BEVERLY — When Bill Scanlon announced that he was running for mayor in 1993, former state Rep. Fran Alexander turned to her son and said, “Who is this guy?”
“No one knew him,” said Tom Alexander, recalling the story yesterday. “He probably had a recognition rating of 4 percent when he started out.”
Over the next two decades, Scanlon rose from a relative unknown to become the city’s dominant political force, leading the city with a combination of Harvard/MIT smarts and his native Dorchester toughness.
“He changed the political landscape of Beverly in a number of significant ways,” said Alexander, a longtime Scanlon supporter. “He certainly has cast a big shadow.”
When Scanlon decided to run for mayor, he was a 53-year-old executive at the United Shoe Machinery Corp. who was best-known as the man charged with laying off employees as the company was being phased out. He had been inside Beverly City Hall exactly twice.
But with the city facing an $8 million deficit and political upheaval, voters were drawn to his outsider status, as well as his executive experience and educational background, which includes a master’s degree from Harvard Business School and an engineering degree from MIT.
“The crisis kind of created the opportunity, but Bill had to fulfill the opportunity,” said Bruce Nardella, who was the City Council president for Scanlon’s first two terms. “He had a résumé that fit the bill, so people were willing to take a shot with him.”
Nardella said the City Council spent the first two years saying no to Scanlon’s proposals because the city didn’t have the money. But once the city regained its financial footing, Scanlon’s methodology of paying for projects through “appropriate” commercial and industrial growth began taking hold.
Nardella said Scanlon’s managerial skills first became apparent when the city renovated all of its elementary schools on time and on budget. Meanwhile, Scanlon led the way in negotiating a controversial tax break for Cummings Properties to renovate the closed United Shoe complex on Elliott Street.