By Tom Dalton
SALEM — The winds of political change blew across the City Council yesterday as three of the seven incumbents facing challengers went down to defeat in the city election.
School Committee member Kevin Carr scored the upset of the night, grabbing the fourth and final spot in a wildly competitive councilor-at-large race. Fewer than 300 votes separated second and sixth place.
In the process, Carr knocked off two-term Councilor-at-large Steve Pinto, who faced criticism during the campaign for blocking Mayor Kim Driscoll from speaking at a City Council meeting and for opposing the mayor on a critical vote.
In fact, Pinto came in sixth, one spot behind another newcomer, Darek Barcikowski, the owner of a downtown restaurant who has lived in the city less than two years.
There was some normalcy in the councilor-at-large race, however, as veteran Joan Lovely finished first by a wide margin, the fourth time she has topped the ticket.
Former Salem YMCA Director Debbie Amaral made an impressive showing in the School Committee contest, coming in first in her first try at elective office.
Incumbent Nate Bryant was a close second, followed by Jim Fleming, who won his third term on the school board.
There was also encouraging news on the voter front, as 21 percent of registered voters turned out on an unseasonably warm day, a far better showing than the paltry 8 percent turnout in the September preliminary election.
But the big story of the night was change at the City Council.
In Ward 3, newcomer Todd Siegel beat four-term incumbent Jean Pelletier by more than 150 votes.
"I did the work; I knocked on doors," said Siegel, 44, an attorney. "I think (voters) were ready for a change."
Pelletier felt he was hurt by his support, albeit tentative, for a deal to allow more truck traffic at the city's transfer station on Swampscott Road.
They were also ready for a change in Ward 5, where first-time candidate Josh Turiel soundly defeated incumbent Councilor John Ronan, piling up a margin of more than 175 votes. Ronan was the other councilor who used a council rule to block the mayor from addressing councilors during a budget discussion.
Not all was upside down in the councilor-at-large fight, which went back and forth all night as results were posted precinct by precinct at City Hall.
Incumbents Arthur Sargent and Tom Furey finished second and third, respectively, behind Lovely, who was out front by a Secretariat-like 984 votes.
Furey said voters were sick of the bickering and wanted a City Council that could get along and get things done.
"There was a clear message," he said. "A mayor needs cooperation."
Even though he lost, Barcikowski said he was pleased to come in a strong fifth in his first try. He, too, thought voters were demanding change.
"I'm happy because the whole premise of my campaign was to bring change to the City Council," he said. "The City Council desperately needed change."
Carr was celebrating with supporters last night at the Christopher Columbus Society. Even though he has been on the school board for four years, it was a big jump to the council.
"I'm blown away," he said of his victory. "The adrenaline is still pumping."
Lovely was delighted with her overwhelming victory.
"I'm just grateful people recognize that I work hard at the job," she said.
Three-term Councilor Paul Prevey easily beat perennial candidate Ken Sawicki in Ward 6.