, Salem, MA

January 11, 2013

Heard Around Town: A city council straight from Bizarro World


---- — SALEM — Whether this city knows it or not, we have spent the past week in Bizarro World, a fictional planet straight from the universe of DC Comics.

A lot of strange things have gone on.

Let’s start with the 300 ballots cast last Thursday night by the City Council in a futile effort to elect an 11th member to replace Joan Lovely. For every ballot, the city clerk had to read each councilor’s name, record the same 5-5 tie vote on the ballot and hand it to the council president. That happened 300 times.

Poor Joseph O’Keefe. He presided over the entire mess as the acting council president. Not only did he have to stay up until 3 a.m., which was way past his bedtime, but he stood for all 71/2 hours. The guy is 79 years old. Give him a break.

O’Keefe should be filing a workers’ compensation claim against his fellow councilors. By the way, if you see Joe, wish him a happy birthday. He turns 80 on Sunday.

And poor anybody who tried to watch the entire train wreck on cable television. It was great theater until 1:30 a.m. when the station mysteriously terminated its coverage with an hour still to go of Bizarro World. Anyone crazy enough to stay up that late missed ballots 218 through 300, or whatever.

Apparently, the show was programmed for only six hours because nobody thought an elected body in its right mind would take seven hours to vote.

So if you wondered why someone on your block was screaming at 1:30 a.m. last Friday morning, it was an SATV viewer staring at a blank screen.

For anyone old enough to remember, this brought reminders of the infamous “Heidi Bowl” in 1968, when NBC broke away from the wild finish of a great football game between the Oakland Raiders and New York Jets to show a made-for-TV movie about a hapless orphan.

Anyway, on Monday night, when the council got around to electing a new president, it was all smiles and handshakes as everyone voted for Ward 4 Councilor Jerry Ryan. That was a fine choice. Of course, that wasn’t the original plan, but more a compromise to avoid another migraine-inducing stalemate or, worse, a stampede on City Hall by citizens carrying pitchforks and torches.

But there was something equally bizarre about Monday night. When councilors cast their votes, many dramatically announced that they were voting for Jerry Lincoln Ryan. The word “Lincoln” was said with great emphasis and importance.

Ryan’s middle name, it turns out, is “Lincoln” in honor of Abraham Lincoln, our 16th president. But that wasn’t his parents’ original plan.

“I was born Jerry Ryan,” he said. “At some point, I don’t know how old I was, my mother let me choose my middle name.” He guesses it had something to do with getting a Social Security card or some other legal document.

He chose Lincoln because he was born on Feb. 12, Lincoln’s birthday, and always loved Honest Abe.

Which brings up an idea. Maybe if all the councilors had middle names of former presidents, it would produce a more serious and friendlier City Council that, instead of confrontation, would seek conciliation and compromise.

Why can’t we give it a try?

Wouldn’t it be great to turn on SATV and watch Mike “Eisenhower” Sosnowski yukking it up with Thomas “Fillmore” Furey? Why couldn’t Paul “Polk” Prevey shake hands with Kevin “Coolidge” Carr?

And don’t we deserve a city councilor named Arthur “Arthur” Sargent?

If Jerry Ryan can do it, why can’t the rest of them?

A modest proposal

The next order city councilors file should be a request to raise the pay of City Clerk Cheryl LaPointe and Assistant City Clerk Ilene Simons. They deserve combat pay for sitting through, not to mention recording, the entire 71/2 hours of madness.

Tom Dalton can be reached at