger than Cahill, “so we’re the same generation.”

In response to a question about the school district’s low ranking in a recent Boston Magazine story, Cahill said he would spend more time in the schools as mayor and start summer learning and early literacy programs with the help of nonprofits and businesses.

“There’s a lot of greatness that goes every day in our schools, but we know we can and should do better,” he said.

Slate said the schools have experienced a “vacuum in leadership” with the departure of the superintendent and assistant superintendent.

He said it’s important to hire a new superintendent who is a “very dynamic leader and the biggest cheerleader for our schools.”

Both candidates said they would emphasize transparency in their administrations, by improving the city’s website, taking advantage of social media and tracking responses to citizens’ requests.

Cahill said he and his department heads would go out into the neighborhoods to meet with people.

When asked about competing against Salem and Peabody in attracting businesses, Slate said he would hire a full-time economic development person.

Cahill said he would like to do the same but couldn’t promise “to do it overnight” because of the cost involved.

Asked to rank the condition of the downtown’s sidewalks, city buildings and parking lots on a scale of one to 10, Slate said he would give a “C-plus for effort,” while Cahill said he would give it a ranking of “3 or 4.”

Both said the city’s public services department does a good job but is understaffed.

The forum also included statements by Ward 2 City Council candidates Bryant Ayles and Estelle Rand; Ward 3 City Council candidates Scott Hunt and incumbent Jim Latter; and at-large candidates Paul Guanci, Todd Murphy, Todd Rotondo, Matt St. Hilaire and Jason Silva. Guanci and Silva are incumbents.

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com.