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March 16, 2013

How the senior center was saved

Last-minute negotiating with Salem mayor led council president to change his mind on project

SALEM — City Council President Jerry Ryan walked into Wednesday night’s meeting about the senior center ready to vote against the project.

But over the next 24 hours, he suggested and negotiated three amendments with Mayor Kim Driscoll to make the project more palatable to him and ended up voting in favor of it at Thursday night’s council meeting.

The effort saved the project altogether.

So how did it all come about?

“If you had told me a week ago I would be voting yes on this, I would have said you were crazy,” Ryan said yesterday. “You can’t dig your heels in sometimes.

“Sometimes you have to, but sometimes you have to do what’s best for the city of Salem.

“This was one of the best things I’ve done on the council, to be able to get this turned around.”

Mayor Kim Driscoll needed eight of the 11 councilors to approve a $4.9 million bond — the final OK needed to build a community/senior center as part of a private/public development at Boston and Bridge streets.

Seven councilors had said they planned to vote in favor of the financing package at the conclusion of a nearly four-hour, standing-room-only meeting Wednesday night. The remaining four councilors were either opposed or declined to say where they stood.

“We certainly did not have a good feeling Wednesday night that this was going to move forward,” said Driscoll, who advocated heavily for the senior center. “(Ryan) indicated he still had reservations but wanted to work out a way to get to ‘yes.’ We were able to, throughout the course of Thursday, work on some solutions and reach an accord.”

Ryan said he took notes throughout the Wednesday night session and called Driscoll on Thursday morning with three suggested amendments:

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