PEABODY — When a young Peabody city councilor was asked to take a vote shutting down a cherished local institution, he was faced with a packed hall of angry people. Dave Gamache looked the shouting protesters in the eye and took the vote in 1991 to close the J.B. Thomas Hospital.
Afterward, he recalls, some friends promised they would never speak to him again.
“It was the right thing to do,” Gamache says today. “The J.B. Thomas Hospital was a sieve.” It’s since been replaced by the Lahey Clinic and the councilor has gone on making controversial votes intended to help the city. “You grow a thick skin. You make a friend — you make an enemy — every time you take a vote.”
Gamache, 52, can take the long view after 24 years as a councilor and after telling his colleagues at last Thursday’s meeting that he won’t be running for re-election in November.
“I’ve still got 11 months,” he is quick to say. “I still look forward to getting some things done.”
A Peabody native, Gamache made two unsuccessful runs for the council before winning a spot as ward councilor at age 28. On Thursday his colleagues praised his knowledge of zoning law, a thing they grew to rely on, according to member Anne Manning-Martin.
“It’s been great working with you, Dave,” added councilor Jim Liacos. “We’ve lost a leader, a friend.”
“You always put the needs of the city first,” said councilor Barry Osborne.
Gamache is quick to acknowledge that he’s often been seen as friendly to development and commerce. “I am pro-business, yes I am. But only when the area is zoned for business. ... Those are the people who reduce the residential tax rate.”
And when asked to name his proudest achievements on the council, Gamache rattles off a long list of the projects he had a hand in permitting, many on Route 1. “We redefined Route 1,” he says. “Probably 95 percent of the properties that have gone up on Route 1 I had something to do with.”