This is the first of four profiles of the Democratic candidates for state Senate in the 2nd Essex District. The nominee will be elected in the Democratic primary on Thursday, Sept. 6.
SALEM — Edward Carroll doesn’t mince words. Either you like his platform, his ideas, his blunt way of speaking, or you don’t — the 72-year-old retiree from Salem isn’t about to change.
“I’m just an old guy,” he said with a smile, “but I have a lot to say.”
Carroll is running against three fellow Democrats to replace Sen. Fred Berry, who has represented the 2nd Essex District on Beacon Hill for the past 30 years.
Unlike his more politically polished opponents — all of whom are lawyers and tout their experience in office — Carroll seems to hold his lack of political qualifications up like a badge of honor. He doesn’t have any education beyond high school (St. Mary’s Boys High School in Lynn); he has more than once responded with a blank stare when asked to weigh in on specific policy proposals or programs, and he brags that he’s not fundraising or accepting any endorsements.
Asked if he views himself as conservative or progressive when it comes to fiscal or social issues, he balked.
“I don’t know what any of those terms mean,” he said. “I can’t really define myself. If it’s wrong, I’ll go after it.”
Carroll is, in essence, running as the anti-politician, an outsider with big ideas, common sense and a personality to get things done.
“I’m just an ordinary guy like them,” he said of voters. “I want to see the district flourish, and I have the leadership skills based on all my work experience and the courage to get us through.”
School of hard knocks
Before retiring seven years ago, Carroll worked for 25 years as a correctional officer in Lawrence and then at Middleton Jail.
He is quick to tell stories about his days walking the cell blocks, negotiating tight situations with inmates, and being forced to make tough decisions and think quickly to keep the jail safe and running smoothly.
Despite his friendly demeanor, he can shift gears quickly when making a point, his stare focusing and his voice becoming more imposing — as you might expect from an Army veteran turned corrections officer.
“Politics is about leadership. If you take steps forward, people will follow you. I found leadership in the jail itself,” he said. “I was going against people bigger and tougher than me.”
Carroll did make a brief foray into politics in the 1990s, serving one term on the Governor’s Council before losing to former Lawrence Mayor Patricia Dowling in 1994. He said he ran for the spot because it seemed be a good launching point for a political career.
In 1998, he considered a run for Essex County sheriff, but instead assisted Michael Phelan in his unsuccessful run against current Sheriff Frank Cousins. When Phelan lost, “I was completely despondent,” Carroll said. “I said, ‘No more politics.’”
But he saw the opportunity of running for an open Senate seat as too alluring to pass up.
“I saw only three people stepping forward in this very political district,” he said. “I kept watching the papers and nothing was being said, especially about the (Salem Harbor Station) site.”
When Carroll got into the race, he said, that changed.
The casino plan
Carroll’s signature — and essentially only — campaign issue has been his proposal to build a hotel and casino complex at the site of Salem power plant. A firm from New Jersey recently purchased the site and plans to build a natural gas-fired plant.
“No gas plant. It will be an expense to us in the long run, and we don’t need it,” Carroll said. “I want all the land there for this (casino) project.”
Carroll’s vision includes a dock for big cruise ships (which is also part of the current plan) and a new trolley system feeding into Danvers, Beverly and Peabody to bring tourists in and out. He also advocates making more of downtown Salem pedestrian-only, while constructing a bigger road to take cars to the casino. He has not specified how the property would be obtained or who would build the casino.
It’s an ambitious, overwhelming and some say completely unrealistic plan. His opponents — John Slattery, Mary-Ellen Manning and Joan Lovely — have largely ignored it. But Carroll has doubled down. It’s the only issue discussed on his campaign website, and he brings it up over and over at debates as a way to lower property taxes, create jobs and fix the local economy.
Carroll said he got his casino idea while watching a show about Monaco on the Travel Channel. The yachts parked in the bay, the luxurious boardwalks and upscale stores, the mom-and-pop shops, and restaurants just off the main strip, with Cabot and Rantoul streets in Beverly being a restaurant hub of the area — that’s what could be, he said.
“Salem could be our little Monaco right here,” he said.