, Salem, MA

May 24, 2013

Benton: Little re-election challenge for local mayors

Nelson Benton
The Salem News

---- — 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.

The Famico and McGinn candidacies, like former state representative Tom Walsh’s bid for councilor-at-large in Peabody, may represent a welcome turn by voters toward those with a desire to lead rather than pander, and against those candidates who simply have an ax to grind.

The election results in Danvers earlier this month, which saw the defeat of a veteran selectman instrumental in the demise of a truly regional emergency dispatch center, may have been a harbinger of things to come. Perhaps people are beginning to realize they are best served by those who will get them the best bang for their tax dollars.

All of which may also explain why there are several currently serving in Beverly who could make credible runs for the mayor’s seat long occupied by Bill Scanlon.

During Scanlon’s tenure the Garden City has earned a reputation for the kind of political harmony that serves a community well. It helps make incumbent councilors like Paul Guanci, Wes Slate and Scott Houseman, as well as School Committee President Maria Decker, strong candidates should they choose to run.


Nelson Benton spent 40 years covering politics on the North Shore before retiring from The Salem News. Contact him at