By Bethany Bray
---- — SALEM — Roughly one hour into Thursday night’s City Council meeting, the board took a vote to fill its councilor-at-large vacancy. The ballot was a draw, with five councilors backing Steve Pinto and five councilors backing Lucy Corchado.
Except for one short-lived attempt at compromise, the board continued to take that tie vote, over and over, for the next seven hours.
The board recessed at 2:25 a.m. without making a decision, despite taking 300 votes. The council will resume the meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 93 Washington St.
Ultimately, the council’s pick will fill a one-year vacancy created by Joan Lovely, who stepped down from the council and was sworn into the state Senate on Wednesday. She had served one year of a councilor-at-large term that goes through December 2013.
Six residents had submitted letters of interest to fill Lovely’s vacancy.
In addition to former councilors Pinto and Corchado, the candidate pool included William Legault, a freelance writer and personal trainer who is well-known around town; Chris Sicuranza, director of communications for the New England Police Benevolent Association; Robert Wright, a college teacher with a lengthy background in state government; and Ken Sawicki, who has run unsuccessfully for multiple offices.
This week’s meeting came to order at 7 p.m. Thursday and recessed at 2:25 a.m. Friday.
After the first vote was taken, the meeting quickly became a stalemate. It was clear that none of the councilors backing Pinto would be changing their votes, and none of the councilors backing Corchado would be voting for Pinto.
The little discussion councilors had between votes was on procedure, not on the candidates.
The board took the same 5-5 vote over and over for hours, with councilors Robert McCarthy, Joseph O’Keefe, Josh Turiel, Kevin Carr and Tom Furey voting for Corchado; and Jerry Ryan, Arthur Sargent, Paul Prevey, Michael Sosnowski and Todd Siegel voting for Pinto.
Around 9:30 p.m., after ballot 75, Carr called for compromise and put his support behind William Legault. Furey voted for Legault with Carr for one ballot, but the attempt still fell short of the six votes needed for a majority.
Carr voted for Legault for five ballots, but resumed voting for Corchado when it became clear the board wasn’t going for his compromise.
“What happened last night was an embarrassment,” Carr said yesterday afternoon. “I proposed a compromise last night and it fell on deaf ears ... I was embarrassed by the behavior of some of my fellow councilors, the laughing, the joking. We owe the voters of Salem, to serve them with dignity and respect and that was not the case at times last night.”
Pinto served four years as a councilor-at-large before losing his bid for re-election in 2011.
Corchado is an activist in the city’s Point neighborhood and Ward 1 councilor from 2004 to 2007.
Those voting for Pinto lauded his work ethic, devotion to the city and ability to “hit the ground running,” having attended meetings and kept tabs on city issues since leaving office.
Other councilors backed Corchado because she said she won’t run for re-election after serving the one year of Lovely’s term. Selecting a candidate who would run for office would give them a leg up in the next election, they argued.
“I will not grant someone incumbency tonight,” said Carr. “To do so is a slap in the face of the electorate.”
The council chambers were packed to standing room only at the start of the meeting. The crowd slowly thinned as the proceedings stretched into the wee hours of the morning.
Corchado, Pinto, Legault and Sawicki stayed until the meeting’s end. At one point, late into the evening, Sicuranza raised his voice out of frustration and challenged the councilors to “be leaders” and “find a solution.”
The council took a brief recess to stretch their legs — and allow City Clerk Cheryl Lapointe to print more ballots — several times through the evening. Someone had a pizza delivered, others brought in coffee. Lapointe and her assistant passed around candy and snacks.
At one point, Ryan stood up and asked, jokingly, if Lovely could withdraw her resignation.
After the 200th ballot, McCarthy and Turiel began making motions to recess and resume the proceedings on Tuesday, after councilors and candidates had a weekend to think things over.
Their suggestions failed, repeatedly, to get a majority vote of the council.
“Nothing is changing. We’re deadlocked. Clearly, we’re not going to get a majority of the council,” said Turiel, who became visibly frustrated as the meeting wore on. “... We’re just wasting our time and embarrassing the body (the council).”
Other councilors argued the board needs its full 11-member complement for its reorganization meeting on Monday, at which a council president is elected.
“It would be disrespectful to everyone in this room to stop and restart,” said Siegel.
It was only when one of the Pinto supporters, Prevey, made a 2:25 a.m. motion to recess did the idea get a majority vote.
“At this point, we have pushed ourselves to the limit,” Prevey said. “We’re doing nothing here, at this point ... (We’re) beyond rational thinking at this point.”
Bethany Bray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.