SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

May 24, 2013

Benton: Little re-election challenge for local mayors

The late House Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill once famously declared that all politics is local. But that doesn’t mean voters in places like Salem or Peabody enjoy the obstructionism that has hampered progress on the municipal level any more than they do the crass partisanship that’s divided the legislative and executive branches in Washington, D.C.

Which may help explain recent developments as the North Shore’s three cities prepare for their elections in the fall.

Two of the three incumbent mayors — Salem’s Kim Driscoll and Peabody’s Ted Bettencourt — will be up for re-election. Neither at this point faces a significant challenge.

Though Bettencourt is only in his second year as chief executive, both are regarded as strong administrators and savvy politicians. But they also benefit from the fact that the pool of potential challengers in terms of sitting city councilors and school committee people is pretty thin.

You can’t be an effective mayor if you can’t say no to people, which is something both city councils and the Peabody School Committee in particular have a hard time doing. Nor do you win points these days for being against something — say Driscoll’s appointments to the Salem Board of Health — simply for the sake for thwarting the mayor’s will. (Members of the opposition on the council are loathe to state publicly what they find objectionable about her choices.)

Hence, as well, the emergence of strong challengers to two of the most notorious nabobs of negativity (to use a phrase coined by another deceased politician, former Nixon Vice President Spiro T. Agnew) in both Salem and Peabody.

In the Witch City, veteran Ward 2 Councilor Mike Sosnowski faces the fight of his career against political novice Heather Famico (whose Facebook page, by the way, features a fabulous photo of the rampant eagle that adorns the old custom house on Central Street). Meanwhile the representative of Peabody’s Ward 2, Arthur Athas, is being challenged by a veteran of that city’s political wars, Peter McGinn, whose brother served on the council and has worked on several mayoral campaigns including those of the late Peter Torigian and Mike Bonfanti.

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