, Salem, MA

January 8, 2014

Our view: In our cities, high hopes

The Salem News

---- — Inaugural addresses, ultimately, are about hope.

For the region’s mayors, inauguration day is a chance to start fresh, to tout successes and lay out priorities for the new term. If Monday’s speeches were any indication, it will be an ambitious few years on the North Shore. While much has been accomplished, there is still plenty of work to be done.

In Salem, Mayor Kim Driscoll, who won a third term handily against token opposition, listed a litany of projects either proposed or already underway in the busiest city on the North Shore:

“A new power plant to lower regional carbon admissions, free up acres of developable property on our waterfront and improve public access to our harbor ... a university residence hall that will take hundreds of students out of our residential neighborhoods ... an expanded wharf, trading coal ships for cruise ships and opening up public access to parts of the waterfront that had been closed to us for generations .., congestion alleviation on some streets — and traffic calming elsewhere ... a beautiful new community life center of the quality our seniors so richly deserve.”

In Peabody, Mayor Ted Bettencourt rightly talked of “a city on the rise.”

Bettencourt, who was unopposed in his bid for a second term, spoke of progress in remaking the city’s downtown, which included a $1.9 million Main Street realignment project designed to make the area safer for pedestrians and more attractive for shoppers and those looking for a dinner out.

“The early reviews are in, and they are overwhelmingly positive,” Bettencourt said Monday. “Traffic flow is indeed slower — perhaps too slow for some and we will need to make adjustments where needed — pedestrians are safer, and the area looks more inviting than it has in years.”

The renewed attention to downtown has attracted a new round of development, with interest in a boutique hotel on Peabody Square and the redevelopment of an adjacent property that will bring more housing to the area.

“These two projects alone hold the promise of injecting millions of dollars into the heart of Peabody Square,” he said. The new year, he said, will see work begin on the $92 million Higgins Middle School project, the reclamation of Crystal Lake and Elginwood Pond, and the restoration of the historic City Hall and Peabody Institute Library.

Beverly’s new mayor, Michael Cahill, focused less on construction work and more on openness during his speech, promising an “open and inclusive” era of city government.

“As I take office today, I believe that I have some good ideas — and that so do each and every one of you,” the former state representative and city councilor told the citizens of Beverly Monday “That’s why I believe so strongly that we will shape the best future possible for Beverly by doing it together.”

At Monday’s inauguration, Cahill, who bested City Councilor Wes Slate in November, announced the formation of a committee to address the concerns of residents and businesses affected by the impending repaving of Rantoul Street later this year and promised his administration will hold a series of community meetings this year “on various topics and projects.”

The talk of openness was an indirect reference to Cahill’s predecessor, William Scanlon, whose strong leadership during his 18 years in office transformed the city for the better but drew criticism from those who felt left out of the decision-making.

Cahill, fortunately, understands the need for “meaningful and appropriate new economic growth” to protect and improve quality of life and keep tax bills in check.

One area that could have used more attention in all three speeches was the deepening problem of local poverty. The number of people in poverty on the North Shore has increased by 20 percent over the last decade, according to the United Way. More than half of the people in poverty on the North Shore live in Salem (25 percent), Beverly (17 percent) and Peabody (16 percent).

While the mayors and their municipal governments didn’t cause the problem, it’s incumbent upon them to help solve it, through improved cooperation and coordination between communities, through continued economic growth, improved transportation systems, additional housing and, as Driscoll touched upon in her speech, through a commitment to education:

“Without a quality education,” she said, “we condemn the next generation to fewer choices and more poverty.”

Here’s hoping 2014 brings an improvement in the lives of all the cities’ constituencies.